Saturday, 21 December 2013

Is it?

I recently read Blair Fyffes blog post and his thoughts on whether climbing is worth its inherent costs, you can read it here... .I found it very interesting and it made me think quite a bit, strange for me! Up until very recently I'd asked myself the same question a few times but never delved too far  into it. Even if I wanted to question its worth anymore these days its not worth it for me to do so. I've invested too heavily in the life and when I look back on all that I've willingly given up for example financial security, 'comfortable relationships', friendships or my left pinkie digit. Or on the other hand (pardon the pun) the things I've had to give up against my will, ankle, knee and hip health, trying to switch axes, my Astra SRI or trying to make a particular relationship work, even mental health at one point.

Nearing being mentally broken above The Hurting-Pic- Steve Gordon

In gearing myself up mentally to attempt The Hurting XI/11 in the Gorms I thought I'd have to be in a very dark place. The vital life saving bit of gear on the route was out to the left and I couldn't get to it so if I committed to the route I knew it was top out or fall and likely die. I purposefully depressed myself and got to the stage I thought I was ready and looking back now shockingly selfish enough to go for it. I spent a while scoping the route and the moves before realising it was guaranteed death. As I sat at the top of the ridge before walking out I knew I'd went a bit too far, escaping that depression without success on The Hurting was hard work. I questioned how far I'd been willing to go for a route after that.  

Broken ankle after falling trying a new route

Even after falling and breaking my ankle and near skewering myself on my axe I only questioned the mistakes I made, never once questioning climbing and the dominating control it has on my life, should I have? No.  

After the 1st ascent of a new bold E6 6b, the smile answers whether its worth the cost-Pic Glenda Anderson

Of course climbing at your own personal limits has its costs, as Blair says even the time training for it is tough on relationships let alone all that goes along with it. I think we all question it a wee bit sometimes but I doubt any of us would change what we do. When we look honestly at what climbing and being in the mountains in general gives us and truly ask ourselves "Is it worth it??" whats your answer? Mines is without doubt yes! 

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Small Victories

Today Dave and myself decided it was time to try a hill to see where our collective injuries were at. Dave suggested the Wee Buachaille as a good relatively short test so we headed up this morning.

Winter truly arrives, frozen Mars Bars!

Dave heading for the final ridge.

My turn for trail breaking.

I felt fine on the way up but definitely toiled on the descent and Dave felt a few twinges from his injured back but we'll keep at it and hopefully be ready for a productive time later in the season after a bit more mountaineering. It was great to be back out in Scottish winter, there truly is nothing quite like it!

Happy on the summit of our first proper hill since both our hospital stints. 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

CAC Comp Roundup

On Saturday at the Ice Factor we held the first Festival of Ice in aid of Climbers Against Cancer and with only a few bumps along the way we had a successful event and raised around £2000 for CAC. The comp attracted a full house of seasoned professionals and keen amateurs alike. The finals produced some great performances. After the prize giving Simon Yearsley gave a talk about new routing in Scotland which fired everyone up. 
Discussing the route with female finalists-Pic- GnBri Photography

Ice Factor Crew looking busy- Pic- Gabi Tomescu

The after party as usual involved plenty whisky and laughs, thankfully this year Steve Johnstone forgot the Buckfast.
Myself, Dougie, Steve and Greg at the partayyyy-Pic-Steve Johnstone

On the Sunday Dave MacLeod gave a great talk on winter climbing and also some masterclasses. All in all a great weekend and thanks to everyone who got involved to make it happen and make it a success!!!!!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

6 Months On

For the past few weeks I've been starting to try push myself a bit and regain a bit more of old form so I've been putting in plenty sessions at the Ice Factor with the lads on the rock, ice and DT. I've also started Crossfit in Fort William which is great. I've also teamed up with Rebecca Dent to sort my diet out too. 

