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Stretching the legs on the red Cuillin and slab climbing in Glen Etive

July 18, 2014 at 9:21 pm

Up at a reasonable hour and decided to just walk around the red Cuillin to stretch the legs and enjoy having some time to think – without having to think in too much detail about the route and about climbing anything!  The red cuillin seem small when you look at them up against the black Cuillin, but even the red Cuillin are surprisingly steep and I really enjoyed these hills.  Great to get the legs moving on them, lot of time to think and  enjoy being out.

Looking across to the black Cuillin, Sgurr nan Gillian and Am Basteir

Looking across to the black Cuillin, Sgurr nan Gillian and Am Basteir

Day 5

I met Pete and Tm at the bottom of Glen Etive this morning after a bit of a drive down from Skye.  Pete and Tim had decided to climb Swastika and had offered for me to join them.  By the time we all got there and got organised I realised I wouldn’t have time to climb Swastika, which is a great route that I have climbed before so Tim and Pete offered me the first lead and I lead the first pitch and then got lowered back to the ground.  Plenty of time to enjo the rest of the day and then get home in time to enjoy some time with the kids and in time to get out for dinner with friends.  Great to be bac out on slabs even if only for a pitch!

Solo on the Cuillin Part 3

July 17, 2014 at 9:19 pm

Up at 5 to see the most amazing and beautiful start to the day.  The Sun was well up and everything was bathed in early morning sunlight and looked almost purple and hazy in the really soft light that you get with early morning.  The moon which was almost full was also still out and everything looked absolutely stunning.  I could see out to the western Isles and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky – except that looking down below me there was a massive temperature inversion  at sea level and into the glens so I was looking down upon a carpet of cloud through which the ridge and everything above about 600 m stood celar from cloud and with perfect visibility.  Simply stunning – if only I had my camera…..

 Up and away by 5.30 am and onto Bidian Drum na Ra.  Massive exposure immediately from the descent from the western summit and up onto the central summit and I was immediately glad of my decision to stop before this last night.  Facing this exposure first thing in the morning was quite unnerving, facing it last night when I was tired would probably have been mentally exhausting.  AS ai traversed this part of the ridge still on my own and without seeing anyone I got the feeling that this  part of the ridge is somewhat less travelled than other areas.  I began to be even more aware that I was on my own and suddenly had a thought of ‘if you fall off here it’s going to take a long time before someone even finds you……’

A couple of abseils off the back of Bidian Drum na Ra and then over An Casteil with a steep abseil down to the Bealach.  Most of the difficulties behind me and a great walk up and over to Bruch Na Frithe and then over to Am Bastier.  I had decided not to solo the bastier tooth so descended below Am Bastier fairly parched because in the early morning sun it was warm and I had just finished the last of my water on Bruch Na Frithe.  The descent below Am Bastier feels tough because you do have to lose a lot of height but it did turn out to be a great decision because I was able to rehydrate by collecting water from a snow patch that was quickly melting and dripping lots.

Rehydrated  (and after I had left my bivvy kit here) I slogged back up to the bealach and then onto the ridge, climbed up and onto the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean, retraced my steps and abseiled back down to the bealach and then ran up Am Bastier from the Bealach.  Gentle walk out and back to the Sligachan from about 2.30 pm.  I decided to stay on the campsite so put the tent up, had a nap, went to the pub for an evening meal and then had a great night sleep.

Glad to back down and all showered!

Glad to back down and all showered!

Ready for dinner!

Ready for dinner!

 Lots of lessons learnt and a fantastic trip.  Here are a few observations:

Solo on the Cuillin Part 2

July 16, 2014 at 9:05 pm

The alarm went off at 5 am but I poked my head outside, saw the thick cloud and decided to head back to bed for a few hours.  Eventually surfaced around 9, reckoned that the cloud was of the dry ish, thinish might eventually burn off type and so took a chance and decided to get up high onto the ridge.  Walked up and through the cloud until eventually got onto the ridge and then things started to clear and I started to feel happy…. 

Up and onto Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn and the cloud began to thin out and to give better visibility.  I decided against the TD gap solo and cut beneath it to gain the summit of Sgurr Alistair via the chimney on the south west side.

