The Scottish Boogie

These guys, it turns out, know how to boogie.

The Gathering, VIII 9, Second Ascent from Jenny Crook on Vimeo. These young bulls, Greg Boswell and Will Sim, were both great dudes and hosts for the Scottish Winter Meet hosted by the BMC in Glenmore Lodge in the Cairngorms.

Yep, they know how to get it done over there. Here’s how it works: I’ve long been of the belief that for a winter route to have  any worth, other than for training, it has to have ice. Seems reasonable, a good reason to strap on the sharp stuff, right? Well these guys feel a similar way, but it involves snow. There absolutely has to be snow on the rock for a route to be in, and that’s the final word. Drytooling to a Scottish winter climbing is climbing a black, dry cliff. When there is rime or snow on the wall, ice in the cracks, that’s winter climbing; it is also hard to protect, cams don’t work and you go through gloves like my cat goes through rodents.


Canadian Jen Olsen getting started on Daddy Long Legs, Corrie an Lochan, Cairngorms. Nick Bullock photo.

You see a lot of arm waving as people try to warm frigid hands in the relatively warm Scottish temperatures. Again, its all that snow – your gloves are constantly wet. On a good day in New England I don’t even have to unpack my bag at the end of the day, that is definitely not the case there; the drying room at the Glenmore Lodge was more crowded than the bar.

Bayard following on a thin, snowy slab, Trail of Tears. Lochnagar, Cairngorms.

Scottish grades are a bit confusing to the uninitiated. They incorporate two numbers, say VII 8. For a North American the hang up is with the fact that our system always refers to the hardest moves. In the Scottish system that would be the second number, the one that is often dropped in conversation. The first number, the roman numeral, sums it up succinctly. For a long scary mixed route graded IV M7+ R, a Scottish climber might refer to it with as a quick IX 8. The higher roman numeral screaming that the whole thing feels more like ninth level climbing, even though the hardest moves are a little easier; the approach, length and poor protection can conspire to make it all seem almost too much to bear. The thing I like about the system is it acknowledges the inherent difficulties of traditional climbing.

Nick Bullock about to get into some not-so-safe terrain, a very long way from the road. Trail of Tears, Lochnagar, Cairngorms.

Luckily, I was well set up with hard-hittin rope gun, Nick Bullock, who was happy to take the sharp end when things looked a bit too serious for a vacationing Yank. We had a load of fun and shared a laid back, let’s-take-a-look approach that paid off with the fickle Scottish conditions.

The last day of the meet we met up with local hardman Guy Robertson to take a look at a new line in Glen Coe on the Buachaille’s Slime Wall.

Guy and Nick finding their way. The Slime Wall is the steepest section of cliff on the most prominent formation.

I never even heard where the proposed line went because when we got there all attention was on an established one called Guerdon Grooves, that hadn’t seen a second ascent in 28 years. It turned out to be a great route, with the very psyched locals leading the meat of the climb.

Nick up on the second pitch, the best pitch of the route, which follows shallow corners with iced up cracks.

Guy about to get into a bit of bold climbing.. just above the belay.

All together it was a real learning experience and a great time. I was really inspired by the no-questions-asked traditional ethic. I’m looking forward to taking a fresh look at the local crags right here at home.

Bayard on the second pitch of Daddy Long Legs. Corrie an Lochain, Cairngorms. Nick Bullock photo.


Corrie an Lochain, with a climber on Fall Out Corner.


Is this what climbing in Scotland is like? Matt McCormick one of the many first pitch variations to Omega. Cannon Cliff, New Hampshire.

I just checked the weather for Aviemore, Scotland, the closest town to the Glenmore Lodge in the Cairngroms, and the forecast is for an 85-100% chance of rain every day next week. Apparently, that’s a good thing, and I’m hoping so, cause I’m flying out tonight on a red-eye through Reykjavik.

The British Mountaineering Council is hosting members of the alpine clubs of 35 different countries on their home turf. Scott Fife of Ohio and I are representing the American Alpine Club at this year’s climber’s meet. Thanks AAC! I’ve been doing my pull-ups, and after spending last weekend at the Adirondack International Mountain Fest, I am in good shape for late night drinking and long days of climbing. Should be good.

Malcolm Churches on the first pitch of Crystal Ice Tower, Chapel Pond, Adirondacks

As usual the folks over in Keene Valley threw one hell of a party. Zoe Hart gave a great slideshow Friday night. Saturday was my turn, actually our turn, Matt McCormick and I tagged teamed a show made up of a short videos and stills from routes we’ve done, and routes others have done around the Northeast. I didn’t see anyone falling asleep, but it was a dark room… The clinics seemed to be all full and, as usual, the psyche for winter climbing was super high – one of my favorite parts about the Adirondack community. Emily Drinkwater got up on Sunday night and cracked everyone up with a slideshow about her recent trip to Kashmir. I stopped by the Bivi to pay my respects to Joe Szot, and he graciously kicked my ass in a rollie-off. (If you don’t know what rollies are, click here.)

Been trying to bob and weave around the conditions, and getting some climbing in where I can, here are a few shots from so far this winter.

Kevin Mahoney taking a whack at Something About You Makes Me Wild, an M8 trad route, in desperate conditions. The Hanging Gardens, Frankenstein.

Matt McCormick on the Snotcicle in Smuggs.

Elliot Gaddy taking a victory lap after sending a new M8, Mustard Tiger, in New Hampshire



Finally a good forecast! Despite the unseasonable weather the ice is starting to look really good in the White Mountains from Cathedral to Crawford.

Lookin Good!