Round Tower

The tail-end of a recent two week warm spell brought friend Fiend – fellow climber and Starcraft2 comrade – to the North East from Glasgow. Perhaps the recent alignment of the planets had something to do with such a rare occurrence of good weather before the nesting season fowled up much of the good coastal climbing here. In any case, we were instantly agreed that we would check out the Round Tower.

The Round Tower holds some of the finest extremes on the coast but does unfortunately get quite “birdy,” rendering the easier climbs unclimbable from April-September. Even after the birds leave their nests, their nests remain. The Round Tower is also home to the coveted local E2 test-piece Tyrant Crack which adorns the North East Outcrops guidebook cover.

This route has been on my wish list for a couple years now, but conditions have conveniently kept me away from the attempt. Now we were going and I didn’t feel ready. I decided that I probably wouldn’t try that day, but rather to enjoy the routes I could do and follow Matthew up some routes that were beyond my leading ability. Even as we drove out the rain started spitting down so it seemed like I was going to be granted a reprieve after all. The rain didn’t last and the climb was nicely sheltered from the cold wind so we geared up and started with the easier routes. I started with High Voltage (HVS 5a*)  which begins by surmounting some poop-encrusted ledges that leads to a fun finishing flake on good holds.

Matthew warmed up on Ramadan (E1 5b **) the sensational arete on the right side of the tower shown in the photo above. He abseiled and cleaned his gear so I could lead it on mine. A tricky run out start over some dubious protection gains the arete and a spectacular exposed position on huge holds and perfect gear. It was hard not to linger for awhile. This is now one of my favorite climbs on the coast and really set the tone for me that day. I felt solid pulling the moves above less-than-perfect gear and the climbing above was sheer joy. Suddenly, Tyrant Crack looked not only doable, but fun!

Matthew racked up and led it and then cleaned it. Not a problem for him as he’s quite strong. My turn next. I climbed up and placed some gear and climbed down for a short rest. It’s quite strenuous placing gear in the start of this one. The difficulties are right off the start and go for a few meters, but the protection is excellent and there are many opportunities, you just have to be strong enough to hang on and place it. I was a bit sketchy getting onto the wall proper, but after that it seemed to flow pretty well and I made it to the sanctuary of “the spike” without much trouble. Above the spike, gear is sparse but what there is, is good — and the climbing gets easier. Halfway up, I couldn’t help grinning that I had it in the bag.

It started to get colder after that, but Matthew was keen for Silver Surfer (E3 5c**) a nice looking wall climb to a ledge and crack and corner finish. I was once again impressed with his ability to commit and climb confidently and safely over thin unprotected looking rock. He found good gear and made it look like HVS. I seconded on numb fingers, nearly fell off, couldn’t remove two pieces of gear and had the hot aches by the time I got to the halfway ledge. Good thing I didn’t attempt it on the lead.

We hummed and hawed over the possibility of a very green but cool looking E3 on the corner but decided that it was taking the full brunt of the strengthening north wind so I finished up on the “not well protected” Life of Brian (E1 5a**) which is a big traverse across the back of the crag. With two distinct cruxes and not much gear this climb gently rises up and right to the top of the crag with the final crux a committing series of thin moves on lichen-covered rock well away from the last bits of questionable gear. I climbed out and back several times before committing. There was always the option of escaping up an easy corner, but I was glad that I finished it properly as it was quite the exhilarating finish and overall very satisfying climbing and a fine conclusion to a great day out.


Weird Sister

Just had a fantastic morning out with my friend Johannes. We did a 3 pitch E3 5c which would be about 5.11 a. I got the first 5a pitch which felt a lot more like 5b above poor gear but I’m not going to quibble. Johannes kindly led out the crux second pitch placing all the gear and testing the peg by falling onto it four times before handing the lead over to me. I was able to climb through smoothly and before I knew it I was up above the peg and climbing the last airy 5 meter runout. Yikes! Thankfully I didn’t fluff the final 5b moves but made it safely to the belay. Johannes took over and led out the final 5c crack without difficulty. Top day!!

Coastal Climbing Update

Like last year, the outdoor season started strong. The coastal cragging has been great with some real stand-out climbs with various partners. The two hardest climbs on the coast this spring were Subline (E3 5c ***) with Amelia and Vespa Vulgaris (E3 6a **) with Ben. Some other stand-out ascents around Aberdeen include the adventurous Johnathan Livingston Seagull (E1 5c **), pictured below, and the superb Anger and Lust (E2 5c ***) both with Johannes.

