End of the Affair?

June 20, 2013

Perhaps not quite yet, but there’s a whiff of closure in the air.  It’s been a tremendous few weeks of weather for getting out onto mountain rock, and several keen teams have been quick to exploit this.  It has to be said over the past few summer seasons such opportunities have been rare!

Tony and Blair had a great trip to Skye, ticking off my own Rainman on Sgurr Mhich Choinnich, and Fowler’s Stairway to Heaven on Bla Bheinn.  And I managed to rope The Diggler into joining The Monday Club for a couple of adventurous days out on Ben loyal and Carnmore.  The latter isn’t normally considered as day-trippable, but with the new path and a decent mountain bike it’s now a feasible, if challenging day out.  And our man on Skye, Colin Threlfall, has made a tremendous effort to capture the action on camera for posterity.  I have to say, though I’m arguably a bit biased, Colin takes some of the most beautiful climbing photographs I’ve ever seen – he’s a real natural talent, with a real knack of integrating climber, crag and the wider landscape.  Bear in mind also that his wife Lucy suffers from MS, so any trip away from home and into the mountains really is a substantial commitment for all concerned.  His enthusiasm for this project is legendary.

Our list of “remaining gaps” is now very short indeed, with only really Quinag, Foinaven, Creag Dubh dibidale and Slime Wall outstanding.  we do have pictures of these places, but they each deserve something more special.  If the summer continues anything like how it has started, we’ll look forward to ‘suffering’ a few more adventures just yet!

Without wishing to put the horse before the cart, here’s a couple of sample images from our recent escapades…

The approach to Sgorr Chleirich on the west side of Ben Loyal - Britain's most adventurous mountain cliff?

The approach to Sgorr Chleirich on the west side of Ben Loyal – Britain’s most adventurous mountain cliff?

The mighty Orange Bow, one of the best E5 pitches on earth, on Carnmore, arguably Scotland's finest mountain rock..

The mighty Orange Bow, one of the best E5 pitches on earth, on Carnmore, arguably Scotland’s finest mountain rock..


The final stages…

March 25, 2013

We’ve made some more great progress this winter, with another two of the more remote venues visited, and good photos secured.  It was something of a bonus ball to also chance upon good climbing conditions and climb two fantastic new routes!  But then that is the very joy of so many of these places – there is still a lot of exploring to do.

So now we have only a handful of places left where we are still looking for good images, as follows:

  • Barrel Buttress
  • Sgurr Mhic Coinnich
  • Ben Loyal
  • Creag Dubh Dibidale
  • Carnmore
  • Foinaven
  • Mainreachan Buttress

We’ve kind of accepted that we’ll need to visit these places again (what a chore!) but if anyone has any pictures of these cliffs or the climbing upon them then please get in touch.  We can’t offer money but should be able to give you a free copy of the book if we use your photos.

It’s great to finally have light at the end of the tunnel, and reading through the complete text it’s clear this going to be a truly magnificent book.  Hopefully we can get the remaining pictures to do the places justice.

Cheers, Guy

Summer of Progress

October 10, 2012

A quick note on progress this summer….

The really big news I guess was getting a publisher (Vertebrate) on board.  Despite everyone’s hard work over the past couple of years, this is the step that will ultimately turn our ideas into reality.  It’s given us a major motivational boost and re-energised the whole process.

We’ve now got about 80-90% of the text at least in draft, with the remainder in progress – I’m confident we’ll get a full draft by the end of this month (come on people!).  The last couple of month’s have also seen a couple of new and in my view important written contributors coming on board.  The likes of Mark McGowan and Grant Farquar are names synonymous with hard adventure climbing in Scotland over the last three decades – we are totally psyched to get them involved.  Mark has given us his tale of soloing Slime Wall’s “Shibboleth” (a hard E2) back in the day, which will give a particularly exciting historical dimension to that section of the book.

And despite an awful summer for getting out climbing in the hills we’ve made some great progress will photos, including superb shots of Beinn Eighe and of the crags out on Arran.  We’ve also secured support in principle from a number of very talented photographers (including Dave Cuthbertson) to provide access to some of their previous work.

So all in all things are going extremely well; we are aiming for completion by the end of next summer.  That could mean a book on the shelves in time for next Christmas, an exciting thought after all this time and effort. 

Fingers crossed for a good winter…

Big Stones of Arran

July 18, 2012

Well that’s two more crags ticked – only two more to go!  And like the big stones of Arran, the next two require a boat trip.  Looking forward to that for sure.

