Michelle Kadatz, Paul Bride and I flew in a heli into East Creek (the West side of the Bugaboos) for a few days last week. Paul was psyched to shoot landscape photos while Michelle and I checked out some of the incredible rock in the Pigeon feathers. Although there are quite a few routes here described in the guidebook, the Pigeon Feathers remain a slightly more obscure corner of the Bugs, despite their amazing quality, and proximity to a great camp. Upon landing, we hiked around until we found something that was really inspiring - some unclimbed splitters on Wide Awake Tower, slightly right of the original Wide Awake route.
Wide Awake Tower. Our route starts part way up the snow gully. photo: Paul Bride
On our first climbing day under stormy skies, we made it nearly three quarters of the way up before the skies started unleashing thunder and lightning. Going down was the only option. While pulling the ropes after the first rappel, a toaster sized block popped off and landed right in the pile of rope that was stacking itself in front of us as it fell. The result was both lead and tag lines were chopped in the middle! The storm intensified and we had no choice but to hunker down in a chimney, while rain, hail, and a lot of very close thunder and lightning came down all around us. Backs against the wall and all the metal off the harnesses, we slowly got colder and wetter. Multiple rounds of this continued until finally it passed and we made it down to the glacier safely. By the time we were walking back to camp, it was nice and sunny so we lapped the first three pitches of the classic Solitary Confinement. It was great to get back on this one again as it had been 8 or 9 years since I had climbed it, and it was one Michelle wanted to do too. Our thirty-five meter rope was exactly what it took to get to the first anchor of this amazing 5.11 continuous crack that gradually expanded from tips to off-width over three pitches. With only two #4 camelots, the even wider 4th pitch wasn’t really an option, which was fine by me. Three 4's, and three 5's would be considerated adequate for it...
Michelle on Pitch 3 of Solitary Confinement.
The following day we hiked to Applebee where it was possible to get two more ropes, which took the better part of the day via the Bugaboo Glacier. On day 3 we got back to work on what we were now calling Electric Funeral, obviously a reference to a Black Sabbath song, and our experience on it the first day. Paul and I are both huge Black Sabbath fans and when we get together, Sabbath becomes our theme. Michelle didn’t know the song, but liked the name! The climbing went well, although seventh pitch took getting dead-ended on two other option before I finally figured out what to do. Not comfortable with the run-out traverse to a grassy crack, I pendulummed across the face to the seam, then went into aid / cleaning mode with a nut tool and wire brush. By the time I got to the next ledge, I was so psyched to come back to send the pitch, as well as the amazing looking splitter above that bee-lined for the summit. It was cold, windy and getting late so we decided to save it for the next day.
Playing with fire at camp. Wide awake is the rightmost tower in the background photo: Paul Bride
On Day 4 the weather was looking pretty bad, and confidence of being able to complete the project was low. However, we were back, and for the first time we brought the power drill and enough bolts to set up some stations. We were psyched to have gone through the process a couple of times without bolts, and felt like the route was worthy of setting up to attract more climber to enjoy its quality. Fortunately the weather held and even got pretty nice, although quite windy in the afternoon. On pitch 7, I led out to a small foot ledge and placed the only protection bolt as high above my head as I could, then lowered the drill back to the belay and continured sending the pitch, which was delightfully sustained and interesting to climb. It was more like face climbing with a thin crack for protection, than the typical crack climbing that’s far more common in the area. The crux came right off the belay on the pitch 8 while laybacking off amazing chicken heads to pull a small roof! Trending right, beautiful cracks and transfer moves continued, and the rope was nearly used up before finally reaching a good stance.
Michelle following the 7th pitch photo Paul Bride
JW on pich 8, gunning for the top photo Paul Bride
Sweet views from the summit and a smooth rappel had us celebrating back in camp before long. Our time was up and we had the heavy, half-day slog / half-day drive home to look forward to the next day. It had been a fun process exploring this obscure conner of the Bugs and I know I’ll be back again. The crack system immediately left - aka Wide Awake, looked amazing!
