Sunday, 27 May 2012

Tower Ridge

Owen and James' alpine training saga continues. Today I finally got around to climbing Tower Ridge, a route that has been sat on the wishlist for quite a while now. What a day to do it!

After a leisurely start from the North Face car park we sweated up the brutal gradient to emerge in wall to wall sunshine

The ridge looms above
The ridges comes into view
We considered doing the douglas boulder direct route to start but decided against it as we weren't sure of the time it would add on. So, we went around to the normal approach and scrambled up the gully to start the 20m chimney pitch.

James on the 20m chimney after Douglas Gap
James on the 20m chimney
We wanted to approach the route in an alpine manner, i.e. moving together. I pushed the idea that we put the rope away on sections where we were happy soloing, however we found this led to more time being wasted where we need to get it out again. The result was that we kept the rope on the whole time and went from pitching to moving together quite smoothly from there on.

'Line of least resistance' was the next lesson in alpine style movement. We opted for the uber direct line on the little tower which involved me taking a few moves that James described as VDiff 5a. This slowed us down a little bit, which although not a problem the Alps this could prove a problem.

James not loving the VDiff 5a!
"Was that really necessary??"
The conditions couldn't have been better for this route, with perfectly dry rock and just the right temperature when not moving too fast. We'd already learnt our lesson (ref: Snowholes and Sunburn) of not using sun cream when the sun's out and I was trialing the purchase of a new hat. Oh, and some boots (Scarpa Charmoz) which were both excellent - the left and the right foot ;)

Perfect alpine route

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The best part of the route is really reserved for the top sections. Mindful of the 'fake eastern traverse' we kept going until the slightly overhanging face of the great tower blocked our way and the traverse became obvious. It's easy to see how that becomes scary when banked out in winter, providing essentially a slide down into Observatory Gully! In summer however, it was relatively straightforward and let around to the fallen block chimney. This was my favourite bit of the day. Remnants of winter still lined the chimney which probably made it easier than it would normally be, then a lovely exposed climb out to the crest again, atop the great tower.......then the Gap!

Me on the eastern traverse
Me on the eastern traverse
Looking back down the fallen block chimney with remaining snow
Looking back down the fallen block chimney
I had been anticipating Tower Gap ever since I had first read the route description and seen pictures so long ago, and admittedly from everything i'd heard/seen it looked terrifying. With the caveat that, shrouded in mist and covered in snow it would probably make a grown man cry, today in these conditions I didn't find it too bad. Sure enough, the down climb is quite a long step down but the exposure didn't have me with my heart in my throat. I can only hope this is a good sign for the exposed Chamonix ridges to come in June!

Looking down Glovers Chimney from tower gap
Looking down Glover's Chimney from the gap
Nailed it!
James making the big step down
(on this part you disappear out of sight into the gap
before re-emerging up the other side)
All that was left was the final section up to the plateau which looked worse from afar than it actually was. Some remaining icy steps required caution, but we managed to move quickly with two runners between us. We went to the summit for the obligatory trig point shot, and ended up doing a litter sweep. I was outraged to see the amount of rubbish that people have discarded around the shelter, including vodka bottles! We used our lunch bags to gather up what we could but I dare say it won't have made a dent in the amount that's up there.

Double thumbs up
Double thumbs up!
Eastern traverse, great tower and tower gap in profile
Eastern Traverse, Great Tower and Tower Gap in profile
The rest of the ridge in profile
A mighty ridge
Ben Nevis North Face
Ben Nevis North Face after the tedious descent
Two bags of rubbish from the summit
An utter disgrace partly rectified
Apologies for the amount of pictures, but it seems right to do justice to such a brilliant day out. Lessons learnt and lots of fun had. If you having any viewing energy left, click the photos above to view the gallery for a more detailed view.

We thought we were the only people on the ridge today but it looks like Alan Halewood beat us to it: Blistering on Ben and after thoughts

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Curved Ridge and Tarmachan Bivi

This week has been a tiring week at work with a few late evenings. Subsequently, I have been really lazy with the photos this week (and the blog update for that matter). Hopefully this laziness won't become a trend. Ha, who am I kidding!

