A mixed couple of days

What a weird winter we are having! As usual the papers predicted the coldest winter ever and then Scotland had just about the warmest December on record. With the New Year the cold and the snow finally arrived. The top boys were having a field day on the hard mixed routes, such as shop favourite Ian Parnell with his impressive ascent of The Needle (VIII 8) but the big gullies have been powdery nightmares. With a couple of days off I stole my winter rope gun from his job and headed north.

Loch Lomond

With so much fresh snow it was hard to choose a safe climb. We decided the technical routes on the Douglas boulder, a short walk from the CIC but on the Ben would be ideal. We were right. Luck was on our side from the start; as we began our walk a van pulled through the gate with the fabled key to the top car park. We negotiated (begged) a lift with Hannah from West Coast Mountaineering and chatted about friends we had in common.


Easy but sketchy Pitch 1 of Cutlass VI 7 | Hero Howells starting the main event

The casual walk to the CIC confirmed our guess; the big gullies looked hard work and scary with all the snow. We headed for Cutlass VI 7 and a stunning looking crux corner pitch. I geared up quickly and set off, ensuring my trusty partner/hero Rich Howells got the crux. He pulled over the first overhang on good hooks and the rest of the pitch was involving, technical yet steady. Good gear when he cleared the snow out, small edges for feet, good hooks and even bomber turf to get onto the belay ledge - mega. I followed with frozen hands and Rich purposely kicking snow on me to make it feel “proper”!

Tech moves and good gear: awesome!

Looking up at my pitch I was shocked by how hard it seemed up the steep chimney. A perfect crack on the right wall allowed hooks, great gear and footholds for my monos. It wasn’t nearly as hard as it looked; but it was just as awesome. A few more pitches of easy mixed took us to the summit of the Douglas boulder and an ab back into the descent gully. There followed an easy walk back to the hut and down to the top car park, where our new friends drove us back to the van just after 3pm. Maybe the most chilled day I've ever had on the Ben. Type one fun!


Pitch 3 - me using a whole rack in 5m | A happy Rich and a beautiful Ben

On the walk down we planned the next day. We noticed someone had broken trail all the way to number 3 gully during the day, so this lead us to think about trying Gargoyle Wall, a classic I've fancied for ages. It was due to be a nice day again but with a light dusting of snow in the morning. With alarms set early we woke and started the long slog.

The dusting arrived. It didn't stop. This was no dusting and before we even reached the CIC hut it was building above our ankles. On top of the deep snow that was already there we decided it would not be safe up high. Sadly we turned and headed down. Later, we saw the reports and sad news on the BBC over the next few days and we were thankful for our safe, if disappointing decision.

Beautiful but snowy Bridge of Orcy

I was determined to rescue the day but as it was too late for climbing we decided to take a wintery walk in the Bridge of Orcy and headed up Beinn An Dothaidh. By now the sun was out and it was beautiful however the depth of snow was clear and we chose a safe but tiring route to the summit up the ridge from the col. It wasn't climbing but it was still a great day out. Once again we were down early and back in Sheffield before 10pm.


Snowy peaks | The Lockerbie truck stop; the reason we go to Scotland

I feel pleased with our choices even if it was only one day of climbing. As I always say, “I’m too much of a wuss not to be safe in winter.”

Here are my top tips for fun but safe days in Scotland:

  • Start early, finish early. (Contrary to belief it's NOT cool to finish in the dark.)Here are my tips to for fun but safe days in Scotland:
  • If in doubt, cop out. It is definitely not cool if you can't try again another day.
  • ALWAYS, ALWAYS stop at the Lockerbie truck stop on the way up AND down. Scottish fry ups don't get better.

By James Turnbull

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James Turnbull
Team Photo


Type two fun!

Thanks to a bit of peer pressure we managed to muster a team of 10 staff and friends  to do our annual 21 mile Nine Edges run.  With an awful forecast of mist and rain we finished work at 17:30 and got lifts down to Fairholmes at Ladybower, allowing us to start running up into the clag at 18:00.


Mustering (some enthusiasm)

Once up on the first edge (Derwent) we realised that it was going to be slow going.  You could only see 3-4 metres at times, and due to the amount of rain we have had it was very muddy.  Thanks to our friends Wingy and Janet we had some support along the way to ease the pain. And thanks to John at Lyon Outdoor for his company and for the loan of the very necessary Petzl Nao and Tikka RXP headtorches.

Our first checkpoint was at the A57 just before heading up towards Stanage End, where we fuelled up on Jelly Babies and water.  The next section was slow going.  Rain, very thick mist and mud resulted in us slipping and sliding along Stanage Edge to our next checkpoint, Burbage North. 


well deserved finish

Several edges later we eventually arrived at the finish line, The Robin Hood pub at Birchen.  The pub was closed by this point but we're no fools; we had some beers prepared for just this situation.   It took us 5 hours which is a bit longer than usual but despite the conditions it wasn't a bad effort.  Not exactly what you would call fun, but definitely type 2 fun

By Rob Turnbull
Managing Director

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Rob Turnbull
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To the dark side

I live in Matlock and surely it must be the outdoor capital of Central England. Many gritstone and limestone climbing sites are located within a couple of miles, including Pic Tor, High Tor, Wildcat, Willersley, Black Rock & Masson Lees. There is even an indoor climbing wall in Wirksworth - The Face at Anthony Gell School.

For walkers, the 55-mile Derwent Valley Heritage Way passes through town, and there is a link to the 45-mile Limestone Way. Kayakers and play-boaters can have fun on the River Derwent slalom course in Matlock Bath, and not far away, windsurfers and sailors can get their fix at Carsington Water. Cyclists are also well-provided for with a choice of traffic-free trails on the Cromford Canal, High Peak Trail and around Carsington Water.

Unseen below, an amazing network of caves and mines are accessible to those who dare. In many cases natural caves have been enlarged and extended by mining operations during the 19th century and before.

Practising SRT in Devonshire Cavern

I don’t need to tell anyone what a spoiler the rain has been recently for climbing and walking so we decided that caving was possibly the driest alternative. So yes, I have gone over to the dark side and ventured underground.

Compared to hardened cavers our trips have no doubt been a little tame but we are gradually re-learning the art of SRT (single rope technique) and upping the excitement factor.

Ascending the Waterfall Pitch in Knotlow Cavern

Trips to Jug Holes, Devonshire Cavern, Cumberland Cavern and Wapping Mine were followed by Water Icicle Close Cavern, Knotlow Cavern & Wharf Pipe Mine.

All these trips can be comfortably done after work allowing plenty of time to get back to Wetherspoon’s in Matlock for a mixed grill & pint. (Other pubs and bargain meals are available!)

By Chris Harle
The 'Book Man'

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Chris Harle
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