Last year when the nice weather started, we emerged from the indoor climbing wall and hit the sea cliffs with a good degree of fitness. Then as the outdoor season wore on, we went to the climbing wall less and less and the fitness dropped off. I hope to avoid that this season, but it’s hard to go climbing indoors when the weather is nice. Ah well. It’s a good problem to have I guess.

The February/March Report

I’m still amazed at how easy the winters are in Scotland. Sure it’s cold and wet, but it’s not a patch on a miserable Canadian maritime winter. It doesn’t have the big snowfalls of New Brunswick or the stinging -15 wind chill of Ontario. February 2011 in Aberdeen has been quite amenable and testament to this is the number of times one can climb outside. Here’s a keen couple of climbers taking advantage of calm seas and February sun!

This season began as early as January with some bouldering down in the Lake District but our first climb on the sea cliffs was on January 27 at the Red Wall. It was a glorious sunny day. Crisp temps of course, but still, this was the start of the 2011 season. Since then we’ve been to the Red Wall four more times. One has to get on this cliff before April brings the nesting sea birds. The last time we visiting there was a noticeable increase in the level of bird … activity. It was really starting to stink. Here’s our friend Mark on belay. Doesn’t look too good does it? I think this venue is closed until next year.

We’ve been a bit lucky with the weather this year. There’s been less snow and more sunny days. Here, our stylish friend Matthew shows us how it’s done in the winter sun – climbing in a tank top. As you can see, the cliff was much cleaner the month previous.

One day our friend Dan called me up with the challenge of finding a multi-pitch VS. There was really only one venue I could think of. Earnsheugh. A dreary place that faces north; is covered in lichen; is rotten in places and is the tallest sea cliff around. From a distance it looks like it’s about to fall into the sea! It’s hard to believe that it has some of the best climbing on the coast. Here’s Dan treading carefully on our climb.

Ok, back to sunshine and clean rock! Amelia and I have visited the always pleasant Deceptive Wall a couple of times. It’s just down the road from our house and is home to some of the better quality easy routes around. Did I say easy? My mistake. This wall has tricky gear and some steep climbing. It’s the perfect venue to improve those trad skills. Our friends Joe and Anna took advantage of the nice weather by walking the coastal trail from Cove to Aberdeen. Here’s a shot they took of Amelia on their way by. Looks good eh?!

We’ve made a few visits here as I’ve mentioned. Once with a visiting PhD from Switzerland who now also climbs regularly with us in the climbing gym. Below, Sandrina belays Amelia on an unknown (at the time) climb in the same area. Meme is honing her skills nicely. By the time summer rolls around we’ll be swapping leads on mountain routes. Can’t wait!

It hasn’t all been sunny skies and fun adventures. There were a couple of weeks of soaking rain and gloom and cold but we don’t take pictures of that. We mostly just focus on getting as much work done as we can so that when the sun comes out again, we can take advantage. So far so good! Here’s a parting shot that isn’t someone climbing on rock.

More pictures below in the gallery.

Weekend Warriors

The skin on my hands is quite sore at the moment. It feels like I’ve using a belt sander on my palms. Strangely enough, I also feel quite satisfied to feel this way. It means I had a great weekend. It kicked off Friday night with a bouldering competition at the local climbing wall. Unfortunately, I didn’t do all that well, but my friend Stuart did and it’s always good fun anyway so it’s hard to be angry. Mandatory pints with the crew at Blackfriars afterward chased away any lingering self-flagellation.

Saturday morning Matthew drove up from Edinburgh in search of quality coastal climbing. The forecast was extremely good, promising chilly temps but sunny skies.  It’s pre-nesting season for the hoards of sea birds that come to cover the cliffs and winter storms have washed away last year’s nests and guano.  This time of year many of the best crags are in condition. We headed to the Red Wall, which I’d already climbed at a few times this year. There was still much to do and hopefully the sunny skies would encourage me up some harder climbs. Despite climbing in the dead of winter, I’m very much a fair weather climber. I don’t perform well when I can’t feel my fingers.

