Sunday, 19 February 2012

A short Sunday bimble

I awoke at 4am to the sound of 'In the Air Tonight' (the Nonpoint cover) in preparation for my first visit to Lochnagar. The forecast of snow and sub zero temps had me on the edge of my.....well, bed. Alas, it was not to be as the A93 was closed due to the snowfall. Disappointment? Or blessing in disguise?

I was climbing today with Mark. We'd not met before but had had a day out planned for a while and had set the objective of the Southern sector at Lochnagar. A quick selection of Plan B in the car and we headed up the A9 to the safe bet - Northern Corries. Thanks to the early start we were the first on the scene but were left wondering if everyone else knew something we didn't!

After waiting at the snow gates for a while then quickly gearing up we headed up towards Mess of Pottage, as we couldn't see any other crags we thought this would give us a couple of solid options. We intended on the Haston Line III,4 (or IV, 4 in the other book?) but after the hard slog up there we went for the not-so-knackering option of Jacobs Edge. 

The route is pretty good in that you can pick your own line anywhere between I-IV. We picked a couple of blocky sections that made the route about II overall.

The clag started to lift and offered some nice views of the rest of the corrie. How silly I was to think we might be in the corrie on our own! I could count around 40 people, just that I could see, and 20 of those people must have been on Aladdin's Couloir! 

Just as is my extraordinary luck these days we topped out just as the sun broke through the cloud. Lovely scenery right over the back to the Loch Avon basin, with Carn Etchachan shouting "climb me, climb me!" Also, the earliest i've been at the top of a climb, 12:30. We had time to do another route, but we were content with our Sunday morning bimble; we'd got some fresh air, seen some sunshine and got a route under our belts. Back down for tea and biscuits and home in time for dinner was the order of the day. Cheers for the company Mark!

I fear this could be one of the last days of winter I will see this year, with major thaw setting in for this week. Here's to trad climbing in March!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

4x4 Training

Had a bit of fun today on the first day of an NPORS 4x4 training course with Contour Training. Assessment day tomorrow, so got to remember to keep off the throttle when going downhill!

FA's, Jokes and New Horizons..

Constant, full weekends have finally taken their toll on me. This weekend  had some long walks, warm weather and was very tiring.....but what a weekend it was!

Beinn an Dothaidh

Saturday I headed to Beinn an Dothaidh above Bridge of Orchy with Euan and Ruaridh as I'd heard it was a "reliable venue". In my defence, the turbo thaw was destroying anything in condition so my point could still be valid. With optimistic minds we stomped up, sans map (like good ML's), into the mist to find something around grade III in condition.

One of many 'skiing' episodes

"Yea, there it is......"

Bulldog zip-line

Ultimately we found wet snow, unfrozen turf and generally unpleasant climbing conditions. Determined to make the most of the day out, we set about playing around like kids. First we made an entirely unnecessary abseil, complete with razor blade flying rock, only to re-ascend pretty much back the way we came onto the terrace. We then traversed around to the far west end of the corrie and climbed the easiest line up to the west top before a couple of hero shots and an action packed descent down the north ridge.

First Ascent: "Slush Puppy" I*
  * This is probably not an actual first ascent

The highlight of the descent (for me anyway) was our second new route of the day *chortle*. A stunning line straight up the impressive north ridge, this 3m ice route was sustained and pumpy. So much so that the weight of two axes, crampons, ropes and gear was too much for Euan and Roo, so they made a brave 'light and fast' assault on this formidable route. The first of the party made a desperate leap for the last hook and topped out successfully, reporting quality ice and bomber placements. Unfortunately, tragedy nearly hit when the second of the party needed to resort to a highly technical 'figure-four' manoeuvre in order to complete the last sequence. His placement ripped and he was sent plummeting to the base of the route, stopped only from falling to the bottom of the ridge by a well placed boulder. Mountain rescue was apparently on more pressing business, so he manned up and descended under his own steam.

First Ascent: "Rocket Lolly" WI1+

"I'll just try this figure-four..."

No.3 Gully Buttress, III***

On Sunday I met up with Jez whom i'd climbed with last year and Ruth, Phoebe and Sophie who had driven up with him from Surrey. The plan: big day on Ben Nevis....I was excited, the time had finally come.

We set off in darkness and immediately came up against the steep path through the forest which had me sweating buckets even in just a baselayer. 2 hours saw us to the CIC hut and I began to catch glimpses of the North Face through the mist. I'd had the idea that it would be smaller than I imagined and that the pictures over-emphasised the face....oh, how wrong I was!

Jez was to take the two girls towards Ledge route and I was going to climb with Ruth. We had a little think and discussion and ultimately settled on making the effort to get to No.3 Gully Buttress. Coire na Ciste was almost like a friendly village as we went up through the mist, leap-frogging other parties and meeting people on descent, we exchanged 'mountain pleasantries' and occasionally said "that's No.3 gully there, right?"