Summiting Sgurr Alisdair and the sun begins to properly appear

Summiting Sgurr Alisdair and the sun begins to properly appear

Up and onto Sgurr Thealaich and avoided the abseil to bealach Mhic Chonnich by scrambling down dry but reasonably exposed slabs on the Coire Lagan side.  Sat in the Bealach in the sunshine looking up at Kings Chimney and decided that I wasn’t brave enough to solo it

Cut along harts ledge, back up to the summit of Sgurr Mhic Conniach and then back down down, down to the next Bealach, up the side of An Stac and then up to the inaccessible pinnacle on its summit.  Going well and feeling strong and the I phone battery died around here somewhere.  Too many videos!

This was the only place on the entire ridge that I saw people and there was a bit of a wait while I waited for people to get up and get down again.  I probably spent about an hour and half waiting here but I had already decided that I wanted to camp high on the ridge that eveneing because I had the time to  do it that way, so sitting around in the sunshine wasn’t too much of a hassle!  One of the local guides even gave me his water so I didn’t have to come off down from the ridge to resupply  – very grateful for that.

I’ve climbed the in pin many times and have guided it with many clients – effectively soling it every time.  But, properly soloing it felt slightly different and I did get sweaty palms and was more aware of the massive void down to Loch Curuisk than I think I have ever been aware of before!  Great fun and glad I waited to do this.

In the afternoon I journeyed over Sgurr nan Bannadich, Ghreadaidh and onto Mhadaidh.  Blue skies and sunshine and aazing to be up there in those conditions.  Lack of photos because I forgot the camera and the battery on the phone died and lack of sunglasses (left them in the car) left me squinting lots.   This part of the ridge is very committing, constant scrambling, constant exposure to big drops and constant interest.  Moving well and enjoying being out immensely but also becoming very aware that I am my own, and that no-one (not even Helen) really knows where I am.  Don’t make any silly mistakes here Cluett!  Up and over Mhadaidh where the ridge does a right angle, turn to the east, followed by a steep exposed moderate pitch of climbing in an exposed position and then a further 25 m or so pitch of diff climbing, again in an exposed position.  Up and over and down to the bealch before bidian Drum na Ra and decided to camp at this bealach.  Camping up high with absolutely plenty of time to spend enjoying the view and the evening sunshine.  Stopped about 5.30 pm, sat around for a great time and in bed by 8pm.  Brilliant evening in the sunshine with fantastic views everywhere – down to loch Corusik and across to Mull, over to the mainland, along the ridge and even across to the outer Hebrides.  Pretty special evening.

After a bit of general laying around in the evening sun and enjoying the view, sleep came fairly quickly and I had a great night sleep – again with the feet in the rucksack and the waterproofs acting like some kind of extra blanket.

Solo on the Cuillin Part 1

July 15, 2014 at 9:04 pm

With a bit off from work and in between jobs my amazing wife suggested I get out and have some play time in the mountains.  Helen’s amazing for lots of reasons but the idea of me going away for a working week to have some fun and leaving her at home with our 4 small young children for a ‘different’ kind of fun is really amazing and I am massively appreciative.  Probably like most outdoor people time in wilderness environments is perfect to reset a few things and revitalise and I am the kind of person that really does enjoy some time on my own in these environments.  Here is a report from the trip in the middle June.

With a working weeks worth of time before me feeling almost like an eternity of me time where to go?  for me it’s always got to be north and west if at all possible and without too much thought I came up with the idea of getting to Skye and trying to get the Cuillin ridge done on my own. I have spent a fair amount of time on the Cuillin and have worked all over it, in all kinds of weather, guiding all kind of people and had all kinds of adventures.  It can be a confusing, challenging place to be and to work and so many people seek to be guided around these challenging mountains.  In all the years I have worked on the Cuillin and in all the things I have done I had never actually completed an entire ridge traverse in a single outing and the idea of getting it done, and doing it solo was massively appealing.

The forecast was for warm, hardly any wind but also for cloud down to sea level and extremely poor visibility.  Two out of three didn’t seem too bad and I’ve worked enough on Skye to know that sometimes you’ve just go to get out there and have a look and with the synoptics showing loads of high pressure I was reasonably confident that at least there was a chance of sunshine and clear skies.