We abseiled down to the base of Red Wall and Matthew immediately jumped on a hard E2. The book describes it as being strenuous, with barely adequate protection. Gear looked tricky to place, wasn’t confidence inspiring and the moves above it were strenuous indeed. I was happy to second it. My lead was a less ambitious E1 flake crack that looked quite good from the ground. I found the moves to the crack poorly protected which kind of freaked me out. Once in the crack I was given only one shallow nut placement to protect the moves above. My leg did a fair Elvis impression while placing more shallow gear before the final hard moves to safety. Guess I won’t be trying anything hard today.

Matthew’s next climb was another E2, this one quite excellent. Good gear and good steady climbing with a tricky bit at the top. Again, I was happy to second but this time just because the climbing was so fun. Winter cragging unfortunately means short days and we had lost our sun around the horizon. It was time to start thinking about getting out. Once down at the base, the only option for getting out is to climb.

I chose a quality two pitch HVS to get us out. Pitch one was quite good climbing up to and then around a roof into a perfect flake. By the time everyone was up to the belay it was getting quite dark. Thankfully Matthew led out the second pitch with all due haste and we topped out in the dark. I found the last pitch quite  cold and covered in lichen. I think we went off route a bit, but it was the path of least resistance and we didn’t get benighted so I wasn’t complaining. In fact, I was quite happy with the day. Four more climbs! We’ve been very lucky. And tomorrow the forecast looked just as good.

The next day we headed back up North to Long Haven. This time we were going to the Round Tower, a place that fills me with a bit of trepidation. There’s a hard climb there I want to do but I doubted this was the day. It was colder, the sun still hadn’t come out as promised and there was ice in the puddles. We stomped out to the Round Tower and were greeted with a rather damp looking wall. We decided to take a closer look. The approach is on the north side of the tower along a narrow grassy ledge some 20 meters above the sea. It was a bit wet and we had packs on. It was a bit hairy, but we made it. Once around the backside we were able to see most of the routes. Some are very hard, others less so, all were greasy. The architecture of the rock is quite amazing though. It will be great to get back there some sunny day before the birds return.

We had a look at other cliffs on the way back to the car. No climbing outside today. Far too greasy. Funny how quickly conditions change on the coast. We decided to go climbing indoors, had a beast of a session. A lot of good friends were there as well which made it even more enjoyable.

We sent Matthew on his way with a belly full of haggis. A proper end to a great weekend. Pictures below.

Climbing in January

That’s right. It is warm enough and dry enough to climb in January! Amazing.

One weekend we headed out with Ryan and Piotr for some climbing on the Red Wall in the Longhaven Quarries area. It’s about an hour north of the city on the coast. We arrived early and while the winter sun was up, it felt damp and quite cool, especially with the 20mph winds! Big swells were rolling in and some sea spray was coming quite high up the cliff. I admit I was a bit skeptical, but since our intended route was “easy” I was keen to go down and have a look anyway.

We rigged the abseil and headed over the side to assess conditions. On first inspection, it felt quite greasy. There was lingering damp from a previous rain, or perhaps just winter runoff. Our objective was Phaff, a three pitch rising traverse right above the sea. Abseil in and climb out.

Ryan and Pete went first out to a large ledge known as the Dias. Ryan was enthusiastic about the conditions of our line which only he could see. Pete followed and then I led over with Meme on belay. We were moving as two parties of two. Initially, I thought Meme and I might do one of the other classic traverses on the wall which take lines higher up, but upon reaching the Dias, I could clearly see that Phaff was in pristine condition while the others looked green and slimy.

From the Dias the second pitch climbs up a short ramp to a large friendly horizontal crack that stretches out on a gentle rise across the almost vertical granite wall. We’re about 15 meters from the huge seas that are pounding the cliff and about 20 meters from the top of the cliff itself. The wind is hammering the Dias so fiercely that I’m happy for the anchor so as to not blow away! Thankfully the climbing was not as exposed to the winds and the climbing was superb. The pitch is over quickly as the climbing is quite easy. I rigged the belay and Amelia came up after and then led through the final several easy meters to the top.

The following weekend we got lucky with the weather again. Even more so as the winds and the seas were calm as could be. We stole away around 11am just down to our local cliff South Cove. The sun was shining and it was warm with our down jackets and packs on. There were three other parties there that day, one of whom allowed us to use their abseil line to go over the side. We wanted to do a couple of the easier lines on the middle of the main wall which can be hard to see since it rises straight out of the sea with few places to view the wall. This part of the cliff is characterized by ramps, buttresses, grooves and ledges. It was quite hard to see our route based on the description in the book so I just went up and started climbing.

