About John Orr

I am climber based in North Wales. Originally from Northern Ireland I began climbing in the Mourne Mountains and Fairhead. My climbing has taken me widely throughout Ireland, the UK and Europe. Despite visiting some amazing places I am still constantly drawn back to Ireland by the lure of climbing at Fairhead. Living in North Wales has given me the opportunity to explore an amazing wealth of routes and crags. During the winter months I move north to Scotland for the season for some winter climbing and suffering. Whilst not climbing I work as a Freelance Outdoor Instructor. I hold the Mountaineering Instructor Certificate, the highest mountaineering qualification in the UK.

Gabarrou Silvy

As November arrived and the Indian summer waned I prepared myself for a month of rain and wind having not planned on heading away anywhere sunny or warm before the onset of Winter. A last minute suggestion from Dave to head to the Alps for a week didn’t take much thought and with a  week of stellar weather forecast it was easy to make the call to jump on a flight to Chamonix.

With most of the lifts closed and okay but sporadic reports of conditions in the mountains we figured we would get something done. Arriving in Chamonix we made a quick turnaround and began the long slog up the Plan d’Aiguille hut to climb the Carrington-Rouse route the following day.  On arriving at the hut it took nearly as long to find water, the effects of the hot summer were evident. It was second time lucky for us on this route as we had tried a few years previous but not got very far due to various reasons, however the conditions were good and the climbing was great, well worth going back for!

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Approaching the Carrington-Rouse making sure to approach in daylight and not below the serac this time round.

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Great climbing in corners and open walls once the route steepens up.

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Steep ice, thin ice, great ice

That evening and the next morning where spent hmming and haaing about what to do next, four days of great weather were forecast and the potential for good conditions up high gave the potential for something bigger. Really, despite the procrastination, we knew all along what the plan was.

Last Autumn when the Alps seemed to be plastered in styrofoam neve and hero ice numerous hard and impressive ascents were being done, one ascent captured the imagination the most for a cool picture of a French guy (Ben Guigonnet) leading a crack in a corner with ice tools and rock shoes. They (Ben and Fred Degoulet) went on to enchain that route, the Gabarrou-Silvy, with the Bonatti Vaucher on the Grandes Jorasses. All very impressive, so impressive I didn’t think it was in my league but nonetheless the seed had been planted. A couple of weeks later friends Calum, Tom along with Jon Bracey climbed the route using the same tactics and again the photos grew that seed.

Having breakfast in Chamonix on the Wednesday morning all the chat pointed to giving it a go. A couple of Slovenians had climbed it it two weeks previous which really told us nothing as they were Slovenians.

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Approaching along the moraine to the bivvy below the Dru.

With heavy and tired legs (turns out ascending from and back to the valley in 24 hours is rather tiring…who’d have thought!) we made the approach to the bivvy on the rognon below the Dru. The following morning at first light we picked our way across the chaotic Nant Blanc Glacier and trudged through crusty snow to the base of the route which, thanks to the wonders of 3G and Google in the bivvy site, we had an idea of what we were looking for!

The route was first climbed in August 1978 and the first half climbs a prominent series of corners and grooves on a 300m rock pillar directly below the summit of the Aiguille Sans Nom arriving at a snowy arête leading to the ice and mixed climbing on the upper headwall. The pitches on the rock tower are around 6a-6c and would have been climbed as rock pitches to give a route of two halves, rock climbing followed by ice and mixed. Comparable to the NE Spur Direct on Les Droites but harder and more sustained. Climate change has undoubtedly affected the ability of teams to climb this route in summer so it’s now considered an ideal autumn/winter objective with the lower pitches being mixed climbed/dry tooled…call it what you like!

Dave setting off up the first crux pitch of the day. A fantastic layback/torqueing and smearing corner.

Dave setting off up the first crux pitch of the day. A fantastic layback/torqueing and smearing corner. 

Psyche has been found. Photo: Dave Rudkin

Psyche has been found. Photo: Dave Rudkin

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Dave traversing off to some slabby cracks. Interesting following these pitches in crampons…fun times!

