Sunday, 23 June 2013

Pabbay and Mingulay

I have just returned from an amazing 10 day trip to the islands of Pabbay and Mingulay in the Outer Hebrides with 8 friends from uni. The group consisted of Jamie Sparkes, Morgan Trigg, Robert Taylor, Anne Peale, Liam Ingram, Fergus Cuthill, Alistair Rocke and John De Leyser.

If you look through the guide for the islands lots of routes are graded with 4 stars, as are lots of routes on many other crags in the North West. I don't generally agree with stars on routes. I feel they are often over starred. Routes are usually graded 0 to 3 stars, although some 4 star routes do exist. I feel a 3 star route should be really good climbing in a nice place. 4 star routes need something a bit extra on top of the 3 star criteria. This should be in the effort required to get to and from the climb. A road side crag doesn't cut it. A big mountain or inaccessible island does. Pabbay and Mingulay are one of the few places I feel deserve 4 stared routes. You may ask why I stop at 4 stars. Well I don't, however 5 stars should be an unobtainable goal.

The trip started on the 12th of June with us catching the ferry from Oban. It almost ended then for me too as I nearly missed it as I had to drop the car off and run back across town. When I arrived they were removing the ramp onto the ship! The ferry drops you in Castlebay in Barra, named after the castle in the bay. From there you get picked up by "The Boy James" with captain Wee Donald, which dropped us off on Pabbay.

So much stuff

Aborad "The Boy James"

Pabbay is a playground of Gneiss, cross cut with dykes. There is an interesting abrupt change in vegetation at the northern end of the island which may have been affected by the geology, but I haven't been able to look t a map yet and I only realised on my way back.

Sand Fortress

Day 1 on Pabbay saw us take our huge amount of gear (77 cams, 82 quickdraws, over 1km of rope and more) up a stash at the top of the hill near the climbs. We then made our way to the Poop Deck for some nice steep single pitch climbing. The stand out effort for the day was Fergus who climbed the majority of The Raven, an E5, before taking quite a large fall.

The Great Arch

So much gear

The trip had quite a nice weather pattern. It generally rained in the morning and was dry in the afternoon, allowing us to have a lie in and plentiful water for tea and coffee whilst waiting out the rain. The crags are generally steep enough so as not to get too wet too. Day 2 was Hoofers Geo, for more single pitch fun. I climbed with Jamie again and managed an E1 lead each. On Day 3 I went to the Grey Walls with Jamie, Anne, Liam and Robert. To access the Grey Walls you need to make a 90m free hanging abseil onto a wave cut platform. I found this a bit scary, but once committed it wasn't so bad. We climbed U-Ei in 2 teams. I climbed with Jamie and Anne.


For our final day on Pabbay Jamie and I went round to 3 different crags to climb as many routes as we could. After trips to The Poop Deck and The Galley we finished the day off on The Banded Walls. Here we climbed Endolphin Rush. The first pitch has to be the best pitch of climbing I have ever done.

Wiggly Wall

Endolphin Rush

Monday was our moving day to Mingulay. The weather was amazing, and maybe even a little to warm to climb. Donald picked us up at about 11.30 and took us around Mingulay so we could see the crags we were going to climb on. Once on Mingulay and having set up the tents we had a look around. Robert and I went for a climb on Waterfall Geo and had a look at the Puffin Colony. I only had one more day of climbing in the trip, it was a holiday afterall. This was on the Wednesday before leaving. The entire team went to Dun Mingulay. Robert, Liam, Fergus and I climbed Voyage of Faith and John and Jamie climbed Sula. Dun Mingulay is a big sea cliff, which happened to have a big sea at the bottom of it on the day. After some hopeful looks over the edge we decided to give it an hour or so for the tide to drop before we could abb in. This meant that we didn't finish till 11, but its ok as it was still light! 

Voyage of Faith

It rained quite a bit on Thursday so we all went for a run back up the hill to get the stash. Friday saw us return to the mainland, smelly and tired but content with our Hebridean adventure.

Wet weather activities

I really enjoyed hanging out with the people in our little group but the people we met along the way made our trip even better. We shared Pabbay with another group of climbers who were all retired, and even had an ex EUMC president within the midst. One morning on Pabbay we were joined by Roger Wild and friends for tea and biscuits. They were kayaking around the islands as they retired too. On Mingulay our campsite had an extra tent in it, which belonged to a guy called Will, who was counting seabirds on the island for the NTS. Will had just finished a degree at Swansea Uni in Marine Biology, which he found out he got a first for during our stay.

Nice weather on Mingulay

The wildlife on the islands was also pretty cool. We saw eagles on 2 separate occasions, once on either island. There were lots of seals too. Seal song isn't as nice as it may seem, they just sound like winning dogs. There was one particular seal which endeared itself to us. It must have been cast away from the rest of the group and being British we backed the underdog. I think the decision in the end was to call it Tom H Seal. One night on Mingulay we even saw a basking shark swimming around the bay. A worry of mine before the trip was Fulmar vomit. I've heard it smells really bad and fulmars are like proximity puking devices that go off when ever you get too close. Luckily I avoided this peril, but John wasn't so lucky.