Training at Ice Factor-Pic-Gabi Tomescu

We've had some great weather here the past few days and I eventually felt my ankle had recovered enough to walk further up the Glen to check a project I'd spotted some time ago. I headed up with James and Rich yesterday to check it and for the lads to check something too. The line didn't look any easier than I remember so I decided to give it a try on top rope and start the major cleaning operation. I managed almost all the moves but a lead is a long way off, it's definitely high end E7 with the only gear near the bottom and near the top, utterly terrifying, psyched. Also spotted a few other potential lines, happy days!

James and Rich with Steall Falls in the background

Today James, Mia and myself headed halfway up Ben Nevis to help with a litter pick that was part of a 3 Peaks clean up project organised by our mate Rich Pyne.

Mia with one of the less disgusting things we cleared up

We met more than our share of idiots and ignorant folks but one crew in particular who seemed like they had already been drinking and were causalities waiting to happen, both James and I had words with them and a few others. However on the way down we found what we think was some of their bevy stash chilling in the burn, karma strikes again.  
James 'clearing up' the cans, who needs Highland Spring

We cleared a lot just between the 3 of us and the guys who cleared from the summit down will no doubt have lifted plenty too, good effort to those who got involved giving up their own time to clean up the hill and to Rich for organising it!

Monday, 30 September 2013

Climbers Against Cancer DT comp

We're busy here at the Ice Factor arranging a DT competition in aid of Climbers Against Cancer. We've arranged a full weekend event with the comp on Saturday 2nd November followed by a talk by Simon Yearsley and then a party. On the Sunday we've got Dave MacLeod running coaching sessions on bouldering and DT and doing a short talk. Please get involved and help us raise plenty of cash for CAC.

Here's details for booking, digs etc-

Keep an eye on progress here too-

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Highland Emergency

Yesterday I headed out for a go on real rock for the first time since before my op. Myself, Dave, Andy and Davie headed up to West End crag in Glen Nevis to get on Alls Fair, an E2 I'd done before. I was keen to get on it again as it was bold but not to techy, Dave was psyched for his first E2 lead and Andy had the psyche too. We faffed on top rope, Dave and Andy were really keen so I decided to leave it till after they'd done it before I went on it again.

Andy got on lead as I filmed from above and sent the route. It was then Daves go on the sharp end but a couple metres up he had a mishap before the first gear placement, fell and decked out. I knew by the sound his body made then the ensuing screams it was bad, bear in mind Dave is tough, he fell earlier this year on the Ben and continued for hours with cracked ribs and a few other bumps. He broke his back in a car smash 2 years ago so we didn't move him, Andy went and called MRT as Davie and I did what we could for him, stuck a jumper under his head and a constant stream of banter/abuse. The team arrived and then Rescue 177 turned up and he was airlifted away with another broken back. He's just text me though and thankfully it's not as bad as last time so here's wishing him a speedy recovery!

Rescue 177 with Dave in the stretcher. Photo courtesy of Lochaber MRT

Today I knew I had to climb something so I headed up the Glen again with Graham. We headed to Scimitar and just did some easy stuff to get cruising again.

Myself on Diagonal, brilliant VS

Monday, 12 August 2013

Back North

On Saturday morning I left Ayrshire after 4 months of recovery and headed back North to Kinlochleven. My ankle still hurts like hell and is still cracking loudly so I'm just going to have to take everyday as it comes now. I went straight to training when I arrived on Saturday in the ice wall to just get the feel for things again.

Training on the ice-Pic- Nadir Khan

The next day was spent with some quick catch ups then onto the rock wall. Squeezing my foot into rock shoes was painful and then came the actual climbing which was akin to when I walk too far, pain, nausea and sweating etc. The first two days here have been a real eye opener to how much work I have to do, needing to get stronger, fitter, needing to learn to put weight through and trust my foot and pretty much having to re-learn how to climb with another physical malfunction on my left hand side, keeps it interesting though! There are a few interesting projects for me to be working away on too while I'm still recovering, one in particular which I'm very psyched about, watch this space..........