The approach
Ruth up the first pitch
The route eventually appeared in front of us and I was surprised how easily we found it, even if it did take 2 hours from the hut. It was at this point I was regretting the previous day on the hill and realised my hill fitness isn't up to scratch. Ruth led the first pitch up the snow ramp traversing first left, then back right. I did the next pitch up to the snow bay, stopping a little bit too early. This was due to a number of things: 1) sweat dripping down my face was making me blind; 2) wasn't sure how much rope left and 3) I was chuffing knackered. This was the point where I lost my sense of humour, cursing sugar snow and generally being a bit grumpy.

Getting used to Ben Nevis exposure
Ruth did a short pitch to get us just below the crux then kindly reminded me to man up, stop whinging and have something to eat. After much grumbling I set off for the crux pitch, not completely happy but determined to get off the route. At first a bit of 'holy crap, holy crap, holy crap' whilst pulling over the first rocky section then seeing the incredibly exposed traverse, but then a wave of happiness spread over me. Getting off the crappy snow ramps and onto to proper mixed terrain really changed my mood.

Ruth on the short traverse before the crux

Shortly after stopping for a breather (yes, I am that unfit) I made a belay and was joined by a chap from Manchester doing Thompson's Route. Ruth arrived at the belay and had such cold hands she stormed up the last pitch (that I thought was pretty dicey) and into the sunshine. The top out couldn't have been more amazing. I think only the pictures can really tell the story, but I think it rates as one of my best hill days ever! 

Jez and the girls had been super quick on Ledge route and had beaten us to the summit and were on the way down. After my bimbling around taking photos and trying not to fall through any cornices we caught up with them at the abseil posts on CMD arete before descending to Coire Leis and the long trudge back for a time of 12 hours car to car.

Another awesome day with awesome people. Just goes to show that a bit of warm weather will necessarily ruin your day.


'The French Guys' no doubt their 3rd route of the day

Obligatory summit shot

No need for abseil here...

 Please check out more photos below (opens in new window)

Beinn an Dothaidh

Ben Nevis
pic name pic name

Monday, 6 February 2012


Ling Hut

This weekend was the long anticipated DURC trip to the Ling Hut in Torridon. With nearly 30 people signed onto the trip, the YHA was booked for the overflow. The drive went pretty quickly, which I think was because I was not behind the wheel this time! A late night arrival followed by typical mass faffing ultimately led to the climbers getting the hut (for an ambitious early start) and the walkers heading to the cosy hostel.

I say cosy hostel as, on arrival, we found out that the generator in the hut was broken. Still, us climberers are hardy folk and frozen pipes are taken in our stride.
The path to the hut was pretty icy and those who preferred not to use headtorches did more dancing than walking. After much chat we finally bedded down about 00:30 intending to get up at 06:00.

Beinn Eighe across the loch
 The forecast for the weekend promised grim weather. Undeterred, we arose at 06:00 with our plans in mind and a large amount of optimism. Looking outside we were greeted we drizzle and wind. Before any of us had really woken up and made breakfast, Nik and Steve we nearly out the door. Nik was wearing a very old, very long waterproof (read: cagoule) and looked very much like I imagine many first ascensionist of the area once looked. A photo was taken of the pair before they set off towards Coire Mhic Fhearchair a) to show MRT and b) to put in the meets book in their memory.

South side of Spidean

Myself, Anna and Tim set off about 07:00 up the coire dubh path toward the north side of Liathach. Given the forecast I'd set aside my hopes of East Buttress of Beinn Eighe and thought that George III,4 would provide a good plan B outing. After about 3 hours of approach struggling to keep up with Tim we made it to the bottom and swiftly geared up, then solo'd up the first easy section.

I did the 1st and 3rd(crux) pitches and Tim did the 2nd and 4th(chockstone) pitches as his first winter leads. Not bad at all really! All I can really say about the route was that it was very fun and in good condition considering the horrible rain we endured throughout. I think the pictures tell the best story with respect to the weather (i.e. my camera is constantly wet!)

Just before the chockstone

Team Paramo

The looong way down

I noticed on UKC that Andy Nisbet had done the route the previous day and thought it hard for the grade. As my first substantial ice I'm pretty pleased, as even though on the crux I wasn't sure if my trousers were wet from rain or not, in retrospect I didn't find it that bad at all. I won't embarrass Anna, but lets just say she had fun on the chockstone! :D

We descended the south side of Liathach which was steep and unrelenting but favorable over the long walk around from the North side. We were treated to sunshine for the last half an hour and achieved amazing timing by catching the passing minibus. 

Sunday was a well earnt rest day. Besides, I had the mother of all headaches which I think was due to sleeping besides the fire and potentially getting gased all night. I did feel light a few brain cells first thing in the morning.....