Given the recent weather – certainly here in the East – I was pretty chuffed to get three good days on Arran at the weekend. My injury-induced inactivity of recent months meant I was never going to be pushing the boat out myself, but by hooking up with Messrs Stone and Small I was assured there would be more than a modicum of adventure in store!

Tony following me up the rather moist second pitch of Abraxas E4

Tony and I received a proper education in ‘The Art of Arran Granite’ with an ascent of the classic Abraxas (E4) on Friday.  This was certainly an engaging route and with some nice climbing, but I have to say that if it was in the ‘Gorms it would be regarded as somewhat inferior on account of the disintegrating nature of the first pitch.  Beautiful crag and setting though, and the big E8 of The Great Escape might well be unique amongst routes of its grade in Scotland – an outstanding natural line taking the full height of the crag.  When I go back, that’s the line it will be for – 100m static line at the ready!

The beautifully poised Hardlands E5

On the Saturday Mr Small turned up, and we made our way up to the east aide of Cir Mhor.  Now this is surely a crag that would stand it’s ground in comparison to any in the UK.  Impeccable, multi-pitch, grit-quality rock in a setting to die for; in many ways this crag epitomises what the book is intended to be all about.  We started by climbing the three star E5 Hardlands (in fact more like your typical E4) before Ian strapped it on and boldy went where no on-sighter had been before with an outsdtanding lead of The Sleeping Crack.  Both Tony and I felt this route was porbably was nearer to E7 than E6, although it’s always difficult to comment on the end of a tight rope (a very tight one in my case).  The difficulties are short-lived, but a fall from the slopey traverse would be disastrous…you have been warned!  Irrespective of grade, the first ascentionists’ quality rating is spot on – one of the best mountain routes of this grade in the country.

Ian getting ready to strap it on – the Sleeping Crack E6/7

I won’t bore you with Sunday’s action – suffice to say we all got scared to death on an E2 which turned out to be more like a lethal E4!  And that’s one of the take-home themes from Arran – always expect the unexpected, and if in doubt assume it will be very hard!

Ciao, G

Stop Press!

July 12, 2012

Major new development – we have a publisher on board.  Nothing signed or concrete as yet but Vertebrate Publishing are very keen to work with us and seem as enthusiastic as we are about our vision for the book.  This is really great news, and takes us into a new phase of the book’s development.  It’s a massive, unwieldy project and is getting to the stage where project management input, technical guidance and commercial drive are required to make it a reality.  Also, despite the Biblical rains, we’ve been making some great progress with pictures and contributors – isn’t Flickr a wonderful thing? 🙂

I’m hopefully off to feather the holds of some Big Stones this weekend coming – camera at the ready, of course.  Engagingly, I’ve discovered that there are only 5 of the crags included in the book that I’ve never climbed.  So, I’m on a mission to sort that out as soon as practically possible – I have to say i’m looking forward to it! It’s nice to think that the book is inspiring action even before it’s published; that’s what it’s all about really 🙂

If you’ve not come across Vertebrate before, check them out – http://www.v-publishing.co.uk/ – very inspiring bunch.

Cheers, Guy

Shooting the Breeze

June 27, 2012

A productive day up on Beinn Eighe yesterday, getting pictures for the book.  Fortunately the gastro-intestinal-flu-lurgy thing I’ve been clobbered with was kind enough to wait until I got home last night before really kicking in (or maybe that should be out).  Colin came across from Skye and managed to get some awesome shots of both West Central Wall and Far East Wall.  We were lucky in that Pete Mac and Martin Moran just happened to be over on Sumo, so Colin caught them with his telephoto before he went down. Nice. 

I had forgotten just how wild the mighty West Central Wall is.  And yesterday, despite a tip-off that the mountain was ‘bone dry’ we had the added pleasure of contending with wet rock.  It’s really not a crag for the faint-hearted, and wetness adds substantially to the fright-factor (wet quartzite is a bit like buttery glass).  However, despite being repulsed from the lower pitches, we managed with a bit of lateral thinking to gain the big upper arete of the classic Shoot the Breeze (E2).  Most of this was dry, except the crux of course!  Colin has pulled together a wee video which captures the ambience of the place quite nicely – Shoot the Breeze.

The last few weeks have been very productive, with lots more pictures coming in, and a very positive eary conversation with a potential publisher.  I think getting some proper technical know-how and commercial drive into the process is exactly what’s needed.  The text is very nearly there, and this summer / next winter will see a major drive from a growing team to get the remaining photos in the bag.  Here’s hoping!