I left home around 1 pm and trundled up the road to Fort William, got stuck in various holiday traffic and eventually made a pit stop in Fort William for some food and some other essentials like boot laces!  Onwards and across to Skye

Aarived at the Sligachan for around 6 pm, in warm summer evening sunshine and with some views of the mountains.  Still optimistic!  I hadn’t really got as far as making a plan about how exactly I wanted to do the ridge except that I wanted to do it and wanted to do it on my own.  On the drive to the Slig I came up with the plan of walking from the Sligachan down Glen Sligachan and down to Loch Coruisk that evening and staying overnight somewhere before starting the ridge in the next day or two and then completing it back to the Slig.  Tuesdays forecast wasn’t great so I thought I might have to sit it out next to Loch Coruisk for a day and then head up and onto the ridge on Wednesday.  No matter I have lots of time and there are definitely worse places to spend a day than Loch Coruisk.

I walked in down Glen Sligachan in the evening sunshine, leaving the car around 7 pm.  Really excited about the next few days and the walk in was really beautiful, fairly easy and good to get legs working and the blood pumping after the drive.  Also good to begin to get my head used to being on my own, alone in wilderness country.  Good times.   I walked in and over to Loch Coruisk, had a good look at the yachts moored around there and then headed up and onto the mountains.

Must try and stay in this climbing hut sometime at loch Coruisk

Must try and stay in this climbing hut sometime at loch Coruisk

The cloud was down to around 700 meters so I decided to camp just below the could level and see what would happen tomorrow.  Because the forecast was poor I had decided on taking the fly sheet of my light weight tent, with silk liner and a spare light weight belay jacket in case I needed to spend all the next day avoiding the rain!  Pitched the tent and got into bed around 10.30, still light and no wind, not really too many midges and all good.   A bit cold in the middle of the night even wearing all my clothes, so the waterproof jacket went over the top of me and my feet went into the empty rucksack and then all was good.

Evening sun light campsite number 1

Evening sun light campsite number 1


FUNdamentals in Glasgow, the climbing academy

July 8, 2014 at 9:56 pm

Fun day out in Glasgow on Saturday on the FUNdamentals climbing workshop run by the MC of S and delivered by Alan Halewood http://alanhalewood.blogspot.co.uk/ The Fundamentals courses are a series of one-day workshops for those coaching climbing in Scotland and are appropriate for anyone working with children or novice adults and I was keen to be on this course to learn a bit more.

I didn’t get into climbing through any designated coaching pathway, or even from climbing at a climbing wall but I started climbing back in the day through a mix of just getting out there, having adventures, staying alive and learning a few things on the grit stone and when I started climbing the idea of coaching climbing wasn’t that prevalent.  Over the last 15 -20 years or so climbing, and particularly indoor climbing has increased massively in the UK and climbing walls are continuing to pop up all over the place. With this increase has also come an increased focus on the need to coach climbing, including climbing movement and courses like this FUNdamentals climbing workshop are increasing as the climbing community continues to learn and understand the role of coaching in climbing movement.

I have been fairly keen to develop my coaching and was really looking forward to this course.  it didn’t disappoint and covered all kinds of basic movement, its importance and perhaps more importantly for me how to coach it.  Warm ups, ABC’s (ability, balance, co-ordination), lots of work on understanding the importance of the  centre of mass (gravity) in movement, other movement skills and ideas, use of footholds in precise and accurate ways and the use of handholds.  Lots of great learning all wrapped up in Fun, banter with other course participants and dynamic learning.

photo 1

Moving and being aware of centre of mass using plumb lines

photo 2

Workshops practicing precise and accurate footwork

Guinness and Special Brew in the rain in Glen Clova

July 7, 2014 at 9:23 am

Climbing with Tim today and with the forecast showing rain and more rain due from around mid-morning or lunch time depending where you were in the country we decided to head as far east as we could in the off chance we’d get some climbing done and avoid the rain.  I had never been into Glen Clova before and was fairly keen to give it a look and be somewhere I hadn’t been before and so we went in with the initial thought of seeing what would happen and trying to get something climbed.