Almost at the belay at the top of pitch 5. It's the triangular ledge a body length to my right. Photo Paul Bride
Michelle bringing me accross the traverse of Pitch 4. Photo Paul Bride
Michelle on pitch 6.
Michelle leading pitch 3
Michelle following pitch 7
JW starting up pitch 8, photo Michelle Kadatz
JW passing some perched flakes and the chimney on the way to the summit. Photo Michelle Kadatz
Electric Funeral, 300m, 5.11+, FA: Michelle Kadatz and Jon Walsh, August 7th 2014
A fun route on great rock, highly recommended, and it’s easily scoped from nearby snow slopes. Pitches 7 and 8 are nothing short of spectacular! The route is straightforward to rappel, or to walk off.
Rack: 1 full set of stoppers. 10 - 12 draws. Double set of cams from purple C3 or red X4 to #3 camelot. One #4 camelot and one #5 camelot are nice for the short wide sections of pitches 2 and 3. If the plan is to rappel, the #4 and 5 came lots can be left at the top of pitch 3.
Approach: Start up a the snowgully to the right of the tower's "nose" and ascend snow for about 80 meters. Look for a distint left facing corner that leads to a righ faceing corner that make up pitches 2 nd 3. We climbed a body length of 5.7 and then a 5 meter traverse left of easy 5th class to get a good belay ledge where you can dump your packs and get organised. This is directly below the changing corners of pitches 2 and 3. We left a cairn here...
P1: 5.10-, 30 meters; climb through bulge from belay and trend left to a left facing corner. A couple of balance moves to gets you to a crack that leads back right to a left facing corner with two wide cracks in it, and a two bolt belay station.
P2: 5.10, 20 meters; Climb the obvious wide cracks above up the left facing corner to a good ledge, and a gear belay (takes camelots .5, .75, 1)
P3: 5.10, 20 meters; A few off-width moves give way to nice hand-jamming. Belay at a good ledge with a huge, easily slung horn for the belay.
P4: 5.9, 50 meters; climb a short bulge above the belay and make a rising traverse to the right, until a short down climb becomes necessary. Climb down a few meters, then back up to a good belay ledge.
P5: 5.10+, 50 meters; Great hand and finger cracks head up and slightly left. Belay at a small but comfortable ledge below an overlap. A very nice pitch.
P6: 5.10+, 15 meters. Pull through the overlap and up a short groove. Rather than continue up the dirt right facing corner, make face moves out left onto the exposed / featured / golden face and up to a two bolt belay at a small ledge.
P7: 5.11-, 30 meters; Face climb up and left past a bolt, to gain a thin crack that leads straight up towards a roof. Two bolt belay below roof at small ledge.
P8: 5.11+ 50 meters; A crux roof sequence leads to spectacular crack climbing that trends rightwards towards the summit, sometimes transferring from crack-to-crack, one of such transfers providing a second, slightly easier crux! A two bolt belay at a good stance comes after 50 meters
P9: 5.9, 20 meters; A short straightforward pitch passes a chimney, and gets you to the summit.
Rappel notes: easy down-climbing about 5-meters off the summit to a slung block is required to get back to the last belay. A 25-meter rappel straight down from there (the last bolted station) gets you to another bolted station on a ledge that wasn’t part of the route. It would be possible to climb over to this on pitch 8, although this wasn’t done on the first ascent. A 50-meter rappel from here gets you to the bolted belay between pitch 6 and 7. Then 50-meters to a slung horn you passed near the start of P5. Two single rope rappels on slung horns throughout the owed angle traverse section, get you to the top of pitch 3. Then a double rope rappel easily makes the top of P1…
The BMC winter meet and winter climbing in the
Scottish Highlands trip report
JW approaching Extacy. The route goes up just right of the dangling icicles. Photo Nick Bullock
I’m just back from what will likely be my biggest adventure of the 2013 / 2014 winter season – a visit to the Scottish Highlands to sample their unique flavor of mixed climbing. Scotland had been calling In Scotland, the traditional approach to climbing is strongly maintained and the history of the climbs is well remembered. Modern ice climbing was in fact developed here, and early prototypes by Chouinard and others were tested on the walls of Ben Nevis and surrounding area.