Off to Skye

June 2, 2012

I’ve not posted for a while, but going to sort that now and get stuck back into the book this summer.  Work, family and, of course, climbing, as well as an apparent inability to say “no” to other bits and bobs have stifled any serious activity around the book over the past year or so.  However, some progress has been made, particularly around the photography which is undoubtedly the most challenging bit.  Please please please get in touch if you think you have images that might do the crags and climbs justice, and you’d be happy for us to use!

It’s off to Skye this weekend, for a funeral, unfortunately (in Glenelg).  Susie’s Grannie has finally passed away.  She apparently drifted off peacefully, and free of pain or stress.  With a view of the Skye hills from her room window, I guess she was lucky.  I don’t think I’ve ever known a human being so continuously warm, happy and affectionate.  Rest in peace Bella, you’ll be with us always.

The plan – hopefully – is to try and steal a wee solo mission on East Buttress as the sun comes round onto the crag on Monday evening.  The forecast is for a big fat sun and a dry, cool breeze.  Although I won’t be climbing anything hard, the absence of the rope, and the anticipated solitude has got my top notch twitching.  I sense a magic moment.  Hopefully our local cameraman will get a chance to pop up from the south end of the island and take some pictures for the book – now wouldn’t that be something special.

If he doesn’t make it, something tells me I won’t be complaining.


November 16, 2011

Writing any book is a big deal.  Getting twenty odd people to write a book about places and climbing experiences is a really big deal.  Getting twenty odd people to write such a book and peppering it with beautiful, original and high quality crag and climbing action shots is a super big deal.  Fitting it all around work, young families and climbing sometimes seems unrealistic.  But faithful patience is the key.  After probably a good couple of years playing around with the idea of this book, getting some fantastic contributions to the text and, finally, getting a really talented and enthusiastic photographer on board, it really feels like we’re really making good progress and gathering momentum.

Our dedicated photographer – Skyeman, Colin Threlfall – has been instrumental in recent developments.  I approached Colin after seeing a couple of his pictures on UK Climbing – they were amongst the most beautiful I’d ever seen.  I wanted to look at them again and again.  I wanted to have copies of them on my walls at home.  Even more though, I wanted to go inside them and touch the landscapes they reflected.  Precisely the kind of images we want to burst out of our book.  Since initially making contact with him, Colin has been an several “photo missions” each of which has produced the same, beautiful results.  Some of these were solo – to capture the crags in perfect light, whilst on other occasions he had climbers under the lens, capturing some of the climbing adventure on our great high crags.  He’s also taught himself desk top publishing, so we can begin to layout some of the text and photographs and start to bring our vision for the book into a more tangible form. And all of this fitted, voluntarily, around a very busy family life. I’m more determined than ever to reward Colin and everyone else’s contributing efforts with what we all ultimately want – a unique and beautiful book.

As a result of these latest events, we’re entering a new phase in the book’s development.  Adrian Crofton (joint editor), Colin and I have met and played around with various ideas for format and layout – I had no idea so many wonderful and interesting large, hardback photographic books were still being lovingly delivered to the world! Very soon we’ll have a selection of Chapters from our book mocked up in physical form.  The prelimenary results are quite simply stunning.  If we can maintain the standard set for both the text and the images then I firmly believe we can produce a genuine classic. Our next step is to approach potential publishers / funders with this material and add resources (and experience) to our team’s growing enthusiasm.  Without this extra injection we could do it but not on a grand scale.  So much combined effort and creativity is going into this book that only a global audience will do it justice. 

Thanks to Colin’s practical input, seeing the pages laid out for the first time has provided a real impetus to get things moving more quickly again, and it’s created a real faith that we’re onto something really special that soon move rapidly from idea to reality.  My profuse thanks and appreciation to all of you who have voluntarily given us your support to this stage.

So, if any of you are heading out onto the crags listed, summer or winter, rain or shine, then please get in touch to let us know your plans and we’ll see if we can get in-situ to capture the action.  And as ever if you do have good photos of any of the routes thereabouts then please send them to us to review for inclusion.  We’re resigned to a bit of a wait to get it perfect, but we’re also convinced now that the book will happen.

Let’s try and keep this momentum up.

Cheers, Guy

Time for Visual Progress

December 10, 2010

Things have been somewhat slow moving with the book of late – it’s not stalling, exactly, it’s just not what you would describe as ‘marching forwards’!  I guess it’s the nature of such things; a labour of love for those involved.  We’re still making progress with the texts – Mr Fyffe has being doing some sterling work here, going through all that we have with a fine tooth comb to try and get a better level of consistency throughout the book.  In terms of the text we really just need the people we know best (you know fine well who you are!!!) to pull the finger out and get some drafts to us as soon as they can.  Hopefully with the great winter conditions at the moment people will be inspired to put pen to paper (?!).

