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Scottish Sea-Stack Attack 2016

Sea stacks are often special or even dream objectives for rock climbers. The sharp spire soaring directly from roaring sea offers a great adventure. Why?

First, the original and archtypal goal of climbing is to go high, perhaps up to the (locally) highest point, and preferably somewhere unreachable without climbing. In the UK, Napes Needle in the Lake District is the first recorded climbing in that respect, that is, climbing for the sake of it, rather than a means of training for bigger objectives like Himalaya. Sea stacks are of course an ideal objective, being independent and eye-catchingly distinctive.

Second, sea cliffs usually add a dimension of excitement and often risk (or challenge) and difficulty to deal with in climbing, such as the tide. To climb above (possibly) crashing waves feels certainly exciting! Unlike most sea-cliff climbing, to top out to complete an ascent is not the end of the game. You will have to descend, usually by abseiling, and then perhaps to negotiate the sea and/or tide to get back to safety.

Third, most sea stacks are off the beaten track. Climbers can enjoy the solitude, as well as the excitement due to its commitment.

Not to mention, those pros serve at the same time as cons, or added risks. Sea stacks were formed as a stack with a good reason, that is, the rocks are not the most solid, even exacerbated by the harsh coastal climate. Famously, a British climber Paul Pritchard has suffered a serious injury due to a rock fall during his attempt of climbing The Totem Pole in Tasmania, which left him in haemiplegia. The challenge to climb a sea stack should not be underestimated.

As a mountaineer, I love climbing peaks and pinnacles that are unreachable without climbing. In Peak District, where I learnt trad climbing, Rivelin Pinnacle was one of the big objectives in my early climbing career. In the Lake District, High Man in Pillar Rocks, which is technically the only mountain in England inaccessible without climbing, was once very high in my wish list. So was Inaccessible Pinnacle in Isle of Skye. Terrier's Tooth in Chair Ladder, Cornwall, which finishes at the top of a little pinnacle, was good to climb for the same reason, albeit the pinnacle is not very significant.

Then sea stacks naturally draw my attention. However, I have climbed only one stack so far — The Souter in Scottish Border. It was good, and better than Rivelin Needle, Terrier's Tooth and alike. Nevertheless, I know it is nowhere close to the best that Britain, or practically Scotland, can offer. There are many sea stacks in the coast in Scotland; among those, the so-called Big Three are, Old Man of Hoy in Orkney, an Old Man of Stoer and Am Buachaille in the far north-west Highlands. They are the biggest major sea stacks in British Isles, with Hoy being the tallest at 137m (n.b., see the note in the main article).

The fact all of them are remote from major areas in Britain means the logistics are not easy for most people, including most Scots, let alone those from the south. The Scottish weather is anyway not renowned for being mild or dry to say the least, and the north-west coast tends to be the worst in Scotland. That means even if one makes everything else in the logistics right, it is fairly common they are turned down by the weather. As such, the level of commitment and effort is high in the Scottish sea-stack climbing. But the reward must be all the higher, if one suceeds.

The southerner Michelle has never climbed any sea stacks before, and decided to come up north to attack sea stacks for a week in September with me. The plan is hopefully to climb the Big Three or a part of them, depending on the weather and our progress, all via the standard (easiest) routes. Most pitches being VS or below, which is within Michelle's leading grade, she would lead some pitches or maybe alternate leads. But if things get tough or serious, I would take the lead. Just 10 days before the week, I had taken a seriously bad fall, which put me on bed for a couple of days. Fortunately, I have recovered just enough to make it in time, with or hopefully without pain killers.

So began the game.


Best alpine-climbing month in Chamonix 2016

The fun in mountains depend so much on the weather. We all know that, but despite uncertainty we must try. You may get a lot some year, and not much in another. In Chamonix I had the best in autumn 2010, and then the worst in summer 2014.

When Rob interested me in alpine climbing in August in Chamonix, I wasn't so sure of what we can get done. The thing is, due to the climate change, it seems August has become increasingly unsuitable, particularly for snow and mixed alpine climbing in recent years. We nevertheless went for it, joined by our friend, Simon.

The outcome — Fantastic!!

It has turned out to be my best climbing trip to Chamonix. A dump of snow early in the season (which has even claimed some lives in early season due to an unusual amount of snow), followed by a quite stable sunny weather during our stay, offered us the arguably best conditions imaginable for August.

