Monday, 14 July 2014

Trad revival. Part 1

Cold sweats. Hot temperatures. Delusions. Shaking furiously. A few of the many symptoms I've had since going cold turkey, but I couldn't hold out any longer. I needed my fix so when the offer came up I couldn't help myself, I had to take it. But I didn't want to go through this alone. I needed a friend to do this with me. So I called up 'Ginger' Ben. I knew that he would help me through these dark times and hold my ropes.

Hi, I'm Ben!

Sadie on the 'Gnome'.

It's been a  few years that I've been away from trad climbing in the UK. My favourite style of climbing. So when my mate Greg gave me a shout that there were spaces available on a Pabbay & Mingulay trip I knew I had to go get my fix. I've been to these islands on two separate occasions and both times have been some of the best moments of my life. Ben, who lives in Chamonix also, happened to be in the UK when I asked him about the trip. He had been planning to return to Cham soon, but after showing him a few photos and a quick description of the place i.e. 'you'll climb some of the best routes that you'll ever climb...' all he had to do was drive up to Scotland, bring his chalk bag, rock shoes and harness and we'd sort out the rest.

Ben having a punch up with 'Rat race'.

I flew back to Scotland at the start of June. A few days earlier, as it was a bit cheaper, but also I wanted to get out a few days on the rock before heading out to the Islands on the Sunday. I had arranged with a few folk to go up to my local venue, Dunkeld, where I hadn't been in a few years. The main route I always do there is 'Hamish's..' F7b+. I have done this route so many times, that it's probably the best way for me to figure out how strong/fit I am, or weak/unfit I am. What I also really love about Dunkeld is that there are really good trad climbs to be done as well as sport routes so we had a group of folk up there on various different routes. What was also quite funny was that 4 of the folk up there were going on the Pabbay & Mingulay trip with me. Was like a wee pre-trip meeting. Like I said 'Hamish's..' is a route I like to do up there so did a few reps on that which was good for the mind. Plus I did a E2, E3 & E4 which was good to get the brain thinking. Was good to see other folk battling with routes as well. Ben had a good grovel with the ubber classic 'Ratrace'. Sadie put in a good fight with the ever fierce 'Marjorie Razorblade'. Even Mr Scotland himself, Gary Latter, got a few hits from 'Squirm Direct'. An all round good day at Dunkeld, topped of with a fine ale at the pub and fish supper from the chippie. Great start to my UK trip.

Sadie on Marjorie Razorblade.

We were all thinking the same thing, but no one really wanted to ask. Lucky for us though, Greg's Mum has a heart of gold and told us she was making bacon rolls for us before we heading off for the week on the Islands. A bunch of us met up at Greg's place before driving across to Oban for the big ferry to Barra. Due the popularity of the Islands, there is now the tradition of meeting the out-going team that have just spent their previous week enjoying the weird and wacky world that Pabbay and Mingulay create. Climbing on impeccable Hebridean gneiss that has withstood quite a large period of time, being some of the oldest rock on the Planet. Camping on a postcard image island, that definitely gives everyone a bit of clarity to them selves in why they climb and travel the world to these beautiful places. These are only some of the feats that a trip to the Isles offer.

From Ferry to Donald's boat.

Loading the duffels on. 

Gary, Greg, Mike & Myself. 


After meeting and greeting the previous team, it was time for us to board and enjoy these pleasures for our self. Aboard the ferry we enjoyed fish 'n' chips and our last 'sit-down shit' for a week.

Mike, Dougie & Ben. 

Sunset on the way over to

My teammates for the trip.  Dougie & Ben.
Most people tend to go Pabbay first and then Mingulay, however as we knew that there were a team of folk on Pabbay already we all thought it'd be nice to have 3 days on Mingulay first to ourselves. So Donald, who has been taking climbers out to these islands for years, dropped us off on the slippery rocks. This made carrying our heavy duffels a bit more exciting. I've been out to these islands on two previous trips and prefer the campsite on Mingulay a  lot more as it's dead flat and a lot more open which allows for a breeze to keep the midges away.

Mingulay campsite.

Gearing up for the first day of the trip.
Photo; Ben O'Connor Croft.

Where da party at.
Photo; Ben O'Connor Croft.

Most people tend to climb in a pair when they come to the islands but we had a uneven number of people on our team so Ben and myself teamed up with Dougie Russell. He had been to the islands before so knew the score. I had been telling Ben all about these two amazing climbing Meccas. Our first day we headed for Dun Mingulay wall. The abseil in hits everyone at first. You climb down to the edge, clip onto the static and don't touch rock until you arrive at the bottom, 90m below. We climbed two of the classic routes. Sula E2 and Vovage of Faith E3. The thing that always strikes you when climbing out there, is that every hold is a jug.

Bit of exposure on the abseil into Dun Mingulay.

Dougie on 'Sula'.