Tim has climbed in Glen Clova before and seemed to know his way around and so at his suggestion, under very grey clouds and heavy skies we made our way to the base of Guinness to climb the ‘classic of the crag’ a great line at E1.  Tim’s climbed the route before and as a true climbing friend he suggested that I take the first pitch which works its way up a steepening slab up to a good belay ledge and according to Tim was really ‘interesting’.  We’ve all been there right, a vague feeling that your friend may be being generous in offering you the lead, but also that he may be about to sandbag you with ‘something interesting’.  My experience is it often tends to be both at the same time and so it proved here.

Looking back down onto the awkward step, pitch one of Guinness

Fairly easy slab climbing up nice rock leads to a break, good gear in the break and then eventually a standing position in the break which feels kind of out of balance and as though its pushing you out the way.  There’s a really awkward move to get out of the break and onto the top part of the slab, I’ll not tell you how to do it but just to say that there was a few head scratching moments and a sudden awareness that as you step up the gear that you placed by your feet gets a bit further away.  Not necessarily a hard move but an awkward one for 5a and one that definitely makes you think.

We climbed the right hand finish after the belay ledge and we both agreed that this was brilliant and should get stars  – go and do it if you’ve not done it before.  We abbed off from the top of the crag, had a snack and then set off up the next route ‘Special Brew’ right next to Guinness.  Up the first pitch and then it began to rain, and I mean properly rain.  Not sure these photos will do it justice but it was properly wet and we were soaked by the time we got back to the car – the grey blobs on the photos are rain drops being blown around in the wind.

photo 1

Tim grinning manically in the approaching wind and rain

photo 3

and still ginning as he sets off to climb the crux

photo 4

Tim undeterred gets on with it in the rain

Tim was undeterred by the weather and was fairly keen to top out on another route so I gallantly handed him the lead for the crux and eventually did my best to follow him up and over it with rain getting in everywhere and water running down the sleeves of the coat.   All good fun and we did laugh smile that we weren’t on mica schist today.  Safe down and safe home and good adventures all around.

Boy day

June 21, 2014 at 9:26 pm

Boy day.  We do lots of fun things together as a family and it’s really important for Helen and I that as well as having all kinds of adventure together as a family that we also get individual time with the kids.  Today it was my turn to hang out with Ben for a bit and Ben decided he wanted to go biking.  Superb day with biking some easy trails at Carron Valley and Ben dd great.  Topped off with a visit to the community who are building a medieval vilaage and look around, lunch at Subway in town and then a summer haircut.  Good times

Single Pitch Award Training

June 4, 2014 at 9:20 pm

I spent most of Saturday this weekend delivering Single Pitch training for local Scout Group Leaders at Benny Beg crag near Crieff.  The Scouts have a system in place called the ‘Adventurous Activity Permit’ scheme and in order for scout leaders to be able to take Scouts and do adventurous things then they must have the correct permit.  I was training the Climbing and Abseiling Permit for Single Pitch venues and we have an assessment booked into the diary for later in July.


Training on group climbing sessions at Benny Beg


Getting used to the rock at Benny Beg

The Scouts Climbing and Abseiling Permit seeks to train Scout leaders in all the things that they might need to be able to do to deliver fun and safe climbing and abseiling sessions at local crags.  The criteria for this permit follows industry best practice and much of the criteria closely mirrors the Single Pitch Award which is the national governing body award delivered by the Mountain Training UK.  I have worked on lots of these single pitch awards (SPA) training and assessments and have all the experience I need to deliver this training for the Scouts.

Training focussed on the ability of leaders to set up and manage top rope / bottom rope systems and the ability of leaders to set up and manage group abseils.  Key teaching and learning points included anchor section, construction of systems to be able to manage scout groups climbing from the bottom of the crag including ABC’s (anchor, belayer and climber) , setting up things in line with the climb, anchors that are VIE (have the right vector angle, are independent and equalised) and everything else to do with setting up and managing group climbing and abseiling sessions.  We spent time looking at the benefits of abseiling for Scout groups and then looked at setting up group abseils following industry best practice, including group management and releasable abseils.