There are far too many to write all of our climbing experiences, but here are a few highlights…


Tips for safer scrambling

Scrambling is an activity that is often regarded as exciting, yet not as serious as proper climbing, and as a fantastic way to enjoy the great outdoor.
But is it really safe, or safer than climbing?
Here I give a list of safety tips for scramblers, from beginners to experienced.


What would Japan do when expats suffered?

In and after Brexit, a vast majority of British residents and some people around in Europe are expected to suffer. Among those, the things will hit worst to the EU nationals that are living and/or working in the UK and British expatriates in Europe, totalling some 5 millions. Their future is very uncertain to say the least. Chances are they will lose both the job and residency, once the UK has withdrawn from the EU. The leading politicians in the UK have made no promise or given no assurance at the time of writing, a month after the referendum. Some hawks have even made a statement of dismissal of anything hopeful.

A few of my friends of British nationals that live in Europe are advocating keeping their status and rights. I was then asked what would happen if a similar thing happened in Japan?

That is an interesting question, if hypothetical. This is an answer from me, a Japanese expatriate residing in the UK.


Static ropes for climbing

Climbers in general are, unlike dynamic ropes, not main users of static ropes. The predominant use of static ropes is industrial use, such as, in a work environment of tall buildings, towers (oil-rigging etc) and for ships and tree-climbing. Within sports, apart from marine sports like sailing, it is heavily used in caving and canyoning.

After all, to climb something ground-up, which is arguably what climbing is all about, climbers vitally need dynamic ropes to absorb a shock in potential falls. Even though there is some use for static ropes in climbing as summarised in the text, its use is somewhat limited, though you really want one when you do.

For that reason, the knowledge about static ropes by climbers, as well as stocks of them in climbing shops, tends to be limited, whereas a large number and variety of static ropes are available in the market, which can be confusing. Here is my attempt to summarise what is the feature to look for, and what sort of models are available as of 2016 in the market.


Cross-loading on knots

Image of Bowline knot and standard and cross-loads

Cross-loading — this word may give a chill in the spine of climbers. It is a real terror, be it with a karabiner or knot. In the industry they adopt the simple and very straightforward solution for this. Just use super-strong metal links, a.k.a., absolute bombproof steel maillon rapides, wherever in suspect.

In climbing, whereas the same approach is indeed recommended in some cases like a group activity of abseiling or bottom-roping, the weight, bulkiness and awkwardness in use of steel maillons put off most, understandably and justifiably in many cases. Instead, climbers usually use either a climbing-rated (aluminium) karabiner or knot to bear with cross-loading. We climbers know it is not ideal, but we are also somehow confident they are strong enough for our purposes.

But how confident are you?

I have a look at this issue in this post, along with a recently created video.


Jiu Jitsu or Jujutsu — Romanisation of Japanese

A friend of mine, who is a very experienced martialartist in a few disciplines, including Jiu Jitsu (Jujutsu, Jujitsu, Ju Jutsu), asked me what is the appropriate spelling of Jiu Jitsu in alphabet, referring to the following post by some one, who seems to be in favour of "Jujutsu"

I would say the author's claim is factually corrrect mostly, though is incorrect at one point and contains points I don't know about. Here I am presenting my view.


How to keep the hands warm in winter-climbing

Image:Gloves for winter activity

Extremities or fingers sometimes get cold during winter climbing. The inevitable requirement in winter-climbing of dexterity with hands does not go well with your wish to keep them warm. Winter climbers somehow must find a solution, which works for you, keeping a good balance in between.

Here I am explaining the principle and theory behind it and the practical tips I have found over the years, which have been either deduced from or backed up with the theory. Have functional hands even in cold, and enjoy glorious winter-climbing!


AlphaGo—Marvels of Artificial Intelligence for go


A stage during the fifth match of Lee Sedol vs AlphaGo

Very recently a shocking news hit the headline: one of the best go players in the world lost by 1-4 against a go-playing software. Here is the related history and what I thought of about it.

History of artificial intelligence (AI)

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has been in people's imagination for ages. One of the most famous and first AIs in novels is HAL 9000 in Arthur C. Clarke's Space Odyssey series, starting from 2001: A Space Odyssey.


Invitation to rock climbing in Scotland

Scottish winter climbing is world-famous like Ben Nevis North Face. Then how about (summer) rock climbing?

I had very little idea about that before I moved to Scotland, except for a few stories like Old Man of Hoy and Cuillin. Having experienced (some of) them now, I have to say I am mightily impressed. This post is meant to be an introduction for Scottish rock for southeners to get an idea!

I guess a guy's comment in the UKC-forum discussion about the best xxx routes in the country summarised it well…


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