Good times and big numbers

31 January, 2012
Jen Olson on the first pitch of Daddy Longlegs (VIII/9), Coire an Lochain in the Northern Corries. © Nick Bullock

Nick Bullock has been savouring plenty of Scottish winter action over the last couple of weeks including being a host on the BMC International Winter Meet. We caught up with him to find out what's been going-on:

How was the atmosphere on the International Meet and what did the visiting climbers reckon to Scotty in winter?

The atmosphere was truly brilliant and electrifying. The weather was great apart from one day early on, which showed the guests what Scotland can be like, but then after that everything kicked off. Even folk who didn’t climb that hard were having a great time pushing their limits. It was big smiles and knackered bodies all around. The guests really got an idea why our ethics are important. A great job well done by the BMC.

Scotland in winter is so unique, especially the ground up, on-sight ethic. I was climbing with the American, Bayard Russell, on the first day and he was shocked that we were climbing routes covered in snow, but he saw how important it was for everyone and really got into it.

You opened your account at the BMC International Meet with some impressive numbers?

Yep, on day one we climbed the Mindless (E3 5c) finish to Pick'n Mix on Coire an Lochain in the Northern Corries. The normal route is VIII,9 but it felt fine, so I carried on straight up at IX,10… big numbers. It may only be 10 metres of new climbing but it felt like a full pitch and pretty significant.

Dave Garry yelled at me to try it, so I did… terrifying and amazing. I nearly threw up at the top. Everyone apart from me it appears knew about the finish but I also discovered afterwards that everyone knew it would be sloping and desperate. I guess sometimes its better to be ignorant. James Dunn filmed it. I've sen the clip and I was nearly throwing-up all over again!

What else did you climb on the Meet?

Daddy Longlegs (VIII/9) in the Lochain, though I just seconded both pitches, the Canadian Jen Olson led the first in great style and Bayard Russell led the second in equally good style.

Trail of Tears (VII/8) in Lochnagar was a real meaty outing which found Bayard backing off a couple of pitches. Saying that, a couple more days of Scottish climbing under his belt and he would have romped up it. A truly memorable day, the full Scotty experience.

Cant really say enough about Guerdon Grooves with Guy Robertson and Bayard Russell on Buachaille Etive Mor's Slime Wall. It was a great finale to the end of the Meet. I may give up climbing now. A mythical, fabled route… I'm so pleased to have done it.

Nick Bullock feeling the weight of history on his shoulders climbing the third pitch of Guerdon Grooves, Buachaille Etive Mor. © Bayard Russell

The second ascent of Guerdon Grooves has caused quite a stir. Why's that?

First climbed in winter by Arthur Paul and Dave Cuthbertson in January 1984 it's been waiting 28 years to be repeated, repulsing all previous attempts. Originally graded VI, Simon Richardson on Scottishwinter.com writes that it was the earliest route to be given Grade VIII (pre-dating Unicorn by a full year) when the grading system was made open-ended in the early 1990s. The current guidebook grades it IX,8.

On the first ascent it was supposedly covered in loads of snow, so much so that you could kick steps but to climb it with dual points and limited gear must have made it interesting for sure. A fantastic visionary climb by two great climbers. Six pitches and as for the grade, well, it’s a tad run out with some easy, hard, spicy, not so spicy climbing, but its also super good quality and the atmosphere was electric. The weight of the history on my shoulders was the crux!

Bayard thought it was a great day though I felt the situation and the history etc. was a tad lost on him but he could see how much it meant to Guy and me.

Well, you didn't give up climbing and just after the Meet you onsighted another IX/10?

Yesterday Guy Robertson, Pete MacPherson and I climbed the first on-sight and second ascent of Satyr in Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glen Coe. It was first climbed in late 2010 by Andy Nelson and Donald King. The first pitch took Nelson and King a long time, so they abseiled and returned to climb the top half on another day by traversing in off another route so the first pitch didn't have to be repeated. Folk on the internet gave them a hard time so they went back and reclimbed the entire route, giving the climb IX/9. All three of us yesterday thought the crux was tech 10 for sure. Big respect for Andy and Donald going back to lead that first pitch, it was unbelievably necky… I wouldn’t have gone back.

How are conditions at the moment up in Scotland?

They're great! Its cold, snowy and settled. Onward.

More pics and details over on Nick's blog.