I got some gear in and climbed up into an overhanging groove whose handholds were loose chock stones. I found myself sweating in the sun and uncertain if I was going the right way. The rock looked quite loose so I down climbed and tried the groove to the right with better results. Above this however, was more rotten rock so I zigged left and around into yet another groove with better rock and nicer climbing. The top of this line was grassy and loose so I had to zig left yet again onto firmer territory. I think I must have crossed three different lines in that climb. The climbing felt quite adventurous.

Our second climb of the day was harder but far more straightforward. Another abseil down to the water’s edge and we racked up for Insect Flake (E1 5b). Easy bulges lead to the flake which was really fun overhanging climbing on large holds and bomber gear. A quick hop up onto a ramp puts one beneath the crux groove. It was quite steep without good holds and barely enough good gear. I spent a fair amount of time scrunched awkwardly at the base of that groove working up my nerve. If only my legs would stop cramping! I placed a high cam in a deep crack and pulled through the hard moves with only a little grunt. The easy top out into the sunshine was a sweet victory. I thought it was quite hard for the grade. I’d say it was excellent value. Meme topped out just as we lost our sunshine behind the cliffs to the south so we packed up and headed home. It was 4pm. Fantastic!

Lucky again! Johannes and I went out to scope a route on a particularly adventurous coastal feature known as the Hawk’s Nest. It’s a big arch that sticks out into the sea off a tall promontory. It’s difficult to access and very adventurous to say the least. We scrambled our way into position to get a better view across the inlet. With binoculars we spotted the line and a few others, but felt they looked green and damp and combined with the swells it may not be climbable so we headed over to the neighboring Red Wall. Having just been there a couple weeks prior, I knew the approach and quickly abseiled down direct to the Dias cutting out a bit of Phaff. Johannes led the sweet middle pitch and by the time we were on top again the sun was shining. We knew we had to go to the lower wall to see what conditions were like for some harder climbing.

Everything was surprisingly clean and dry. The architecture of the place was inspiring and we got on the three star Red Cloud (HVS 5a). The pitch begins with some steep climbing in a corner flake and then surmounts a bulge to a big ledge (crux). From there it’s easy climbing on big holds for the next 30 meters to the top of the cliff. So fun! Can’t wait to get back there.

An Unexpected Christmas

Christmas this year didn’t go according to plan, but we made the best of it really. We had planned to visit family and friends in Canada. It was a good plan and we were psyched. Then unprecedented amounts of snow fell on the UK, first shutting down trains, then schools and finally airports. Everything closed five days before Christmas. We checked our flights online the night before and sure enough our flight from Aberdeen to London was canceled and also the main flight from London to Halifax. Canceled. They canceled Christmas. They obviously have no idea. Better send in the clowns.

So there we were, we had no flights, no lights, no tree, no food, no plan. We were both also horribly sick with head colds. We spent that day following twitter posts, airline website updates, searching vainly for customer service phone numbers and the fine print of the terms and conditions. All very hard to find and vague. The numbers we called didn’t connect to anything other than a dial tone. We got excited when we got into the voice menu only to be transferred back to the dial tone. We ate frozen pizza, watched a movie and then went to bed early.

We awoke to frozen water pipes. The landlord suggested we locate the water main in case we need to shut it all off in the event of a burst pipe. He also suggested that we stuff blankets in next to the frozen pipes, if we can find them. We dissected the house and became experts on its crawl spaces and we turned up the heat. Our water came back on around 4pm.

There was a flurry of condolences from local friends and offers to get out and do stuff. It was very touching. We have some seriously great friends here. We were still horribly sick.

We were also on the hunt for a snow shovel. Snow was coming down steadily. I shoveled the drive three times already and there was another foot down again. According to the sales person at the B&Q the truck with the shovels was stuck in the snow somewhere south of the city.

The cat sitter dropped off our key to the house with a festive note explaining we wouldn’t get our money back but that she was happy to provide a receipt for adding to our insurance claim. We called her but there was no answer.

We picked up some Christmas lights and new decorations. Amelia found the box of old decorations and decorated the conservatory. We blew the dust off the Christmas CDs. We have about six of them.

I decided to make almond croissants. Almond croissants require croissants that are two to three days old,  so there was the small matter of making the croissants first. The day before Christmas Eve was spent working the pastry dough and finally baking the croissants. That took pretty much all day. They turned out amazing.