'Bill' the Razorbill.

Dougie giving it big licks on 'Voyage'.

Loving the jugs on 'Voyage..'
Photo; Ben O'Connor croft.

Our second day's climbing was delayed slightly due to some rain and low level cloud so we spent the morning fishing. After everyone, apart from Greg, catching a fish we decided to grab our gear and head out climbing. The wonderful thing about the rock there is that it dries instantly. We headed back to the same wall as the day before as there is so much to do on that one wall and also we had stashed our gear there. We climbed ' lobster men'. This route is given E3 and only 2 stars. But I thought it was well worth 3 if not 4 stars and also a bit pumpy and tricky for E3. Still that's not why we climb these things, we climb them because of the positions they put you in and how the make you feel and this route made me feel happy!

Ben doing a spot of fishing.

Loving my new wife beater from Rab.
Photo; Ben O'Connor Croft.

Ben starting up 'Lobster men'.

Ben Following on 'Lobster Men'

Ben following on 'Lobster Men'

Dougie finishing the crux move on 'Lobster Men'

Our last day on Mingulay was cut shortish as we were being picked up by Donald who would take us over to Pabbay where we'd spend the rest of our trip. I say it was cut short but we weren't being picked up until 8pm. On the Islands though, that is a early finish. Seen as it doesn't get dark until 1am, there's no excuse to stop early. We headed over to the Boulivard area. This is a really cool venue. More chilled out and relaxed compared to the bigger walls but the climbing is just as good. We climbed a bunch of the E2's and E3's there. The scariest thing about going to this side of the Island is having to deal with the Bonxies. These are huge big Seagulls that swoop and dive bomb you as your walking along. They're trying to protect their nests as they're ground nesting birds. For some reason they just don't understand that we don't want their nests. We wanna go climbing.

Karren Latter climbing at the Boulevard. 

After our days climbing we headed back over to the campsite waiting to be picked up. A team was being dropped off as we were being picked up, with whom we exchanged a few words with about what we got done. It was then we were told that there was gonna be some foul weather the following day. Being that there is no mobile phone signal, which is great, you can't get daily updates of what the weather is doing. We said cheerio and were then off to Pabbay.

Puffer fish.

That bad weather struck through the night and lashed down for the whole morning. It took a while before you heard the first people rustling out of sleeping bags and then the unzipping of their tents. I poked my head out to say hello, but very swiftly was back in my bag reading my book. Out of 3 trips to these Islands, this was the first full bad weather day. Around mid day a few folk gathered their kit and headed up the hill to try get some climbing done. I thought about going as well, for a minute.. Think they were gone for an hour max. On their return we decided the best way to spend the day was cards, biscuits and Buckfast.

Room with a view.

My room for the week.

Is it still wet out there?
Photo; Ben O'Connor Croft.


Cards, creams and Buckie.

It's a weird feeling that sinks into you when your woken up by that noise that sounds almost metallic. Soothing when it's just tapping on the skin of the tent but when it pours and batters the walls, it makes you wonder if it's gonna rip through. You knew how everyone was feeling even though we hadn't spoke a word to each other yet. Gutted of the thought of spending another day in the tents. The rain did stop around midday, but the clouds stuck around which held the moisture in. It's funny how you start doing one thing and then just leads to another. Before you know it your rolling down the hill inside a barrel. We started off just playing some Frisbee on the beach, then found some buoys lying around. Soon we were digging netting and other items out from the sand. Then we found a barrel sub-merged in the sand. Took us a while but when when it was out, the fun began. First we tried to bob around in the sea, then as a sort of capsule and then I got inside for a wee roller coaster ride. Ah the fun we had.

Myself bobbing about in my barrel.
Photo; Ben O'Connor Croft.

After these shenanigans we decided to head out climbing. The conditions weren't great but like I said earlier. the rock dries really quick. We thought the best option would be to head for 'Sugar Cane Country' probably one of the best E4's in the UK. Mike hadn't lead it before so got on it first then Dougie got on it next. He hadn't onsighted E4 before so was keen to give it ago. He cruised the thing and was so pleased to have got his first E4.


The next day was still a bit damp, due to the amount of water that had fallen. So we headed down to the Poop Deck. Single pitch, range of different grades, easy access and being able to chill out around the bottom probably makes this the friendliest venue of the two Islands. We climbed a few of the classic E2's to get going then Doogie went for a blast on Notorious 'B.I.G', a stiff E3 that has a powerful roof section. Unfortunately he was denied. Ben then pulled his ropes and mange to climb the thing. I was unsure what to get on. I felt fine on E2's and ok on E3's. Doogie said I had to get on something that would push me so I went for 'Thursday's Setting Sunrise' E5 6a. It has an exciting start where you have to climb out over a big pool of water then it climbs up these large cracks and breaks. Quite a powerful move from a finger lock to a jug. Unfortunately due to the cracks and rock being pretty smeggy from all the wet weather I struggled up it and didn't climb it clean. Even though it wasn't in great condition I couldn't get over how good the climbing was. There were a few new faces at the crag as well, as a new team had arrived the night before. Adam who had belayed his partner on the mega classic 'The Raven' E5, which is right next to the route I was trying, was keen to try the thing I was on as well. Sadly he was also shut down due to the greasy cracks.  

