Repeat of Knuckleduster. VIII/9, Ben Nevis, Scottish winter 2016.
With warm unsettled weather in the Alps and very little action to speak of, Matt was keen to get back to Scotland to re-establish his roots. Climbing where for him, it all started. A place Matt felt he'd neglected in recent years, having been more motivated on Alpine objectives and length rather than necessarily on the quality of the climb.
Based in the Alps and mainly going out in good conditions, Matt had recently been more worried about where his next cappuccino would come from rather than pushing into the darkness to complete a route. He needed to get his Scottish hit, to climb hard, to suffer, to feel committed, cold, damp and to feel his knees on the walk out down the Allt a’Mhuilinn at the end of the day. Something he'd missed in a sado masochistic type of way. It was only by spending so much time climbing in the Alps that he had come to realise how world class the climbs in his own UK mountains are. "There is nowhere like it. Makes me understand that the grass isn’t always greener !"
The route, “Knuckleduster” VIII/9 on Number Three Gully Buttress up high in Coire Na Ciste, Ben Nevis. A route with a reputation. Pete Benson joined Matt for the day. A good partner to be in the hills with and always good for banter and psych. Matt racked up at the base of the climb, butterflies in his stomach not because of the fear of climbing but more because of the pressure he'd put himself under to on-sight and lead every pitch. Cleaning, hooking, scratching, smearing, pulling, torking. They topped out as darkness fell. The climbing superb on one of the best mixed routes ever climbed. Happy he'd freed the climb, Matt didn’t feel the forearm pump anymore, the cramps, the stress he'd put himself through mentally, not to fall. Why all the stress ? No one cares up there but you. That's why Scottish winter climbing is so unique. Because they do care.
Sharpnose Point, Devon. "pacemaker" E5 6a, 2015.
Sat on the cliff top, with a heavy swell beneath and rain clouds rolling in off the Atlantic. Everything was wet. Matt and Sam Richards huddled under a rock for shelter watching the waves crash into amazingly thin fins of Culm rock jutting out to sea. This rugged but beautiful coastline of North Devon in the SW of England is a wild place and home to some of the best trad lines in the UK. At the turn of the tide, turn also their fortunes. A break in the weather and a strong wind blows the cliff dry and they commit to abseil into the base of this wonderland of outstanding rock architecture. “Pacemaker” was a route Matt always wanted to climb on sight. One of the routes that's always been well within his capability, but a route always saved and saved for that special moment when you're feeling at your best. Even now with 8b+ sport fitness Matt's still looking for excuses in his mind to save it for that perfect day. Standing at the bottom, Sam hands Matt the rack. “Well if you don’t go, I’m having it ! ” Hmmm... best crack on then !
Beinn Eighe, Triple Buttress. "senior" VIi/8.
Walking up the Coire Dubh Mor, the long 3 hour approach into Coire Mhic Fhearchair on Beinn Eighe, squally showers roll in as Matt and Pete Benson break a trail into the Triple Buttress. Pete a legendary Scot, knows more than most about the fickle Scottish weather. A guy you can rely on for the most accurate conditions beta and weather forecasting known to man, and also a member of the "Scottish ethic police”. Always a seriously useful, entertaining and talented bloke to tie in with.
Rounding the corner and knee deep in snow, trail blazing up to the base of the West Buttress, the clouds part for a moment to reveal a truly impressive sight, a 300m high sandstone capped with quartizite cliff. Thankfully after the effort to get here it's white and in exceptional winter condition. Game on ! Heading on up passing debris of a Lancaster Bomber which crashed into the mountain back in 1951 on a reconnaissance mission, seems surreal in such a remote and beautiful place. Part of the wing, an engine, a propellor and landing gear all scattered amongst the boulders. What a tragic sight.
They climb through the sandstone band of “Senior” VII/8 and nail hard for the grade. The climbing, spectacular with some of the best pitches of mixed climbing Matt has known…anywhere. They top out in the dark, traverse the big open slopes of Beinn Eighe in a still and clear night back to the valley and a log fire. Days out don’t get much better than this.
Pentire Head, Great Wall. "Darkinbad the brightdayler" E5 6a.
30 Years ago to the day, Matt's mate Johnny Baker climbed Darkinbad on the Great Wall and it was amazing for Matt to have him holding his ropes to climb the same route now, even though every time Matt looked down for some reassurance, Matt says Johnny was texting ! This has been a route Matt wanted to climb for years but one that always scared him. Tales of run out unprotected starts with the possibility of a 15m ground fall into sharp boulders didn't help, even though John was sure that the first moves were positive...errr they were not ! Dank conditions didn't help but surely one of the best sea cliff E5's in the land.
Avon Gorge, The Ramp. "Bold as Love" E6 6b.
Back in the hood, Bristol's Avon Gorge has to be one of the best city crags in the world. Climbing some of the E5 classics on the Ramp, "Lost Illusions", "Street Life", and "Low Profile", so stunning but has to be topped by the amazing E6 "Bold as Love"
BERRY HEAD, THe great cave. "caveman" e6 6b
A boyhood dream of Matt's on one of the UK's most outrageous sections of sea cliff. Matt encountered everything on the 5 pitch classic, wild committing moves, crumbling holds, slimy damp rock and a fair share of bird poo! ""Sounds like a nightmare, but really this was one f**king trip. Happy for the onsight."
Sharpnose point, Devon. "coronary country" (original start) e7 6b.
"It can be hard to not get psyched out on this route, sandy crumbling feet, breakable holds and suspect gear, not to mention the 30 year old wafer thin tied off pegs". A SW classic no doubt.