We spent Christmas cooking and eating and drinking as it should be. Our friend Dan dropped by in the early afternoon and we ate Meme’s awesome salad rolls with my “sushi” buns, complete with ginger, soy and wasabi and a few small glasses of sake. We went for a walk.

Dinner consisted of more traditional “fayre.” Vegetarian haggis, purple mashed potatoes and green beans sauteed in butter and garlic. Dan made a tasty apple crisp for dessert. Ok, so it wasn’t that traditional, but somehow it all worked. Even the purple mashed potatoes. We thought they just had purple skins, but no, they were purple all the way through.

In the evening we enjoyed mulled wine and whiskey. We listened to our Christmas CDs and played mountaineering Monopoly. I lost because the rent for staying in the base camp on Trango Tower was extortionate. I had to mortgage K2 and Everest and it just went downhill from there.

On boxing day we went climbing! Or tried to. The day was cold and overcast. We’d heard a crag near to place was in good condition so we went over for a look see. It was fun walking into the place in the deep snow. We carefully picked our way down the snowy clifftops to the coastal climbing areas below. No one else was around of course. Ice and snow covered everything. There were a few small but impressive walls of ice that formed from seepage in the cliff. The rock was mostly dry and in fine condition except for the deep snow on top. We managed one climb. It wasn’t much fun due to the cold winds blowing off the North Sea and lack of sunlight so we packed it in and headed home again. At least we got out!

Back at home I followed through on the almond croissant plan. I cut the remaining croissants in half and basted them in sugar water. I made almond paste and spread it inside and on top. I shook some slivered almonds onto the tops and popped them in the oven for ten minutes. They were so good I almost died.

All in all it was a fine Christmas despite the unlucky turn with our flights being canceled. We enjoyed some excellent snowy weather, each others company and the company of a good friend. We made and ate some new amazing foods and managed an outdoor climb on boxing day. We relaxed and read books with tea close to hand and cats purring on our laps.

A Visit from the Megasar!

It now seems like ages ago that Dan, Linda and their baby Viva visited. Man we had a good time, we sure hope they come back again soon.

They arrived on Halloween, flying into Edinburgh and taking the train to Aberdeen. We met them at the train station and promptly brought them back to Cove for some pumpkin carving, beers, introductions and the beginning of a stellar week of climbing and hangin’ out.

Normally I like handing out candy to the trick or treaters but that night I just put a bowl full of candy bars on the front step and flanked them with our scary pumpkins — Linda’s first carving, thanks Linda!

That first week of November gave us surprisingly excellent weather. Dan and Linda took advantage by walking the 6 mile coastal trail from Cove to Aberdeen. We also managed to get out climbing a few times. We did a bit of trad climbing, sport climbing and a bit of bouldering. The highlight of which was lowering Viva down the side of a 15 foot wall. We took a few wee drives about the countryside to visit a castle (Donottar) and hills (Cairn o Mount). We did a bit of crag spotting as well. That’s where you go out with intentions of climbing but find it either a) in poor condition or b) too cold or dark or both.

All in all it was such a great week. We enjoyed meeting Viva and showing them around Aberdeenshire. We look forward to our next visit. Here are some photos.

Coastal Cragging Season Begins

It seems that summer has moved on in the north east of Scotland, some might wonder if it was ever here at all, but I know it happened. It may not get real hot, or real dry, but the super long days and the many weekends of traveling far and wide testify to the summer’s existence. A friend of mine made the recent comment “it’s time for sunsets again.” Too right. Sunrises as well for that matter. In the height of Aberdeen summer the sun goes down after ten with gloaming almost until midnight only to have the sun rise again at 4:30 a.m. The days are much shorter now and fall is here and that means no more long days in the mountains. But that’s ok, because we can return to our local sea cliffs!

I love the coastal climbing around Aberdeen. So many crags, all beautifully situated on the north sea, and the variety! Bullet hard granite, swirly schist, soft and compact sandstone and everything else in between makes the coastal cragging here a lot of fun. I also like it for the fact that routes tend to be on the shorter side. I’m less intimidated by them and find I can commit to climbing harder routes more often. Just a couple weekends ago we got out with Pete and Anna and the coastal climbing didn’t disappoint.