If the producers of Top Gear are reading this the car pictured is a 1.1 Saxo with limited edition gaffa taped wing mirrors, classic! Davie and me talk crap on way home from Glencoe yesterday. Pic- Nadir Khan

Friday, 26 July 2013

Road to Recovery

Went to see the surgeon yesterday after nearly 4 months on crutches and thankfully the fusion has worked with limited complications. Time to get back to some proper training and work.

X-Ray showing the metalwork

It's been a humbling time with not being able to do everything for myself but I've had great support from family and a few good mates so thanks to them. Time to move on though and hopefully start nailing some projects in Autumn when the midges eventually go!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Half Way

I'm at just over half way through my time in the cast, only another 5 weeks (hopefully) to go before I can start physio and weight bearing stuff, then the hard work starts. I've been hitting the local gym recently and trying to keep my upper body in shape but feel I'm really missing cardio training even with bouts on the handbike. Still it feels good to be doing something rather than watching 80s action films. 

Last week was the official opening of the new ice wall at Snow Factor and I went along to have a look. I took my gear up in case I was tempted and the minute I saw the wall I knew I was going on it. I waited till the media circus had died down and jumped on some corner routes using one boot & crampon on my good foot and bridging using my knee on the injured side. I went back again this week and teamed up with Gerry & Joe to do some more routes, using the same technique I was surprised to find I could climb vertical face ice and onto the DT boards above, felt really good to be climbing again.

On the new wall at Xscape

I've taken a fair run at getting started with some writing projects and finishing others but have learnt some new stuff over the past few weeks too. I'm not known as being particularly patient or easy going when I'm trapped inside away from the mountains but something like this really teaches you to be patient because if you aren't it becomes a lot more difficult to deal with, even if it is for only a comparatively small amount of time compared to some. 

Friday, 3 May 2013

Surgery Done

So thats the major surgery on my ankle finally done. Got released from hospital and was back in within a few hours due to excessive bleeding but all settled now.

I'm no Doctor but pretty sure this wasn't the norm

Got all the staples removed yesterday so once the wounds seal a bit more at least I'll be able to train my upper body as up till now any straining has caused plenty pain especially where they took a bone graft from my shin. I managed to get a bit of up/down motion in my ankle while the cast was off so that's quite promising. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Coming Down

With the pain in my ankle and knees becoming constant and now causing me to fall down stairs I knew some choices would have to be made. Feeling that I could end up broken and being a liability to my climbing partners I felt the lonely urge to begin soloing again. I thought I had this particular demon truly defeated but it seems to have a lingering presence at the back of my mind, the pressure began to grow on me personally and I couldn't control its aggressively expanding control over my mind set. I really do not want to get drawn back into that game and so I took the decision last week to leave Fort William and move home to Ayrshire to focus on training before the operation in just over 3 weeks. Living in sight of Ben Nevis and not being able to climb was akin to being a junkie living next to a dealer, the temptation, the need of a fix, the ever present risk and no way to escape it apart from going on the run and going cold turkey.

I've had 11 months in the Fort since my last op and it's been amazing. I've managed to spend a year without soloing which has changed my whole mind set and made me a better climber. I've had great days simply among the mountains too like swimming in Glencoe or sleeping under the stars watching the sunset over Skye and lighting the Paralympic Torch on the Ben all the way through to scary new rock routes, thin ice and an epic mountain day on Tower Ridge. I really feel I've gotten to know Lochaber better in the past year and there is no place in the world I'd rather be, cannot wait to return after the op and rehab.

The life I have in Lochaber wouldn't be anywhere near as good as it is without the tight knit group of good mates I have there, you know who you are, thanks for a great year, more of the same soon I hope! With the exception of Craig McKay who keeps dragging me to Ossians 'nightclub', no more Jaeger next year mate......

Sunset over Skye last year...