A reasonably warm and comfortable bivvy that night set us up for what turned out to be a long day. The top half of the route serves up a different day to the first with fantastic ice and mixed climbing to the top of the Aiguille Sans Nom. Thin but good conditions provided some interesting, thinky climbing and with good ice and mostly good rock we were approaching the ridge where we turned left and headed off to the top of the Aiguille Verte.

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Heading up through the seracs from the Bivvy towards the headwall of the Aiguille Sans Nom. Photo: Dave Rudkin

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Amazing climbing on steep ice on one of the steep headwall pitches. Photo: Dave Rudkin

 

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Looking all the way back down to our bivvy and the top of the rock pillar from the previous day.

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Traversing the ridge from the Aiguille Sans Nom to the Aiguille Verte. A long way on variable snow and ice and the start of a long night of descending.

Topping out on the Aiguille Verte in the cold, windy dark there was a quick handshake for Dave becoming a mountaineer then it was off to find the top of the Whymper Couloir. Time disappeared into the black hole of a cold November night as we did rap after rap down the very dry and rocky couloir to finally exit on the glacier. Once again I found myself wandering around on the Talefre Glacier in the dark and, some time later, we exited onto the moraines and made our way to the path leading to the Courvercle hut where we immediately lay down and fell into the kind of deep sleep that only comes when you know that it’s finally over and you can relax.

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The spectacular view from our bivvy the morning after the night before. A pleasant hour was spent lying in the sun picking out routes and peaks already climbed and routes still to be done…there’s quite a few of them!

Summer Test and cragging

Throughout the summer months a lot of what I did in work and when I was out in the mountains and by the sea was aimed towards readying myself for the BMG Summer Test, the first of four tests that have to be passed on the way to becoming a qualified IFMGA Mountain Guide. The summer test is based in North Wales and encompasses all aspects of summer climbing and mountaineering and I am happy to say I passed. From here it’s on to Scotland this coming winter for the Winter Test!

After the Summer Test it was great to just go cragging and try various routes I had been putting off over the summer. Some with varying degrees of success!

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Raindogs, Malham Cove. I’d been to Malham once a few years ago and really didn’t get on that well with it! With rain forecast everywhere we headed to the big umbrella crag for a couple of days and I figured I might as well get on the classic Raindogs. Not really my type of climbing in that its power endurance but really fun climbing so I think I’ll be back in the spring to carry on trying it. (Photo: Dave Rudkin)

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From Yorkshire to Rhoscolyn…just the kind of crag to go to when your arms are tired from Malham. Glorious sunshine!

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Tim Neill on the little known ‘Bubbling’. An esoteric E6 on Gribin Facet that saw quite a few ascents this Autumn. After a not so great summer in the mountains the Indian summer provided dry mountain crags and some good social scenes.

Lundy Island

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Lundy Lights

The Southwest, a fabled area of Cornish granite sea cliffs, North Devonian adventure climbing and Lundy. An area that every year has been on the list of ‘must go climbing there’ places but every year had eluded me…until this year.

Walking down to Pentire Head I looked up in fascination at the lines of Eroica, Darkinbad the Brightdayler and Black Magic…we did them all. Black Magic is probably one of the most engaging and sustained routes of its grade I’ve climbed. The runout upper section felt lonely and pumpy, superb!

Lee questing up Darkinbad the Brightdayler.

Lee questing up Darkinbad the Brightdayler.

Pentire Head

Pentire Head

Standing on the pier at Ilfracombe waiting for the ferry, arms and shoulders felt tired from the day before and I hoped I hadn’t peaked before I had even got to Lundy! The island sits 12 miles off the North Devon coast in the Bristol Channel. Having extensive bird bans, late August onwards is the best time to arrive for climbing although the MV Oldenburgh is full to capacity nearly every day with day trippers and bird watchers throughout the summer. As a result island climbing life feels quite different to being on Pabbay or any other Scottish or Irish island though when you get on to the cliffs it feels every bit as remote.

Five days of good weather meant we were able to get on quite a few classics and came away sampling probably the best of Lundy. The granite on the whole is immaculate, though varies in makeup along the length of the Island. Highlights of the routes had to be Antiworlds, The Promised Land and A Widespread Ocean of Fear, each memorable in different ways!

