5 Minutes With Calum Muskett
Ellis Brigham sponsored climber Calum Muskett was born in North Wales and discovered climbing when he was 13. He now travels all over the world climbing difficult Alpine routes as well as free climbing big walls such as El Capitan in Yosemite. He has been featured in magazines such as Climber and last year made repeat ascents of two Welsh E9s, The Indian Face and Rare Lichen.
EB: Could you tell us about your first experiences of winter climbing?
CM: My first few winter climbs were in Cwm Idwal at Ogwen. I was 14 years old and my friend Francis took me up Idwal Stream, a classic grade III ice climb. The following day I climbed it again with my Mum and I remember her dropping the car keys in a snow drift and spending about an hour looking for it! Above all I remember it being very fun and the fact you had two big handholds opened up a lot of possibilities if you could hang on to them long enough!
EB: Is there one winter climb that stands out as the most memorable?
CM: My most memorable winter climb is still a route called 'The Devil's Appendix', a grade VI ice route at Ogwen. I climbed it at the end of my first week of winter climbing with a pair of borrowed straight shafted ice axes and only two ice screws. I led both pitches and by turns found the experience terrifying, sensational and difficult. It's a route I'd always known about and rarely comes into good condition. The ice formations are incredible and at one point you pull over an icicle with the whole of Cwm Idwal and my home town in the distance behind you. I've climbed it three times now and think it even compares with some famous continental ice routes.
Calum has climbed some of the world's toughest routes, including Golden Gate on El Capitan.
EB: How do these UK winter climbs compare to the larger routes you've done in Patagonia and the Alps?
CM: UK winter climbs are their own thing. They're rarely longer than four pitches long and as a result can be far more difficult and time consuming than the likes of sustained mixed climbs in Patagonia and the Alps. Routes tend to be plastered in snow, gear is difficult to come by and we climb on frozen turf! In alpine areas you're often climbing up granite which takes gear easily and you can often make swift progress. The other thing is that you very rarely set out in bad weather in the Alps and Patagonia whereas in Scotland it's normal to go out in a hoolie, in fact – it's part of the experience.
EB: What one piece of gear would you never do without when mountaineering?
CM: In terms of technical gear it's important to have a solid and robust pair of crampons that aren't going to let you down. You don't want to have to fiddle with them in the cold. I'm a real convert to mono point crampons and the Black Diamond Stingers are bombproof. A little bit heavier than other models but great for general mountaineering as well as technical climbing and they've got effective anti balling plates too.
EB: Looking back on 2014, what have been the highlights of your year?
CM: 2014 kicked off with a trip of mixed success to Patagonia. We failed big time on our main objective due to the weather but did climb a great new multi pitch grade VIII mixed route. I had a fun trip to the Alps and although the weather wasn't on our side we did some great time climbing in the Ratikön and on the Fiz. This Autumn I also had a great short trip to Chamonix where I climbed a difficult alpine route called the Gabarrou-Silvy – it was also the first time I've ever climbed with ice axes and rock boots... wild!
EB: Any plans or projects for 2015 that you could let us in on?
CM: I'm spending the first few months of the year working in Scotland so hoping to get out on the weekends as much as possible. I have a trip lined up to the Alps in late Spring early Summer time too. The main trip I'm planning at the moment though is to Baffin Island. We're heading over in the summer time and hoping to free climb some amazing looking big walls.