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Scottish Winter and a bit of tooling!

By Anna Wells
16, Feb, 2015

Getting outside and placing ice screws for the first time

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I thought it was time I wrote something about the climbing I have done outside, because so far I have only spoken about competitions! The past couple of months I have missed out on most of the Scottish winter due to being away every weekend, however I did get four excellent days over Christmas and have been doing quite a bit of dry-tooling outdoors.

Scottish Winter Climbing

My winter adventures started on boxing-day. My friend Tim and I made a very last minute plan to have an attempt at Point 5 gulley, but there were a couple of obstacles to overcome: firstly, we only had 2 ice screws between us, secondly I had to be at my grannys in Inverness for a Christmas dinner at 6pm, and thirdly, it was already midnight. So, problems need solutions …. And at 2am, after an hours sleep, I was off on a treasure hunt around Inverness, picking up ice screws from two very kind friends who had left them in their recycling bins for me to collect – thank you Paul and Johannes! We arrived at the base of Point Five Gulley just as the sun was coming up, and it looked awesome!!
It was my first time climbing on proper ice, and thus also my first time placing ice screws! I had the joy of leading the Rogue Pitch, which was every bit as good as it looks. We moved together for the last 200m, topping out in the early afternoon and walking up to the summit of Ben Nevis for good measure. Incredibly, we did not see a single other climber or walker during the whole day. We made a speedy descent and got back to the car by 4pm, leaving plenty of time for me to drive to my granny’s and eat lots of turkey.

That night, Harry Holmes decided to drive up from York for a spontaneous weekend of Scottish Winter. He arrived at around 1am, so it was another sleep-deprived night as we got up to head to Cairngorm at 5am! We decided to have a fast and easy day of moving together and getting in some mileage. We climbed Patey’s route, Pigmy ridge, and fluted buttress direct. It was a great day out and finished up with some well-deserved coffee and cake in Aviemore.

The next morning, after a 3am start, I found myself walking back in to the CIC hut. Harry wanted to have a go at a route called Apache, and so a few hours later we had arrived at the base of the route and I set up camp on a little belay ledge. By this point, the last two days were taking their toll; I was completely exhausted, and was really struggling to stay awake as Harry tried to figure out the start of the route. I was secretly relieved when a long while later we ended up retreating. To make the most of the glorious day, we walked up Ledge route under a bright blue sunny sky. 

That night I was faced with the prospect of a 3 hour drive to Aberdeen.  Low on sleep but high on caffeine, my little brother did a great job of keeping me awake! We eventually made it to Aberdeen just after midnight, and I fell into bed with great relief, completely exhausted from having had three big mountain days and very little sleep. Just one problem…. The forecast was REALLY good for the next day, and I had already made some more climbing plans!

My friend Pete Herd was very understanding and allowed a most leisurely start! We rolled into the Lochnagar carpark at 9am, with the sun already up. The weather was incredible and it made a really nice change from walking in in the dark.  We opted for Cathedral buttress, where we climbed Cathedral chimney and Magic pillar. Both were totally awesome and I really enjoyed swinging into turf! We had a very chilled out day, with some relaxing in the sun (although it was pretty windy!). As we walked out, the sun began to set, but there was enough light from the moon in the completely clear sky such that we didn’t even need our head-torches.

I don’t think I have ever been as tired or as content as I was when I got home that night! I was quite glad to see the warm forecast for the following day, and slept happy in the knowledge that I was not going to be missing out on any climbing! In 4 days I had climbed 7 routes in superb conditions; not a bad Christmas present. 

Fast and Furious and Point Five Gully

Dry Tooling: Newtyle

There is a route at Newtyle (a quarry near Perth) called “Fast and Furious”, which I first heard of many years ago, watching a video where Fiona Murray managed to climb it. I think it is quite benchmark at the grade M10 and a bit of a right-of-passage for local enthusiasts.

I went to try it with my friend Scott on Christmas eve. It felt slightly tragic to be hanging out in a dark damp cave on such a special day of the year! Scott has climbed the route lots of times, so gave me all the beta. It was quite a short session as we both had mum’s that wanted us home for Christmas, and I came away empty-handed. The next strange date of the year we visited was New Year’s Eve. This time I got agonisingly close, getting to the last draw before the lower-off, but again there was no prize!
Finally, at the beginning of January whilst the rest of team GB were out in Korea and I was stuck working in a GP practice, I vented my frustration by eventually getting the tick. It was not without a battle though! My first two attempts that day I fell off whilst trying to clip the lower-off, but it was third time lucky for me.
Managing to climb this route has given me a lot of confidence. It is the easiest route in “the tube” (a big cave at newtyle) so now I have started looking at some of the other routes.

Drytooling at L'Usine

Drytooling: L’Usine

Between the Italian and French rounds of the world cup this year, we had a few days to entertain ourselves. An incredibly kind French competitior , Cora Lie, put us up in her beautiful home which was conveniently located 2km from L’Usine, a massive drytooling cave near Grenoble. It is quite an incredible place; the cave is situated high up within a rockface (climbing a metal ladder for access) with stunning views out to the mountains. Quite a contrast to newtyle which is basically a hole in the ground. The names and grades of the routes are written at the bottom, and all the drill holes are painted.
I managed to onsight two routes graded M8 and one M9 although I think it is important to admit that I climbed all these routes using some fig-4s which I understand is not the French style (DTS Dry-Tool-Style!) and so apparently this makes all the grades easier. We spent two days there and got loads of mileage. I absolutely loved it, and I felt really fit by the end of it. I can’t wait to go back!

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In pictures

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  anna wells down jackets dry tooling ice climbing winter climbing

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