Lee following up the first pitch of both Venus Flytrap and Wolfman Jack. THe granite here is almost flowstone like!

Lee following up the first pitch of both Venus Flytrap and Wolfman Jack. The granite here is almost flowstone like!

Dan McManus on the utterly superb Supernova in Deep Zawn.

Dan McManus on the utterly superb Supernova in Deep Zawn.

Atlantic view from the Battery.

Atlantic view from the Battery.

Quatermass, a gentle introduction to Deep Zawn.

Quatermass, a gentle introduction to Deep Zawn.

Lee setting off up the wild Antiworlds in Deep Zawn. A Littlejohn tour de force up an incredible systen of grooves and corners.

Lee setting off up the wild Antiworlds in Deep Zawn. A Littlejohn tour de force up an incredible system of grooves and corners.

Lee coming out of the dark into the light on the 2nd pitch of Antiworlds

Lee coming out of the dark into the light on the 2nd pitch of Antiworlds.

Lee pulling out from under the roof on The Promised Land. Another Litteljohn classic, this was probably the most adventurous route of the week and its E3!

Lee pulling out from under the roof on The Promised Land. Another Litteljohn classic, this was probably the most adventurous route of the week and its E3!

The Diamond. Home to scary slabs and mariners lichen. Wes Hunter on the first pitch of Widespread Ocean of Fear.

The Diamond. Home to scary slabs and mariners lichen. Wes Hunter on the first pitch of A Widespread Ocean of Fear.

The Old Light

The Old Light. A familiar view on the walk back to the campsite at the end of the day.

 

Alpine Summer

Lying in the warm sunshine at the top of Craig yr Ysfa looking out over Wales one could be mistaken for thinking its the middle of summer…warm, sweaty walk ins, shady crags and bone dry mountain rock…not what you expect on October 1st! The last time I remember it being this dry and warm in the mountains was back at the end of June, hopes of a third great summer in a row were high…I don’t think it ever happened, however the stunning and beautiful Indian summer we are currently enjoying is more than making up for it!

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After work cragging in the Pass at the end of June. Lee on Nectarine Run, tricky! No success that evening but we did manage the superb Noahs Ark in Cwm Glas Bach and Big Boys at Rhoscolyn that same week.

I was fortunate this summer to have five weeks out in the Alps over two trips working with a fantastic bunch of people and enjoying some fantastic weather in July and some more mixed weather in August. The area around Andermatt hosts some of the finest granite climbing in the Alps and so with stellar weather there was little reason to venture far from the surrounding valleys and passes in the first couple of weeks.

August arrived and the heat wave started to subside somewhat with more unsettled weather. A great couple of days at the Moiry Hut and then the Wiwannihut were had before the first snow of the summer arrived which coincided with the end of our time and so it was back to the UK.

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Sunrise approach on the Gwatchenhorn

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Beautiful morning light approaching the Gwatchenhorn.

A quick day hit to climb the classic Steuri route on the NE Face of the Kingsptiz.

A quick day hit to climb the classic Steuri route on the NE Face of the Kingsptiz with Ben and Dave.

Kings of the Kingspitz!

Kings of the Kingspitz!

Turbo scrambling on the Klein Bielenhorn

Turbo scrambling on the Chlj Schijen Ridge above Andermatt.

Lee following us up the superb Alpentraum on Teufelswand. Immacualte granite climbing in the scorching heat...almost perfect!

Lee following us up the superb Alpentraum on Teufelswand. Immacualte granite climbing in the scorching heat…almost perfect!

Hochschijen Sudgrat above the Bergsee hut.

Hochschijen Sudgrat above the Bergsee hut.

Morning light at the start of the classic Weismeis traverse from the Almageller hut.

Morning light at the start of the classic Weissmies traverse from the Almageller hut.

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A quiet morning on the Moiry Glacier approaching the Pointes de Mourti.

The stunning cirque of the Wiwannihorn.

The stunning cirque of the Wiwannihorn.

 

 

 

One Day, Maybe

Rathlin Wall...the view that inspires

The Promised Land!

