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Don’t Skip the Haggis…(BMC Winter Meet Part 2)

Posted on: February 27th, 2012 by Pete Takeda

The American Alpine Club’s delegates recently returned from the Scottish Winter Meet held on January 22-29, 2012. The BMC International Winter Meet hosts an annual week-long gathering for 40 international guests from about 25 countries. This year’s AAC delegates, Bayard Russell and Scott Fife [Check out their blogs for more photos] experienced the full delights of Scottish winter climbing—by all accounts the conditions were great: cold and frosty.

The pair reported a fantastic trip—well organized, flexible, great hosts, and great conditions. We caught up with them for an interview.

Pete Takeda: What were some of the highlights of the trip overall?

Scott: The full Scottish winter climbing experience was the big highlight. We had real mixed climbing with rime ice, turf placements, “head torch” descents, and everything else you read about. Getting blown off my feet in a gale and groping down the Goat Path in Coire an t-Sneachda in the dark was great!

Bayard: I got to watch Nick Bullock, on the second pitch of the trip, pull over the top of a new route in Corrie an Lochan while screaming and looking at a 50 footer on to a couple of Spectre hooks and thinking this must be a normal day out in Scotland. Rowdy! (Ed.: Bayard doesn’t mention that he and Bullock were partners on this fine first ascent.)

PT: What were some of the highlights of the trip?

Scott: I was really honored to be selected for this meet, and frankly a bit nervous that I would be a fish out of water among the other climbers. That turned out not to be the case, and I think I climbed respectably. Considering the talent represented, this was a personal highlight.

Bayard: I really enjoyed hanging out with a couple of psyched locals, Nick Bullock and Guy Robertson on my last day. I enjoyed their excitement at repeating a route that hadn’t been done in 28 years. I was lucky to tag along. Other than the accents, they could’ve been from New Hampshire! 

PT: Did you get to mix it up with the locals? Any of the other international climbers? Tell us about climbing in a different culture —the style and atmosphere?

Scott: The locals were fantastic hosts. All were good climbers and gracious hosts. My host climber, Des Rubens, was the perfect partner for me, choosing great routes with an uncanny eye on the weather. He also very patiently explained the key language differences relative to climbing. 

I’ll never do another sitting glissade now that “bum slide” is part of my vocabulary. 

I also enjoyed talking with the international climbers, who were equally friendly. At the Ben Nevis car park, one of the host climbers asked if anyone had a spare pare of gloves, which I did. It turned out that Ryo Mastumoto (Japan) was in need of a pair.  He returned them to me the next evening in the dining hall and thanked me, complete with the respectful bow. Several onlookers wondered what I had done to such a greeting from one of the Giri Giri Boys. 

Bayard:  The climbing over in Scotland was reminiscent of the stuff I like to do at home, but always in worse conditions. When a route was in, i.e. covered in snow, they would go out. In those same conditions I always tended to avoid scrappy trad climbs. It was been a great eye opener concerning what we can get away with climbing in the winter. Also, the terrain surprised me at how alpine it all felt. A simple trip to the local crag required soloing around on low angle snow, while some of the other areas we visited like looked, and felt like, small alpine climbs—complete with about 1000′-ish gully down-climbs, rappels over cornices, and night descents.

PT: What were your most memorable routes and why?

Scott:  Every route we did was excellent, but two really stood out. Deep Cut Chimney on Hell’s Lum Crag, a four star route in the guidebook, is a classic Scottish chimney requiring a little bit of everything, with an interesting finish. Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis, a longer, more alpine route was a fantastic climb and a big day for me. I was really pleased to get up this ultra classic, and several of the other guest climbers were pretty envious.

Bayard: I had a really great partner the whole week and he kept every day memorable. The first long route we did, though, Trail of Tears in Lochnagar, left an impression. I backed off a pitch and the local took over; I was glad he did. It was scary, difficult and insecure, all in a remote setting a couple of hours from the road. These guys are climbing at high level.

PT: Any comparisons with what you climbed to anything in the states?

Scott: We did one pure ice route called Alladin’s Mirror Direct, which was not much different than routes I have done here in the States. The other routes were departures from my experience, as I haven’t done that much mixed climbing, and when I have it has not been in at that level of difficulty or in that kind of weather. Contemplating the rime-ice covered rock really was a new experience for me, and it was every bit as good as they say. See…

Bayard: Yeah, it felt pretty similar, just jilted in a snowier direction. A lot of the traditional mixed climbing we do in the Northeast simply involves ice, not snow, but we carry basically the same kit. All the brushing off the rock and searching around for hidden gear was really good practice… For something anyway…

PT: Psyched on going back? Haggis? Whiskey?

Scott: Absolutely! The Haggis turned out to be no big deal (I especially liked the Haggis Pie with Whiskey sauce I had in Ayr after the meet), and the Scotch was for real. It turns out the Cairngorm Brewery also puts out a couple of very nice beers, so drinking locally was definitely the way to go. It’s a big world, and I have lots of other climbing destinations to get to, but I really hope to return to Scotland. Maybe I’ll catch Point Five Gully in condition next time.

Bayard: I would love to go back, I’ll skip the Haggis (which they served for breakfast the first morning, apparently it’s not a breakfast food). I have to admit I never had any whiskey. 

…the Haggis turned out to be no big deal (I especially liked the Haggis Pie with Whiskey Sauce I had)…


Attend the 2012 Annual Benefit Dinner Weekend and you might have a chance to hear some details from Bayard in person.


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