We picked them up on a fine Saturday morning. Anna had been up all night working and somehow Pete had talked her into coming out with us today or maybe she was just keen to not waste a beautiful day. Either way, bravo!

We decided to head north of Aberdeen and discussed a few options along the way. We came to agree on Harper’s Wall, a crag Amelia and I had never been to. Even though Pete had been there a few years ago he was keen to go back. I think he had a rematch pending.

Harper’s Wall has a unique feature. The base of the wall is steeply overhanging for the first 2 meters which makes the start of almost all the routes the hardest part. Not only that, but the base is also home a number of very green and nasty looking pools of standing water. Climbers and belayers both have to be careful not to fall in.

Pete and Anna warmed up on the aptly named 1, 2, 3 Go! (HVS 5b). The route is so-named because of that steep start I was mentioning. Meme and I did it after our warm up, the less gymnastic Renegade (VS 4c) which traverses in from the right to left and then climbs up the highest part of the wall. 1, 2, 3, Go! begins by reaching as high as you can to grab the first hold and pulling up onto the climb as best you can. It’s basically a chin up followed by a throw to the next good hold, a stop to fiddle in some gear and then another long reach to the next good hold and only then does one get their feet on the climb proper. The rest of the route maintains interest by negotiating a bulge and then climbing up a groove. It’s excellent climbing. We had to get a little crafty with gear so Amelia could follow it, but it all worked out well.

Pete and Anna then moved on to the more serious Silent Partner (E2 5b). We’ve got pictures of Pete on the lead in the gallery below. It looked hard! Nice one Pete. Amelia and I, not to be outdone, upped our game as well and got on Che (E2 5c). Ok, I actually thought I was on the neighboring route Rock Mushroom (E1 5b) as they both share the same start, but it seems I missed the turn off and ended up in thin cracks high on the wall. I remember thinking it felt quite hard and sustained for E1 and that’s when Anna, with guidebook in hand, called the error in route finding up to me. That’s great! I’m not weak, this is hard, I’m climbing at my limit. I continued on higher and higher above my last bits of gear with a slight quiver in my legs expecting to fall off at any moment, but thankfully just enough holds were there and I made it to the top without taking the fall. Climbing hard is often fun, but the jury’s out on that one. No stars for you Che.

By this point the incoming tide was encroaching fast so we headed to the nearby non-tidal favorite Meikle Partans. We’ve climbed at this crag quite a bit, but there’s still a few challenges within my abilities and one of those is Boardman’s Crack (E2 5b). It’s not a long climb, but it’s deceptive in difficulty. I watched a friend of mine fall off this route on his birthday earlier this year (he got it clean on his second go). It starts off steep and awkward but there is good gear and the crux is short lived. Slam in good nut, grab the next hold and lean far out to the left while moving the feet up and before you know it, it’s all over. There’s no gear for the next few meters but the climbing is not hard. Felt more like a boulder problem really. Good though. Glad to have that one done.

The reason for the crag’s popularity is the abundance of high quality climbs in the lower grades. Down at the left end of the wall is a favorite lead of Amelia’s. Constellation (Severe) climbs a beautiful corner of immaculate rock. The climbing is quite easy all the way to just before the top where a nice little crux awaits. There’s also the crag classic, Strawclutcher’s Wall (E1 5b) which Anna cruised despite having been up for more than 20 hours straight. Nice one Anna! Pics are in the gallery below.

Pete’s last climb of the day was Comedy of Errors (E2 6a). I’ve not done this one yet, but it’s there for the next time. A friend of mine did the first ascent in 1996 so that’s reason enough to try.

It’s worth noting that we had barbeque’d bananas with melted chocolate there courtesy of Pete and Anna. That’s now 3 times we’ve had bbq at this crag! Brilliant. Thanks guys!

Wow, coastal cragging at it’s finest. A short drive, 2 crags, 5 routes and a bbq all before sunset. Bring on the fall I say, the season suits me just fine.

West Coast Summer Finale Part 2: Coastal Cragging at Reiff

We all got a good night’s sleep at the excellent “hut” and were up bright and early the next day for more climbing, this time at the coastal area Reiff. Reiff is a small coastal town some ways north and west of Ullapool. It’s almost on the very tip of one of those large west coast peninsulas.