Tricked Ben into telling him that
there was a huge jug just over
the lip. Hee Hee. 

Ben starting up 'Notorious B.I.G'.

Ben above the crux roof on 'Notorious B.I.G.'

Island is starting to get busy now.. Adam on the ubber classic 'Raven'. Myself on 'Thursday's Setting Sunrise'
Photo; Ben O'Connor Croft.

I knew I wasn't climbing at my best but I felt quite strong and wanted to see what I could push myself a bit more on. A route that I was keen to get on was 'In Profundum Lacu' E5 6a. I had seconded it years ago but couldn't actually remember anything about it, so I was going for the Alzheimer flash. This was to be our last day of climbing as Donald was picking us up early the next morning so I really want to make the most of the day. We headed up to the pink walls, which are probably the main event of Pabbay. Huge big 90m that looms over the sea. I've climbed quite a few routes on this wall, but the quality always strikes me when on it. There were a few other teams on the wall, which is something that I love about it. You can be trying hard and the person on the route along from you starts shouting encouragement until your through your crux, then you do the same for them. Who knew an uninhabited island could be so sociable.

Lovely view for the start of the day.

Hmmm... Here or there? What size? Cam would be quicker but would like to keep them for higher up. Should I extend it? So many questions in just a few metres of starting up 'In Profundum..' That's the one thing I find awkward about climbing on these walls. You have to be quick and decisive with the gear. As there are so many choices . You couldn't actually take enough gear to lace a route. I was quite pleased with how I performed on the route. Climbed steadily away and didn't get too pumped.

Ben seams pretty pleased with what the Pink walls had to Offer.

Doogie wasney keen on the local Burds.

The sun was beating down on us by this point. Ben was kind enough to lube me up so I didn't get burnt from wearing my new prototype wife beater from Rab. After climbing on the Pink we all heading down to the Banded wall area to join the crowds. Now that there were three teams on the Island things were starting to get busy at the crags. Bit rubbish that you come all this way to have the place to yourself but then have to queue for the routes. This just meant we had to lie around for a while in the sun. Ben and I went for 'Endolphin Rush'. A mega E3 which is just covered in yet more jugs.

Ben belaying and Myself hanging ot on the 2nd pitch of
Endolphin rush.

After 'Endolphin Rush' we headed over to the Poop Deck again to finish the day and the trip off. Greg and Mike were on 'Thursday's Setting Sunrise'. The E5 I was on the day before and told them that if it was dry, they should get on it. As we abbed into the Poop Greg had just climbed through the crux. I was pleased to here that the cracks and rock was dry. After watching Greg do it and then Mike pulling the ropes to go for the flash. I was also keen to get back on it. With nothing to loose as it being the last route of the last day, I decided to go for it. The difference from the day before was amazing. Friction on the rock was sooo good. I just went into auto pilot and felt that I cruised the thing. Looking out into that vastness of water and watching the sun slowly come to its end was a pretty good feeling. What an awesome day. From thinking that I'd be happy to climb an E3 on the trip, to climbing two E5's in a day. I couldn't have done this without being on 'Team Awesome'. Cheers lads.

Not too bad a walk back to the campsite.

It was sad hearing about and seeing so many people on the Islands and at the same time. Nothing at all against the folk. I knew a bunch of them before this trip and some are my best mates that I've known for a while. However these are small and very special Islands. Climbers paradise you could say. But like all things in this world everyone wants a taste, which is only fair. After all no one deserves to be there more than anyone else (except me) but I do feel some sort of restriction needs to be put in place. The easiest way I could think of would be that there can only be one team on an island at a time.

Pabby Fest...!
Photo; Ben O'Connor Croft.

Gary Latter, one of the most prolific Scottish rock climbers around. Old but still cranking hard and keen as ever. It was great having him on our trip. He had done a load of the classic first assents on these Islands. It had been a while since his last trip but I was keen to ask him what changes he had noticed. He said that the biggest thing that struck him now was the amount of paths everywhere. He said that when he was first coming here, there were no paths but now there are paths everywhere.

Anyways enough of the downer stuff. Pabbay and Mingulay are two of the most beautiful places I've ever been. If you love trad climbing and fancy an adventure then go but just try look after the place.

'Team Awesome'   Ben, Myself & Doogie.

Yet another amazing trip to the Islands. Thanks to everyone on the whole team. Big thanks to Doogie and Ben for the laughs on the belays. Next year boys? I'm game.

No comments:

Post a Comment