Setting up systems for top ropes. Benny Beg



working safely at the edge of the crag. Benny Beg


All the of the Scout leaders have loads of experience of working with people.  Many skills required for group sessions come as natural for them and so most of the training concentrated on the hard skills that they will need to be able to run outdoor climbing and abseiling sessions at single pitch venues.  All of these scout leaders now need to go away and consolidate and practice these new skills and get ready for assessments in July.

Summer Mountain Leader Refresher

May 28, 2014 at 11:38 am

Summer Mountain Leader refresher this week in the Fintry hills with Ross and Matt from Action Adventure Activities (http://www.actionadventureactivities.com/   Ross and Matt were practicing and polishing skills for their  mountain leader assessment later in the summer and the hills just south of Fintry provided an absolutely perfect venue for navigation practice.  These hills have lots of small contour features, subtle contour changes and some plateau type features all at a fairly low altitude with easy and quick access into them.  Perfect for navigation practice and also only a 25 minute  drive from home.


Ross and Matt compare navigation notes

Matt still checking the map



We spent all day navigating between features that became progressively smaller and harder to find and we used and polished the entire skill set needed for the Summer Mountain Leader.  Map to land relationships and top tips and handy hints on efficient travel and on keeping the map set on the journey, lots on contour work and contour interpretation, timings and pacings, using a compass in all kinds of ways, combining different navigation tools to get to a location including techniques such as ‘aiming off, hand railing and attack points’ and then going onto the detail of teaching and practicing more complicated techniques such as aspect of slope.  We finished the day with some blind navigation exercises and plenty of discussion about assessment to get Ross and Matt all prepared for the assessment part of what they need to do.  A really full day of training and practicing skills and in true Summer Mountain Leader tradition we even threw in some learning about the mountain environment in the form of a few plants and a visit to the local Dunmore Hillfort.  Brilliant, a superb day out and great to be in the local hills.


Beautiful day out in the Fintry hills

Evening adventures at Auchinstarry

May 26, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Like most climbers and outdoors people I keep a fairly close eye on the weather forecast – especially when I know it’s going to affect me and my plans!  After some fairly serious scrutiny of a fairly dubious forecast last Monday we decided to chance it and went out for a climb at Auchinstarry.  The forecast of raining during the day sunshine in the evening seemed to be about right, but would the rock actually be dry or was I being massively over optimistic?

The short answer is yes, I am mostly massively over optimistic.  A mixture of wet rock (water running down it type wet) and damp rock in the car park didn’t look too encouraging but I think I managed to convince Dave that the rock on the far side of the pond (near Trundle if you know if)   looked drier………… When everyone arrived we decided on a quick climb in the car park and I overheard Dave describing the venue by saying “everyone has some kind of epic story from being in Auchinstarry”.   Karen’s only really just started climbing and this was only her second outdoor climbing trip and Roddy’s climbed loads outside before – but not for a while.  We climbed the severe out of the car park, it was damp, slightly greasy and slightly dirty but I convinced everyone that we should go for a bit of an adventure around to the trundle area where it looked dry……….

Of course that adventure turned out to be an adventure on wet, slippery, greasy and dirty rock as we climbed down into the quarry and tried to make our way around to the Trundle area.  Really hard going on the greasy rock and several ankles turned as we slipped around to the base of the slab and routes such as Trundle.  By this time even my extreme optimism was beginning to question if this was a good idea.  The updated plan was we’d all climb Trundle up to the top of the quarry and then get outta here.

I’d forgotten that this sign was at the bottom of this slab and it does seem to fit on this photo, it seems to shout ‘what are you doing?’ a thought reflected in both Dave and my expression as we begin to get to grips with the wet and slippery rock (honestly it did look dry from the other side of the pond!)


Yes it really does go up there and yes it really does look wet! Trundle at Auchinstarry

Two or three moves later, with good gear in but with my hands buried in a wet slimy crack I decided it was all over.  Stop this adventure from turning into an epic and make a good retreat with the team in time to get out of here in some kind of daylight.  We retreated back across the slippery rocks at the base of the quarry and climbed back up out of the quarry in the fading light


Me (just) on Trundle at Auchinstarry

Just time to run up the diff back in the car park area and then home time.  We laughed lots as we talked about Dave’s earlier words of “everyone has some kind of epic story from being in Auchenstarry”.


Roddy climbing back up and out of Auchinstarry quarry in the fading light