Tom H Seal

Ticklist (stars are my opinion)

Endolphin Rush - E3 ****
Corncrake for Breakfast - E2 **
U-Ei - E2 ***
Who Shot RJ - E2 ***
Bint There Dun It - E1 **
Hoofers Route - E1 **
Geovannie - E1 *
Wetter Than A Day At The Beach - E1 *
Illegal Alien - HVS **
Wiggly Wall - HVS ***

Voyage of Faith - E3 ****
Not so Diff - HS
Gneiss Slot - VD

Monday, 10 June 2013

Spank the Monkey

Yesterday I managed to tick a couple of boulder problems that had evaded me for a while. Not that long ago I mentioned in a blog post that I had had a look at a boulder problem at Cambusbarron called Spank the Monkey. It takes the left arete of a slabby boulder and gets font 7b in the lowland outcrops guide, although this is probably well over graded. The font 7a that it gets on UKC seems more on the mark. I managed to climb it after about an hour of working out where the foot holds were. I then managed to climb the right arete of the same slab. It gets font 4 but it didn't feel very much easier.
Spank the Monkey boulder
Later on I went to Wolfcrag and managed to do a dyno which I had never managed to latch before. It is called the Wolfie and get font 6b+.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Road Trip 2013

Sunset at Reiff
At the top of Blankist, Arran
Since the18th May I have managed to pack in loads of climbing. I have ticked a total of 123 routes and boulder problems and only had 2 days without climbing anything outdoors, although one of these days I went to Red Goat climbing wall in York. It is needless to say that I don't have much skin left. I have been to nearly 30 different crags in this time too. It would be a very long blog post if I described everything I did, so here is a summary.
The interesting part of my recent climbing, and the posts name, starts on the 25th May. Here I set off road tripping with Matt Harle and Sophia Borgeest. Our desitnation for the evening was Arran but we decided to stop off at Dumbarton rock on the way past. After Dumbarton, and on the way to Arran, we climbed on a cool little erratic boulder in the corner of a field called the Clochoderick Stone. Arran saw me head off on a solo trip up to the Rosa Slabs where I climbed Blank (VS) and Blankist (HVS). The plan after Arran was to road trip for a while, with Anne Peale as well, but unfortunately the weather wasn't looking very good up north, so we went to the county. Kyloe In seemed like the best bet and we had a nice day climbing around the steep crimpy sandstone walls. Matt and Sophia had to be in Edinburgh on Wednesday so Anne and I set off up North together. We were headed for Reiff but stopped off at Creag Dubh on the way past and climbed a nice HVS called Inbred. At Reiff we met up with some others from Edinburgh Uni.
Scooped Wall Traverse, Reiff in the Woods (Photo Credit: Anne Peale)
On Wednesday John De Lyser, Alistair Rocke, Katie Main, Anne Peale and I made the long walk into the leaning block cliff at the North of the peninsula. Here I onsighted The Quickening (E5) and Freedom (E4), among others. They both felt very easy, so I may have been having a good day. The Quickening is my first E5 onsight, and first E5 clean (I don't think I have even top roped one). It takes a traversing line of massive buckets with good foot holds along a steep face and onto a slab. The next day we all went to the seal song area at Reiff. I managed to climb the route Seal Song (E3) which gives the area its name. I thought this felt much harder than The Quickening. On Friday Anne and I went out East in preparation for the EUMC's Dinner Meet in Dornoch on Saturday. We went to Cummingston and Huntleys Cave.
The Quickening, Reiff (Photo Credit: Anne Peale)
Seal Song, Reiff (Photo Credit: Anne Peale)
On Sunday Matt Harle, Sophia Borgeest, Anne Peale and I went to Sheigra to climb its famous steep sea cliffs. On Monday, after a morning at Sheigra we made our way south, climbing at Ardmair Crag on the way past. We spent that evening in Gairloch, climbing at Aztec Tower and Grass Crag the day after. The rest of the week was spent in Torridon, although I made a short trip to Helmsdale to do some work.
Bloodlust Direct, Sheigra (Photo Credit: Matt Harle)
Western Skyline, Ardmair
This trip has not only taken me around a large number of amazing locations, and featured some amazing sunsets, but the geology has also been very interesting. I have climbed rocks from the Dalradian, Lewisian, Torridonian and the Cambro-Ordovician within the past 11 days. Im not sure if I climbed on anything that was from the Moines though. This is possibly the best way to cement my knowledge of Scottish stratigraphy possible. I have even climbed within all the terranes of the Lewisian, those being; Richonoich, Assynt, Gruinard and Southern.
I'm having a rest for a few days now before I head to Pabbay on Wednesday!

Northumberland Wall, Diabaig (Photo Credit: Anne Peale)
Here is a summary ticklist:
E5: The Quickening, Reiff (o/s)
E4: Western Skyline, Ardmair (o/s)
Unleash the Beast, Ardmair (o/s) (2nd)
Freedom, Reiff (o/s)
E3: Brave Heart, Reiff (o/s)
Seal Song, Reiff (o/s)
E2: Cross Eyed, Reiff (o/s)
Huntleys Jame, Huntleys Cave (o/s)
Pete's Wall, Huntleys Cave (o/s)
Bloodlust Direct, Sheigra (o/s)
Wanderings, Sheigra (o/s)
Northumberland Wall, Diabaig (o/s)
The Pillar, Diabaig (o/s)
Colours Fly, Limekilns (o/s)

Font 7a: Problem 37, Edlingham (o/s)
The Groove, Caley
Fony 6c+: Haven, Reiff in the woods
Malcs Arete, Torridon
Font 6c: The Prow, Hepburn
The Wall, Hepburn (o/s)
Jocks and Geordies, Kyloe In
Avoiding the Main Issue, Reiff in the woods (o/s)

F 7a: Like It Hot, Grass Crag (o/s)
F 6c: The Dump, Grass Crag (o/s)
All The Arts, Grass Crag (o/s)

Like it Hot, Problem 37 and The Quickening are all personal best onsights for me!