I pull into the top crack of The Promised Land as the evening sun bathes the crag in golden light. Friends from Chamonix who have just arrived abseil down beside myself and Nick and shout over;

‘What route is that?’

‘Promised Land’ I shout back, followed by ‘Welcome to climbings Promised Land!!’ and laugh.

Maybe it’s not the Promised Land but I lost count of the number of times over the weekend of the Fairhead Meet the proclamations and exclamations of the quality, beauty and world class standing of the climbing at Fairhead…and the words didn’t come from Irish lips…we already knew it.

Words and pictures can never do justice so such a place…pictures can inspire however, so here are a few!

Nick on Hells Kitchen Arete

Nick on Hells Kitchen Arete. A stunningly positioned and sculpted piece of rock!

Maiden Voyage. An immaculate techy wall split by thin cracks, exceptional climbing! I first tried this line with Caff a few years ago but he backed off due to loose blocks at the start. Last year I spent a day and a bit cleaning it but got shut down on the lead. Paul and John then did the subsequent 2nd and 3rd ascents. I returned this year with this top of my list climbing better and inspired to give this my best effort...which turned out to be just enough!

Maiden Voyage. An immaculate techy wall split by thin cracks, exceptional climbing! I first tried this line with Caff a few years ago but he backed off due to loose blocks at the start. Last year I spent a day and a bit cleaning it but got shut down on the lead. Paul and John then did the subsequent 2nd and 3rd ascents. I returned this year with this top of my list climbing better and inspired to give this my best effort…which turned out to be just enough!

LoLo on Primal Scream. A particularly good effort as she had only ever onsighted E3 and wasn't too knowledgeable on placing wires...shows what sport climbing can do for you!

LoLo on Primal Scream. A particularly good effort as she had only ever onsighted E3 and wasn’t too knowledgeable on placing wires…shows what sport climbing and a calm head can do for you!

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LoLo about to top out on Primal Scream. A beautiful, inspiring wall. The direct on this route, The Complete Scream, is a sensational piece of climbing…Un Jour Peut Etre!

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Nick starting off up Un Jour Peut Etre. A route John and Paul climbed the previous year. John rated it as the best route he had done at Fairhead...storing acclaim from someone who has done nearly every route there!

Nick starting off up Un Jour Peut Etre. A route John and Paul climbed the previous year. John rated it as the best route he had done at Fairhead…strong acclaim from someone who has done nearly every route there!

Myself starting off up the first of two 6b pitches. Sustained technical climbing of the highest quality!

Myself on the first of two 6b pitches. Sustained, technical intricate climbing of the highest quality! Photo: N. Bullock

Trying to find a decent jam somewhere after pulling through the roof on the third pitch. Great effort from Nick especially after having ended up upside below me at the start of a pitch after pulling off a biggish block. I'm glad the belay was good.

Trying to find a decent jam after pulling through the roof on the third pitch. Wild, exposed and strenuous! Photo: N. Bullock

Myself trying desperately not to fall off right at the very top of the route...its not over until its over!

Myself trying desperately not to fall off right at the very top of the route…its not over until its over! Photo: N. Bullock

Will  and Heather on the immaculate slab of Buttons and Bows.

Will Sim on the immaculate slab of Buttons and Bows

Mizen Star

Mizen Star…a classic E2

Dave Pickford pulling through on the incredible  Wall of Prey.

Dave Pickford pulling through on the incredible Wall of Prey.

Nick going Above and Beyond on the Pat Littlejohn classic. A joy to climb this one again as it is one of the most stunning pitches I've ever climbed.

Nick going Above and Beyond on the Pat Littlejohn classic. A joy to climb this one again as it remains one of the most stunning pitches I’ve ever climbed.

Dave Pickford topping out on Salango. Not your average E3!

Dave Pickford topping out on Salango. Not your average E3!

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Thanks to Swaily and Sean the farmer for another great meet and to Nick Bullock for a great trip and indulging me on my favourite piece of cliff!