I was fortunate enough to attend the 2014 BMC Winter Meet this year, with my girlfriend Michelle Kadatz, where 47 foreign climbers from 25 countries got together at the Glenmore Lodge in Aviemore during the last week of January. Every day, each visitor gets paired up with a host climber from the UK, familiar with the Scottish winter climbing scene, and together they head out on an adventure. At the end of the day, everybody has dinner and drinks together, and has the option to watch slideshows and presentations at the lodge’s lecture theater. Halfway through the week, a partner switch is made so the visitor gets a total of two different hosts to climb with.
Conditions throughout the week were tricky with an unusual amount of snow, a high avalanche hazard and generally bad weather. This however seemed to force people to dig a little deeper, and as a result, there were a lot of early starts made and an impressive list of climbs got done.
Extacy pitch 1
My first partner was Nick Bullock, a veteran of the Scottish winter scene, who had been putting up cutting edge first ascents and generally raising the bar for well over a decade, both in Scotland and in the greater ranges. Like me, he really liked to get after it. But in order to do just that, it seemed prudent to use our first day, a bad weather day even by Scottish standards, to put a track into Craeg Meagaidh and try to find the start of a route called Extasy, put up during the 2005 winter meet by Bruno Sourzac and Dave Hesleden. It had been one Nick was stoked for since a friend of his made the only repeat and spoke highly of its quality. That day we couldn’t see more than halfway up the 250m face, but with the boot track in and the start of the route located, the cards seemed nicely stacked in our favor. The hike was also a good way to shake off my jetlag. We made the routes 3rd ascent the next day in a 17-hour car-to-car effort, and it didn’t disappoint. The entire cliff was coated in thin ice and rime – prime Scottish conditions, and the climbing was fiercely sustained! Following the thickest, most supportive ice or neve, usually just a couple of centimeters thick and often too thin to hold body weight, we battled upwards for 5 long pitches. It never felt like we had the route in the bag until the very top. Protection was scarce, and head-spinning run-outs were the norm. A perfect intro!
Nick stated on his blog:
“Its difficult to imaging that I will have a more compelling, engaging day of the winter than this one. We climbed the route totally on ice but the ice was less than perfect and the ground at times was steep. The gear to protect the climb was minimal and the descent ‘interesting’… All in all, a pretty full-on day.”
Extacy - Nick climbing pitch 2. The route snaked it's way around and through many steep bits
Nick leading off on pitch 4, hoping to find a groove jst a little more left. It was now storming.
JW leading the start of pitch 5. Headlamp ready, just in case! Fortunately I completed this 62 m pitch before turning it on. photo: Nick Bullock
The next day, the weather was the usual slashing rain in the valley bottoms and winds up to 90 mph up high. This made it easier to take a much needed rest day, as Extasy had taxed our bodies both mentally and physically. The event organizers initiated a partner switch that night, and I got paired with Greg Boswell. Greg is as bad-ass as they come and has been turning heads both at home, and abroad, with lots of difficult and serious new routes and repeats under his belt. We immediately started making plans to climb a new line he had scoped on the beautiful quartzite walls of Beinn Eighe. But Nick’s new partner needed a rest day so he insisted on making joining us too.
Greg Boswell and I on the summit of Beinn Eighe, before rappelling into the West-central gully. This was by far the best weather day of the trip. photo: Nick Bullock
After a couple hours of approaching, we reached the base of the route. Greg won the first rock paper scissors and fired a series of roofs above a snow ledge near the top of the West-central Gully. Much to Nick’s dismay I won the second rock paper scissors and scored the second pitch - a long slightly overhanging off-width with a thin coating of verglas. Fortunately the rock had just enough other features, and it turned out to be one of the best pitches I climbed during the trip. Nick fired the final crack / corner system and we were soon treated to amazing sunset over a stunning view of the north-western highlands. “Lochs” dotted the green valleys everywhere and the snowline at mid height gave the mountains a bigger feel, despite their low altitudes.