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Scotland at its best

The high pressure that had settled over Scotland for the past wee while provided the most stunning conditions I've ever had the fortune to witness in the mountains. We made the most of it by getting out to play as much as possible, my ankle and knee suffered but it was more than worth it. Firstly I spent 2 days belaying Dave MacLeod on his new project in the CIC Cascade area then after that Dave Anderson and I went up Green Gully in a quick time and were rewarded with outstanding views on the summit.

On the final pitch of Green Gully-Pic- Dave Anderson

Next up was North Ridge of Stob Ban and over to Devils Ridge with Amanda, Anna and Craig. A good day out in more stunning conditions.

Amanda, Anna and Craig

Me on Devils Ridge-Pic-Craig McDonald

Next up was a cracking day in Glen Nevis with Amanda to get her first outdoor lead done. Dave came up too and soloed alongside her to check placements and belays.

Amanda at the top of pitch 1 of The Gutter

Top of the 2nd pitch

Next up was one of the finest days I've had in the mountains. Dave and I met up just before 4 in the morn to head for the ultra classic Point Five. We walked in by such bright moonlight that we didn't need headtorches, first on the route, perfect conditions and on the summit before midday. 

Dave and me on Point Five

Leading pitch 2-Pic-Dave Anderson

On the summit-Pic-Dave Anderson

On the way down-Pic Dave Anderson

Next was another slog up to the E7 project. I'd been up the week before with Paul Diffley and Nadir Khan and had to kick ice off the route, I couldn't feel my fingers and the crux moves were wet so we bailed and I top roped the terrifying project next to the E7. I went up this time with Joe, James and the two Matts. The route was bone dry, psych was up and I thought it would definitely go but we encountered something none of us expected, springtime heat, I couldn't get purchase on the rock so I decided to salvage something from the day and climbed a new E2 'The Wafflin Blues' to the right, cracking wee route and Joe got the second ascent straight after for his first E2.

First Ascent of The Wafflin Blues-Pic- Matt Hardy/Hotaches

To round it all off we had a big night out to send off our mate Johann who is leaving to start a new life in Canada.
Johann and me on the road to getting very very drunk

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Testing the Muff

On Thursday myself , Dave and Sean headed up to the CIC Cascades for me to get on the V/5 and for Dave to check out another line and Sean was there for photos. The line has been on my list for a wee while so I was keen to get it done. When we arrived it seemed to be running a fair bit but with some encouragement from Dave I got on it. It wasn't long till I was involved in the climbing and getting soaked from the melt water but thanks to Rab who have made up a 'muff' to go over my ice axe I continued to have feeling in my left hand which was a novelty for me. It's such a simple thing that most folk wont even think twice about but after 12 years of wearing nowt but a liner glove to winter climb with it makes a huge difference to me!

Dave and I scoping the route. You can see the muff on my axe! Pic-Sean Bell

As I reached the halfway point I found some respite for my ankle in a wee cave but standing in a cave next to icicles started giving me bad memories from the fall so I had a word with myself and got out as quickly as possible and continued climbing. 

In the cave battling the vivid memories-Pic-Sean Bell

The route was one of the best pitches of ice I've ever climbed. Felt really happy on it, I think all the practice I get working at the Ice Factor has really helped.

Happier after leaving the cave to my right-Pic-Sean Bell

Friday, 25 January 2013

The Final Countdown

Last week I got word that my ankle fusion op would be happening in early to mid April so I'm keen to be out in the hills as much as possible. On a bit of a minging day Christina and me went up some local Corbett and were extremely bored by it as you can tell by the expressions on our faces below.

Christinas 'Adult Entertainment Star/Idiot' face-Pic-Christina Bell

Karma strikes quickly, I fell on my arse instantly after taking the piss out of Christina-Pic-Christina Bell

On Tuesday Joe,Dave and myself headed up the Ben to have a look around and maybe get on something depending on conditions. There was lots of powder blowing around and as we approached the Cascades there was lots of spindrift coming down from above so we did the manly thing and ran away to the cafe!