Where we have stumbled a bit to date is with the photographs.  Despite some gentle encouragement, we’ve received very little from any of our friends and allies, and only relatively few from our appeals to the wider climbing community.  I find this quite strange.  Maybe it’s because people want money for their pictures these days.  Or maybe people just think that their pics aren’t good enough.  Whatever, we were expecting a little more feedback – plenty of people are aware of what we’re trying to do. 

But rest assured BSC followers – all is most certainly not lost!  Having been back and reviewed various other large format coffee table / Almanac-type climbing books, it’s clear that in many cases the photography therein has been specifically sourced.  In other words, to try and make sure we have as many as possible of the best quality, original photos, someone  has to willing to make a commitment and dedicate the time necessary to just go out there and get snapping.  Given that we are talking about typically very driven if not utterly obsessive climbers here, this is no small ask!!

However, things are looking up.  We’ve managed to ‘engage’ a number of amateur but highly talented photographers, with a passion for climbing and the Scottish hills, to agree to ‘adopt’ a number of crags and go forth to get some pictures.  In the first instance at least, they’ll focus on the crags.  One of these kind-spirited souls is the immensely talented Skyeman Colin Threlfall.  I didn’t know Colin before we started work on the book, and was directed towards him enthusiastically by a friend who had spotted some of his pictures on the UKClimbing web site.  I was instantly blown away.  For a wee taster of some of Colin’s photography check out his gallery on UKC here – http://www.ukclimbing.com/photos/author.html?id=106500.  The great news is that Colin has started going out on a few dedicated ‘Big Stone Country’ photo shoots!  For me this represents a big step forward for the book.  Other photographic missionaries include our very own John Watson of Stone Country Press fame, my brother Pete Robertson (up in Lochinver) and Mr Macpherson (that’s Pete Macpherson’s dad!).  Obviously we don’t won’t to blow our cover by showing pictures we intend to use in the book, but as a consoltation you can keep up to date with Colin’s own personal blog here – http://colinthrelfall.wordpress.com/.

So it’s onwards and upwards in a slow but determined way.  We’ll hopefully be in a position to start speaking to some publishers soon, when we have a few sections completed.  Who knows at that point the whole thing might take off…

Happy climbing, Guy

ps – I’ve chucked in a picture of a recent first ascent on The Brack just to brighten up the page a bit 🙂

Return of The Summer (That Wasn’t)

September 7, 2010


Maybe we should all have gone to Sron Ulladale this summer – all the other mountain crags have been terminally wet.  Until very recently that is.  For those of us only periodically ‘lost’ to bouldering and sport climbing (the methamphetamine of contemporary rock climbing?) the last week or so re-opened the possibility of some high and dry rock.  After an evening’s effort waved goodbye to a red point project, I thought I’d take my well-earned chance and went up to Torridon for another classic mountain E5.

Far East Wall is one of two big stones on Beinn Eighe that will feature in our new book, the other being West Central Wall.  Far East sits on its own away from the celebrated Triple Buttresses, where West Central is located.  however like all the rock hereabouts the two cliffs have two things in common – Dolomitic exposure and super-steep positive rock.  There’s simply nothing like it anywhere else.  The Far East Wall in particular has to be the biggest single length of continuous verticality our little island has to offer (on the mainland, at least).  The views are unsurpassed.  The only slight drawback for today’s climbers is that despite their unrelenting  steepness the cliffs are perhaps a little too positive, and maybe not quite steep enough.  For most mortals though, the seemingly endless supply of routes in the E1-4 bracket will ensure beaming faces and plenty of return trips.  Onm a dry, warm, windless day this really is a crag to be savoured.

On this occasion I was keen to scoop an ascent of Ling Dynasty, a stunning-looking E5 first climbed by Graeme “The Brat” Livingston and Andy Nisbet.  It was climbed in the 80’s, in something of a tour-de-force by Livingston – ground-up and on-sight.  The original E6 grade seems to have settled down a bit so I wasn’t expecting too much of a fight.  My partner however (Phil Ebert, an E3/4 leader) was somewhat apprehensive about the prospect of sustained 6a crack climbing way up on such an awe-inspiring chunk of rock.  Suffice to say neither of us were let down!  Perfect rock (after the easier entry pitches), perfect line, perfect protection and perfect positions.  I don’t think I’ve done a better E5 pitch anywhere else in the Scottish mountains.  Nice as well to catch up with one of the route’s authors, Old Master Nisbet himself, who spent the day, on his own, quietly prospecting high on the neighbouring Eastern Ramparts (see crag photo above). 

Best mountain E5 in Scotland?  Well actually, come to think of it…