Nick wrote on his blog: “The perfect day. Stunning settled weather, a magnificent situation and a line both Greg and I had spotted a few years back. I lost Scissor, paper, stone all-day and climbed the third pitch, which was still good but not as spectacular as the second pitch or as sustained as the first pitch. We called it Making the Cut after talking to Simon Richardson about the amount of entries he has on his blog Scottish Winter climbs.”
Greg hooking his way out some sweet quartzite roofs and pitch 1
Another angle of Greg on pitch 1.
Working my way up the sustained chimney, off-width, corner - pitch 2 of Making the Cut. photo: Greg Boswell
Two days later, we were hoping to do another route on the same face, but after an hour of sitting in the car hoping for the winds and rain to calm down, we opted for plan b. This time it was Nick and I (Greg’s knee strain was acting up, and he was getting off treatment) and Michelle and her partner Ian Parnell. Two days earlier they had a big success on a 9-pitch Ben Nevis route called the Centurion one of the longest in the area. Another nearby peak called Mael Gorm offered “the shortest approach in Scotland” which by the time we got there made sense, especially with the gale force wind gusts. Although not quite as spectacular as the first two climbs, it was a popular spot that day and many routes saw climbers on them, and certainly way better than festering at the lodge.
Back at the Meet that night, wine flowed freely as everyone celebrated an amazing week. The energy had been incredible and it had a been a long time since I’d seen so many really passionate mixed climbers getting after it like that. For both myself and Michelle (who had amassed a route list most locals were jealous of), there couldn’t have been a better introduction to winter climbing in Scotland, and we’re deeply thankful to the BMC for organizing it, our UK hosts – especially Nick, Greg, Will and Ian, and from the support we received from the Alpine Club of Canada and Arcteryx for helping making it all happen.
Mega Route X. Looks almost like a pure ice route, but it had some intesting mixed sections on the second pitch.
Now it was time to get after it on our own, and our photographer friend Paul Bride had just flown over from Squamish B.C. to join us. Scotland had been on his bucket list for a long time, and he was psyched to tag along to shoot some climbing. However, the weather wasn’t panning out very well, and we got shut down a two days in a row, and not for lack of trying. At least we managed to tour the countryside a bit and sample some of the finer local vintages. The folks that live in the hills were incredibly hospitable and easy to get along with. Finally we got some weather decent enough for climbing, and we headed up the Number 3 gully on Ben Nevis, home to some famous test-pieces I was hoping to try. A thick fog on its upper reaches forced us to stay on lower cliffs, and we climbed some obvious thin ice lines called Mega Route X, which is classic, and a wild overhanging dagger line called Feeding Frenzy. Late in the afternoon it cleared enough to see the crazy looking rime plastered to some of the higher walls.
Mega Route X, a thin classic. Mega Fun! Photo: Paul Bride
We descended to the town of Fort Williams, hoping to get another chance. Two more horrendously bad weather days passed, although on the second, we hiked through the slashing rain to the deluxe CIC hut at the base of the Ben’s North Face. The forecast called for “a rare benign day” on Friday, which didn’t exactly pan out, as the fog level again was much too low to climb at the higher routes with the thick rime. Maybe it was just as well as the avalanche hazard was still high and we observed a number of fresh fracture lines a few days earlier.
Tea time, with the Ben Nevis bible. Michelle enjoying life in the CIC hut
Eventually we settled on trying a route that seemed to be unclimbed, just left of Mick Fowler’s 7-pitch classic – The Shield Direct. After two-and-a-half pitches of sustained overhanging dihedral action, laced with thin ice and neve, we merged back with the shield and continued up it to the top of pitch-4. The benign weather was abruptly ended with strong winds, which turned the route into a river of spindrift, making upward progress virtually impossible. But the pitches had been wild ones and the beast within was fed.
The start of the variation. Photo Paul Bride
And a little higher up. Photo: Paul Bride
Scottish winter climbing is intense. Every pitch was a memorable battle that had me focused on nothing but the present. The Highlands truly are the quintessential real deal venue for mixed adventure. Rich with history and virtually devoid of any in-situ gear, proper mixed climbing in its purest form was a refreshing experience! The addictiveness of it grew on me throughout the trip, and I know it won’t be long before I’m back again.