That was Spring…apparently

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Cool looking limestone crags at Ifen, Bavaria

One final unpack and repack and I was off to Bavaria to see out my winter season on skis. The winter season had been an incredible one up to now, from Canada to Ireland to the Alps to Scotland and now back to the Alps. I was looking forward to getting some ski time in but really I was looking forward to getting back in two weeks time to go rock climbing!

Fortunately the ski season was holding out well and I had a great 10 days teaching skiing to beginners and getting lots of mileage in myself. Now I will happily confess skiing is not my strongest skill set at present however the challenge of applying coaching techniques and skills was fascinating (and hard work) and I was amazed that by the end of the ten days I had taught four students how to reasonably competently ski around a hill!

Back from skiing it was straight into a few weeks work and staff training and so far the best weather of the Spring! On a calm, blue sky day a few of us went for a paddle from Porthdafarch to Holyhead, i.e. we went for a wee look at Gogarth from the sea. I had always wanted to do this journey but not being a paddler (in the slightest!) the stars had never aligned until now. Paddling up to the bottom of Main Cliff and through the arch in Wen Zawn gives a completely different perspective of these fantastic cliffs. I would highly recommend it to any climber given the opportunity!

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Myself in a sea kayak…a very rare sight! (Photo L. Roberts)

The following day I was back at Gogarth to atone for my boating transgression to go for a journey along the wild, atmospheric ‘Trunk Line’ A Mick Fowler traverse of the right hand side of Main Cliff. Wild and pumpy climbing!

Dave starting off along Trunk Line

Dave starting off along Trunk Line

The wild pumpy traverse out from Alien on pitch 3. Photo D. Rudkin

The wild, pumpy traverse out from Alien on pitch 3. Photo D. Rudkin

The end of April brought the start of two weeks of BMG summer training. Dave and myself kicked it off with a a couple of routes in Cathedral Quarry…a very impressive slate hole in the ground beside Little Langdale in the Lake District where we were to be based for the first week. We spent the week looking in depth at how to move efficiently, safely and quickly over rock climbing and scrambling terrain. Despite the winter being determined to return with snow low down on the fells it was a great week exploring the Lakes and getting invaluable input and feedback.

The second week was based out of Plas Y Brenin with the focus being on coaching and delivery of our rock climbing and short roping skills in a bigger context…i.e the alps! Using observation and analysis, questioning and teaching models we were introduced in depth how to get the maximum amount of information out of people to give them the best experience plus a whole load more!

Cristiano from the Dolomites on Resolution Direct

Cristiano from the Dolomites on Resolution Direct

The following week was the return of the BMC International Meet to the Pass and as with last time so did the windy and wet weather and numerous references to the Pass being akin to Mordor! However, as usual, North Wales delivers and numerous visits to the coast and one fine day in the Pass allowed the international visitors to sample the best of what we have to offer in North Wales with everyone fully embracing the trad style! I think it goes to show just how proud we are of our trad ethics and wee cliffs in this country that people will willing give up a week of their time to show others around. Or maybe its just a great opportunity to go and climb a lot of classic routes ourselves one more time!

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Finally it feels like a holiday! Crisiano embracing the nuts and foregoing the bolts on the Orme!

The rest of the time has been a mix of climbing and climbing work trying to stay warm on breezy crags in the Pass or heading for the sun at the Orme. Time for summer to arrive now though!

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Tim on St. Tudnos esoterica

Sunshine on a cold day at Craig y Don...

Sunshine on a cold day at Craig y Don…

 

An Icy Winter

Being in the Alps at the start of January I kept an eye on conditions on Scotland to see what people had been up to and what was getting climbed…turns out very little as the wild weather continued unabated through those early weeks. Thankfully as I drove up North the winds seemed to have abated and the benefits of all the stormy wet weather came to fruition in the way of ice and lots of it!

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One of many stunning days this winter.

A rather pleasant day in Coire an Lochain with John blew away the skiing cobwebs before I started into a few days work with QUB Mountaineering Club. I always look forward to working with these guys and girls and giving them a few handy hints as it was through the club and input from others that I gained my first real experiences in winter and its always great to see them gain their first experience of winter mountaineering and climbing as well as catch up on the various tales of epics from throughout the year!