Dave and Joe on Wednesday
On Thursday Dave,Craig , Joe and myself headed back up to the Cascades in better weather and had a cracking wee day on the rightmost of the 3 main falls. 

Myself on the first pitch-Pic-Craig McDonald
I really feel I have to soak up every morsel of the mountain experience at the moment as the prospect of leaving them for at least 6 months is worse than leaving the friendships behind for that time. I'll catch up with friends during recovery but it's the experiences and adventures that play out on the mountains and the bond that they provide that I'll really miss.

Craig,Dave,Joe & Myself on the walk out.-Pic- Craig McDonald

On Thursday Ken , Davie , Conor and I headed up Aonach Mor. I planned to get back on Stirling Bridge and Davie and Conor headed to the Twin Area. Unfortunately there was a team already on Stirling Bridge, we watched for a bit as the leader made initially quick progress up to the harder moves then came to a sudden stop. We got cold and bailed, scunnered as it'll be the last chance in a while after looking at the forecast.
Davie and Conor on their approach

Friday, 18 January 2013

Battle of Stirling Bridge Prt2

Yesterday Dave and myself headed up the gondola to Aonach Mor to with the plan being for me to have another shot at Stirling Bridge. Also with both of us having injured ankles we would be saved from a long descent using the cable car. We walked up in near whiteout conditions and dropped in to Easy Gully and round to the base of the route, it was in perfect nick, game on.

Dave and me at the belay

I geared up for my first proper attempt at winter climbing in about 2 years and the sky began to clear as I did so. I got on the route and felt really good and relaxed, new Petzl Nomics and prosthetic really helping with my confidence. I climbed quite easily past my previous highpoint but then it started to got a bit wrong. I couldn't get my axe with the prosthetic to place right as it kept bouncing out of the shallow crack. Also with only being able to wear a liner glove with the prosthetic my hand had lost all feeling but Rab are making me up something to deal with that. It looks like I'll need to run out the top section after watching Dave place most of the gear out left which is simply impossible for me.

Myself on the route, tantalisingly close-Pic-Dave MacLeod

Dave climbed the main pitch after I'd lowered off then he abbed and retrieved the gear, we battered back round and up Easy Gully. The wind was increasing on our way down but as we followed the chairlift line down we could see the Gondola was still running and this was a boost considering we had only one good ankle between us, we dropped into a dip shortly before the Gondola and in that short time they stopped it running and we had a painful descent to the cars. All in all a cracking day for Daves first day back in the mountains since the accident.

Dave happy to be out, Ben Nevis in the background

Monday, 7 January 2013

Doing Time

After what began as a promising start to winter the weather turned to shit so I trained at Ice Factor and on my bike. I went to rotate my ankle after a session on the bike before Xmas and it let out an almighty crack and a little pain. I knew I had done some damage so I went to see the Doctors while in Ayrshire which was a waste of time, I say Doctor but it may have actually been a mental patient masquerading as a Doctor as she was clueless and as much help as the proverbial inflatable dartboard. Not content to let it lie I saw the Docs back in Fort William and the difference was huge, they couldn't do more to help. As it turns out I seem to have broken a fragment of bone away from the Talus again and need surgery ASAP. The problem is that it's limiting what I can do, there's a 5 month waiting list and I won't be able to walk again for over 9 months post op, it's like a prison sentence hanging over me.

I'll miss simply being in the mountains-Pic- Dave Anderson

I'll have to move home with my parents in Ayrshire to recover as I wont be able to drive or get around myself or work to pay rent, it'll be soul destroying leaving the Highlands again as I've come to feel totally at home here among the mountains and the few like minded friends I associate with. The physical thing of not climbing, walking or training will definitely get to me but it's the mental aspect that worries me. I think I'm lucky though in that I've lived my life being made aware how lucky I am in the grand scheme of things and that there are folk out there way worse off than me and my comparatively minute problems. I guess I just need to cram 18 months of life into the next 5 or so and start to stockpile DVD boxsets again..........