Wednesday, March 01, 2006

WWII Story, back home

One of the guys I met at the hut under Ben Nevis, Justin Jeffrey, sent me the following. I thought it was an interesting story that reflects the history of Scotland and climbing in the world, thanks Justin for giving me permission to share it.

Justin's Words:

Back in 1939 two great Scottish climbers were on the Ben staying in the Clark Hut (G.Bell and Bill Murray). The following morning they set off to do Tower Ridge and it proved to be something of an epic, later immortalised by Murray in a book of his mountaineering reminiscences which he wrote (on toilet paper!) while a prisoner of the Germans.

In 'The Edge', an excellent short series of documentaries about Scottish mountaineering, Murray recounts the following rather charming story.

Just after the fall of Tobruk his unit had been cut from 800 to just 200 men by a determined German assault. A German tank commander approached Murray, wielding a machine pistol; Murray thought his number was up. To his surprise his captor quizzed him about the cold.
'Not feeling the cold?'
'Cold as a mountain top', replied Murray.
'Good God! Do you climb?' the German continued.
There followed a passionate conversation about the beloved Alps and of Murray's own native Scottish hills; the war was momentarily forgotten.
The German then produced a looted bottle of English beer and some chocolate and they both made a toast to 'mountains.'

Later, Murray found freedom from his captors by reliving his adventures in the hills and writing them down on toilet paper. This was confiscated by the Gestapo in Czechoslovakia and it took further attempts before Murray's stories were finally saved from time and became a book.

This story seems particularly apt in view of the new friendships made recently on the Ben. Murray's story and the friendships mountains forge remind me of this poem by Marjorie Scott Johnston, which was written during WW2:

Mountain Peace

The cloud that on Olympus rests
will clothe the Cordillera crests,
and snow on Monte Rosa turn
to Lakeland beck and Scottish burn.

And we shall turn from war's disgust,
and this dark prison of mistrust,
find life again on Lochnagar,
on Scafell and on Finsteraar:

Not slaves to time's dictatorship,
but free and kind relationship;
with mountain chains to span
the brotherhood of man.


End Justin's words. Good stuff, thanks for sharing it!

Back home in Canmore now, arrived yesterday evening via London. It was pretty funny in Lodon, they were talking about "bitter cold, howling winds, blizzards." The forecast? -2 with snow flurries... I'm sure conditions are now perfect in Scotland, where those on the Ben are braving savage conditions. In Canmore last night it was -10, snowy, typical Canadian Conditions, I had to get off my ass and stay awake to beat the jet lag so I went for a run with the Chili Dog in the last dregs of the evening, sure is great to be back home! Slept 12 hours last night, game on today.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Heading Home

Spent the last two days teaching and being taught at the Rjukan ice festival, clinics and a slideshow. Thanks to Adam and both Peters from the Swedish Club, and the many people from the Rjukan ice festival who have become friends over the last three years. One great thing about my "job" is that I get to meet good people all over the world at these ice events year after year, it makes travel less of an alien experience for sure. I'm even starting to learn some really basic Norwegian words, the language is starting to sound less like a malfunctioning blender when I hear it.

I always find it inspiring and motivational to teach ice and mixed clinics--the "students" always have the fire, and that lights me up too. On the first day I was teaching a mixed clinic--several of the students asked me to put a top rope up on a local M8+ that my bud Robert Jasper had opened a few years back, so straight out of the car it was onto a rather blind and testy piece, but I managed to send it and keep my reputation intact, grin. By the end of the day at least three of the students were also leading it, awesome! Slideshow Saturday night, a packed house for two shows. I went last and did my show in English, amazingly everyone understood. I can never get over the level of English education in Norway, a guy picked me up as I hitchiked down to town to get ready from my show. He had a job fixing beer kegs and cranes, not sure exactly how that worked, but he had excellent English, most of Norway is like that. We really need to do a better job on language education in North America, French for Canada and Spanish for the US, no excuses when you see how the Norwegians and Swedes deal. Sunday was ice clinic day, and I had a hard time devising suitable tortures for the crew, they were good. I finally had to load a backpack up with about 20K of ice blocks to make the route hard enough, an old training trick that forces you to climb with straight arms as much as possible, it's just too hard to get up using the old lock-off style.

Now it's on the train/bus/plan dance, but it's been a great trip! Thanks to Andreas for the last week in Norway, we barely scratched the surface of the place as usual, there's LOTS left to do. It's almost like being at a huge buffet with all your fav foods--after stuffing yourself you need a rest...

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Back in Rjukan after the last couple of days in "The Motherlode,' the real name of which is Eidfjord, in the west of Norway. There, now you've got the info! I think Eidfjord is going to become world famous, there's just way too much good ice for any sane person to deal with. The area is well-known for having one of the many "biggest/highest" waterfalls in Europe, a thing called Voringfossen. The canyon below Voringfossen has around 20 high quality lines ranging from WI 3 to WI psycho. The actual falls of Voringfossen itself is kind of funky due to the volume of water, but could certainly be climbed... Spak and I climbed two new lines in the Voringfossen canyon and bailed off a third in one of the weirder ice experiences I've ever had.

We went to do the "first choice" line in the canyon despite a sudden surge in temperature. It offers about 300M of very steep ice, with the upper half getting sun. The rock on the side was sending down some missiles as the ice melted off of it, but the centre seemed solid enough so we blasted up an 80M pitch of WI5 to get to the business. Andreas belayed behind the pillar on good screws, and I started up the very wild ice on the front. As soon as I crossed onto the ice that had been getting sun things got extremly funky, and when I got into the sun things got even more funky. The climbing wasn't too bad, but small missiles were falling past and it was only getting warmer. I figured that if we could get up on the upper third it was all good to go, so I kept climbing on some barely frozen slush. It was sketchy but I got some increasingly marginal screws and figured I'd just gun it for cave and belay there. Unfortunately the ice in the cave was shit also, despite digging down through the top 40cm, which took me to the rock. Why was thing still even standing? After 50M of not being able to get a belay and no better ice in sight I was in a predictament. The solution was to downclimb the pillar... It was engaging, as was rapping back down the approach pitch and gully. I sacrificed a screw to get off really fast, better gear than me or Andreas.

I was too pounded to climb a fourth day, so Andreas and I called it good. Eidfjord gets some serious temperature fluctuations--Andreas thinks it's good a lot of the time, and we're already planning a return mission next year. A dozen climbers could have at the place for month and not get everything done, it's just silly for that much ice to be in one place. The lines are far steeper and bigger than any other area I've ever seen, never mind the gully routes and various bits hanging about...

So, two and a half new routes done in three days, not bad! For me it's almost as exciting discovering a new area as climbing the routes, send me an email if you do something cool!

Taught clinics and gave a show here in Rjukan over the last few days with Adam and the Rjukan team, there's lots of great ice here too. My flight from Scotland to Norway was about one third Brits coming over here to climb, Rjukan is sort of the Ouray of Europe--super reliable ice conditions, lots of it. Beer is expensive but the ice is free.

Heading back to Canada over the next couple of days, it's been a hell of a trip overall, lots of good fun with good people and even some decent climbing. I'm starting to feel a little burned on winter, that shows how lucky I am, no complaints.