Met up with James on Saturday morning and had a leisurely cup of tea at the Kinghouse Hotel. "Yes, that is all we were getting Mrs. Hotel Lady, but don't worry we'll be back for another cup later." The near on 20 hours of sunlight we are getting now meant we were in no rush to hit our objective for the day: Curved Ridge.

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the great herdsman of Etive

With flights to Genève booked and big plans for a week in Chamonix, some desperate skills and fitness training has been programmed on mu part. The last few weeks of sofa and biscuit filled evenings is not conducive to the alpine 'fast and light' mantra. So, the general plan was: lets practice moving together on easy ground and descending ridges.

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Alpine tactics

The pictures tell the story really, but it was a successful day with an aborted attempt on Agag's Groove in big boots. We rescued a guys rope, but to be quite honest the first pitch had me wishing for rock shoes.

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Lets come back another day

Talking of shoes...I stupidly tried on James' Scarpa Charmoz and found them too comfy not to immediately buy a pair. Why does everything have to be so shiny??

Not wanting to stop whilst on a roll and having not achieved my goal of winter bivi, I was determined to spend the night out under the stars. Plus, having left Inverness heading for Perth and with new boots and rope on the horizon, a hostel wasn't an option.

With a cracking suggestion from James I went to Loch Tay and kipped halfway up towards Tarmachan Ridge. Apart from having the b'jesus scared out of me by a passing grouse, I had a pretty good nights sleep. Awake in time to see the sun rising and listening to the bird songs (which in the morning silence sounded like Daft Punk!) I was on the route by 6am.

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Bed for the night
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Digital Love

The 'awkward down climb' which I thought would be a walk in the park turned out to be near deadly due to being covered entirely in verglass. After 10 mins of pondering my options I launched my bag down the rocks and hoped for the best. Armed with a walking pole and my fell shoes I somehow got down without slipping and bouncing my way down. 

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Exposure....blink and you'll miss it
After that it was all just a bit of walking in the mist until the return path home. Pretty pleased with an extra bit of hill mileage carrying bivi kit, all done by 10am! Plus, didn't see another soul until back at the car park watching several groups just starting. Ace. 

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Snowholes and Sunburn

On saturday Scotland kindly reminded me why I love it so much! Here's the score:

Only a month or so ago I was trad climbing on dry rock. In fact, at the end of March i'd solo'd next to Fingers Ridge onto a dry plateau and down a very dry Fiaciall Ridge.

This is what May looks like...

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So, despite a bit of a cold I met James and Robbie in the rapidly busying car park at about 9am (a start you can easily get away with when sunset is 21:30!) Lots of skiers about, I suppose it's only right they get some fun this winter too :)

A plan was hatched to go up Fiacaill Ridge onto the plateau then head towards Ben Macdui and muck about along the way. I'd had a image of an overcast miserable day in my head from looking at the forecast. Fortunately, it wasn't.

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With not a great deal of effort, we plowed up the ridge until hitting the scramble section. Having done it in winter once, roped, and in descent in summer, I was keen to give it a go solo. Robbie didn't waste any time and was deliberately picking out the most difficult line, he probably could have made it grade IV if he wanted.

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We found a nice little area to build a snowhole, which is something i've not done before so we set to work. Well, when I say we, I mean mostly James and Robbie. It was t-shirt weather if you can believe it! "Should have brought the suncream" says Robbie. Oh god, how I wish I'd taken that statement on board!

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A little bigger me thinks

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Welcome to my abode..
Satisfied with our achievement and leaving it to some passers-by as a 'lunch tavern' we plodded on. We got just past Hell's Lum and saw the line of dots (ski laden dots I must add) heading to Macdui. Partly due to the cold, partly as I knew my legs would hurt I suggested we didn't go all the way to Macdui. I'm slightly annoyed at myself for not pushing it a little bit, but ultimately we made it back in time for tea, so we were winning in the end.

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All round a successful day, not a great deal of mileage but some lessons learnt. 

 - Snowhole 101: don't reach for things that burst through the ceiling
 - No matter how many times you walk that circuit, feet always ache
 - Sun + Snow = extreme UV. Sunglasses don't protect face.

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This looks good
As always, click any of the above photos to access the album for a photo-by-photo account of the day.