The drive from Elphin to Reiff is 20 miles of single lane road that weaves its way in and around some of the most wild and beautiful scenery I have ever seen. 45 minutes later we arrive at the coastal village of Reiff. We get intermittent cell phone reception and a text comes in from some friends of ours who are in the area. Stuart and Amanda are at an area quite close to the car park so after finding suitable parking and some quick gearing up, we head on over to say hi. We find them soloing (climbing sans rope) a huge fin of rock that juts proudly from a low level platform just above the sea. The coast here is stunning and it seems to go on forever. Here’s Amanda looking solid on Moon Jelly (V.Diff).

We exchange plans for the day and leave them to it. Our plans lay an hour further north. Try as we may we cannot find the path that leads north from a sheiling and we end up on the wrong end of some bog. Not only that, but there seems to be a wall of rain heading our way from the east. No matter, we continue north to the tip of the peninsula and just catch the edge of the rain shower. We locate our crag, The Leaning Block Cliffs, fairly easily because a friend of mine is there climbing on it! It’s always a pleasant surprise to see a friendly face at a remote crag. Partner introductions are made all around and some route recommendations are made. Matthew (aka Fiend) demonstrates fine form by charging up the aptly named Brave Heart (E2 5b).

The line he’s recommended lies further down the crag on a proud corner of the wall. Cyclops (E2 5c) really does look amazing. This grade is the upper limit of my trad climbing ability and not what I’d normally choose as a warm up, but the line looks really good and it’s already chalked up from Matthew’s ascent so it’s quite clear where to go. Dan and I stand under the climb for some time scrutinizing it, pointing out holds and possible gear placements. It looks like there’s a good rest at two-thirds height at a large sandstone thread that gives the climb it’s namesake. Better get on it, the tide is coming in and the base will be under water soon!

The climbing is excellent. Steady progress up a steepening wall on good horizontal breaks that offer solid gear placements. A technical crossover move and a shuffle left is rewards the climber with the massive eye of the cyclops. My entire arm goes in up to the shoulder as my other arms works on threading a sling through the eye and clipping the rope in. I spend a bit of time there milking the rest while I ponder the final five meters. I spot the holds and climb up a bit to a break and try to wiggle in some gear. It’s not good so I pull it out and climb back down a bit to reassess. I have a conversation with myself and figure I just have to climb it out to the top. It’s not far, it doesn’t look hard and the gear through the eye is bomber. Sure enough, the holds are all there, it’s not too hard and there’s even a bit of gear before making the exit moves. Success!

Dan follows up after me and we talk about the quality of the line and the accuracy of the grade. We can’t resist.

Next up is Dan’s lead. He’s wisely chosen Blind Bandit (HVS 5a) as a more sensible warm-up to the day. It’s Amelia’s turn to belay so scramble to the top of the cliff to see if I can get some good pictures. The climbing is similar to the previous route with good vertical climbing on well protected horizontal breaks. The wall is vertical to start and looks tricky as it surpasses a bulge but afterward the angle eases off and Dan makes it all look rather easy. Amelia ties in to second the climb and I scramble to the top of the crag to see if I can get some good pictures.

Next up is Amelia’s lead! Unfortunately the tide has come in and cut off access to the route she was looking at. We could have squeezed ourselves through the dank chimney to the other side of the pillar to belay off a sea washed platform but for some reason that didn’t appeal so we had a wee bite to eat and pondered other nearby venues.

The Platform Walls area was a short walk south from Leaning Blocks. We said our goodbyes to Fiend and headed over. Amelia had her sights set on Mars Crack (Severe 4a) which turned out to be an excellent climb with a fine steep start and an adventurous start on a small platform above the incoming tide. We traversed in a few meters to the belay platform. Amelia built the belay anchor and got her gear in order while I organized ropes. A few words of encouragement, a nervous smile and she was off. After placing some gear she quickly disappeared from my view leaving me to watch the sun-sparkled water for seals or porpoises. After a time Amelia called down safe and I followed in her footsteps to retrieve gear.

Dan was up for his challenge of the day. Thumper (E2 5c) is described as a fierce crack and a committing climb. After setting off he quickly recognized the committing part by the lack of gear in the first five meters. Still, he boldly charged up to the next break hopeful for  opportunities to place protection. He managed to get a couple of pieces in just as the angle steepens. A quick shuffle to the right and he’s bridging wildly under a roof in order to wiggle in a shallow nut. The nut goes in eventually but it doesn’t seem like enough so a large cam is swallowed by the deep cleft under the roof. Apparently it’s not sitting right. And the holds under the roof are wet. The next move looks quite hard and committing involving a powerful lock off and a throw to the next break. Dan’s using a lot of chalk to combat the wet holds under the roof. The wall is steep and his position looks strenuous. I tighten my grip on the ropes.