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Winter Mountaineering skills with QUBMC in the Cairngorms

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QUBMC guys getting their first taste of Scottish winter climbing on Hidden Chimney, Cairngorms.

My winter in Scotland this year was limited and so with work taking up most weekdays I aimed to make the most of the weekends and the fantastic conditions and weather that had set in around the West Highlands. After a weeks work with Queens Mountaineering Club in the Cairngorms I headed west to head out with Tim and Lee to Beinn an Dothaidh. A beautiful drive over Rannoch Moor and a sunny morning walk in brought us to the bottom of The Screaming which gave 3 brilliant pitches on what was a very relaxed winters day!

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The ever impressive Buachaille Etive Mor

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Lee warming up on The Screaming, Beinn an Dothaidh.

I had Rhys and Zoe along on an Intro to Winter Climbing week during which we climbed a few fantastic ice and mixed routes in great weather and looked at the skills they needed to head out themselves next time round.

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Rhys approaching the sunshine on Sunshine Gully, Beinn Udlaidh

Throughout the week I had been reading and hearing, with some envy, various reports of classic ice routes such as Gemini and The Shield Direct being climbed during the week. So when Friday came round there was only one place to go! I met up with Rhys and we walked into the Ben under a full moon with Gemini being Plan A, having missed out on it a couple of seasons ago when it was in. Rhys hadn’t done much in Scotland in winter so when he asked what Grade VI on ice meant I chuckled a little and said he’d be grand, he had climbed Cerro Torre after all, couldn’t be much harder! Gearing up I recognized the distinctive oversized rucksack and charging walk of Murdo approaching and so told him to stay clear as this route was too easy for him…he agreed even though he had only just done it and set off up The Shield Direct.

Myself starting up the initial ice pitch of Gemini, Ben Nevis. Photo: M. Jamieson

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Rhys McAllister having found his groove on the smear pitch on Gemini, Ben Nevis

With the lower level ice being so good on the Ben the other obvious place to go was Aonach Beag so I met up with Lou and we had a great day climbing the superb Royal Pardon, again a not too often formed route and another I’d had my eye on for a few years!

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Lou on the brilliant Royal Pardon, Aonach Beag

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Superb evening light over the Mamores.

Sunday came round and the plan with Nelly was to get on The Shield Direct if we could knowing full well that the temperature had risen. Rounding the corner we could hear the audible dripping and running of water before we could see it. The initial corner looked fragile to say the least and neither of us were feeling very brave so we carried on round and started up The Bewildabeast behind Murdo and Andy. This route had only had its second ascent a couple of days previously and here we were making the 5th ascent! The formation of ice around Carn Dearg has been exceptional this season and allowed rarely formed routes such as this to come in. Each pitch was absolutely superb in its own right and definitely rivaled Gemini for sheer pleasure to climb!

Myself starting off up the rarely climbed (well until that weekend) Bewildabeast, Ben Nevis. Photo: Andy N

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Nelly on the incredible final pitch of Bewildabeast, Ben Nevis

Another week of work starting off with a Winter ML Training and finishing up with two days guiding on Boomers Requiem and Deep Cut Chimney (the Western one)  set up the weekend with the Ben again the obvious place to go with two outstanding routes, The Shroud and Mega Route X, the obvious go to routes. I have never seen the Shroud formed before and so for it to have formed and actually be relatively fat was incredible! Pulling round the top bulge with an expanse of air below me I felt privileged to have climbed such an iconic route. A perfect end to a great season of ice!

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A rarely formed Ben Nevis classic, The Shroud.

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Myself making some moves at the top of The Shroud, Ben Nevis.

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Lee on the superb Mega Route X, Ben Nevis

A couple of weeks of bagging some new Munros, avoiding large amounts of snow and climbing esoteric and classic, but safe, winter routes at work led up to my BMG Winter Induction. This was the final induction day before being properly accepted on to the British Guides Scheme as Trainee Guides. A great few days of Induction and training with Graeme Ettle, John Lyall and Jonathan Preston saw us all welcomed to the BMG and so, an end to a Scottish winter but the beginning of what will be a great few years progressing through the Guides scheme!