The next thing I know, he’s pulling the gear out and climbing down. I breathe a little sigh of relief. Hard moves above marginal gear on wet holds can ruin the day. I think he made the right decision to back off. Climbing can be a risky pastime and taking risks is part of the fun. Sometimes it’s best to retreat and have a go at something else. Thumper will be there for the rematch. I’m sure we’ll be back.

Just down the wall is the compelling line of Submarine Badlands (VS 4b) and since Dan was already racked up and ready to go, he immediately jumped on. I relinquished belay and seconding to Meme and took over with photos and seal spotting.

I also took that time scoping out my next lead. The day has a habit of getting behind you when trad climbing and since we still had an hour’s hike back to the car followed by a four hour drive we’d best think about going soon. Still, I figured there was time for one more.

For some reason The Irish Agreement (E2 5c) compelled me. Like many of the routes here it follows a line of horizontal breaks up a steepening wall. The crux of the climb is described as a long reach at mid-height. Why not, I’ll give that a go. Turns out this bit of 5c climbing was much harder than the 5c climbing on the first route of the day. In fact, it felt more like 6a to me, but maybe I was doing it wrong. The climb begins boldly by climbing straight up on rounded breaks to some good-ish gear placements. Next comes the move. It’s a long way to the next break and there’s only a couple of tiny sloping side pulls to work with. One of them has two glassy pebbles in the middle of it. I stood there for what seemed like ages chalking my hands, trying to get the best angle on those tiny holds, and feeling around for … aha! A bigger sloping side pull! It feels huge by comparison and gives me confidence to stand around for a bit more. I make a little testing move by bearing down on those holds and working my feet up. My feet are in the same slot as my gear and I’m eyeing up the next break. I just have to let go with one hand and windmill my arm up as I stand up to catch the break. But what is it like? Is it positive? Does it suck? Will there be gear? If not can I keep going? Bloody hell this is hard!! I reverse the moves to my stance. Another one of those internal conversations ensues. I yank test the two shallow cams which are my only protection between me and the ground, the next piece being too low down. They seem fine. I can do this, and if not, I fall off. So what. I don’t like to fall, that’s what. Fuck it. Let’s do this. More chalk and internal dialog stops. I bear down, step up, focus and … go!

My right hand just catches the next break. It’s sloping, but I’m holding it. My other hand comes up and I’m in! Woot! There’s even gear, sort of. Turns out all the breaks are quite shallow and a bit crystally which isn’t confidence inspiring, but it will have to do. The rest of the climb is far less technical but quite pumpy now that the wall is getting steeper. I put in too much gear on the way up and almost fall off because my arms are so tired, but somehow I manage to reach good holds at the top and after a brief rest, top out into sunshine. Two E2s in a day! I’m psyched. It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to climb at that level. Must be the excellent weather or the inspiring nature of the climbing here. Reiff is certainly a special place.

At the top I hunt around for suitable placements for gear to build a bomb proof anchor with. Finding some, I settle in at the top making sure I can see Dan do the moves as I belay him up. He’s stopped at the crux move for a bit. Not as long as I, but a bit. He does the move successfully the first time. It’s a cool move and he’s smiling at its quality. The rest of the climb is easy for him and he quickly joins me on top for the great grade debate. We both feel it’s hard 5c, maybe even 6a but it’s hard to be sure about that grade since neither one of us have much experience with it. My handy chart here says British 6a trad is equivalent to French 6c+ sport or U.S. 5.11c. I don’t think it was that hard. 6b+ or 5.11 b, so hard 5c it is. It’s so hard to put a number on it, especially when on-sight trad climbing. The main thing is, it was a great challenge and we had fun doing it.

Amelia has now joined us at the top with ALL of the remaining gear. She’s a star. Now for the long hike out. It proves to be a shorter hour out than in and we get some lovely views in the setting sun. We catch up with Matthew at the sheiling and spend the rest of the walk catching up. Lucky guy is camped here for a week next to the pub and a stone’s throw from all these amazing sea cliffs. We on the other hand have a 4 hour drive ahead of us. We say our farewells and off we go. We took a lot of photos there, here are the best ones below.