Thursday, 21 May 2015

Clach Glas - Bla Bheinn Traverse

The ridge looks good...
Then it got wet and cloudy...
I'm pretty glad I have new waterproofs because today was another soaking.  7 hours of rain, wind and persistent cloud were endured by Eugene and myself.  Eugene, from Australia was certainly getting a raw introduction to Scottish mountaineering and some 'unique' Skye weather.  Despite the conditions, Eugene was loving the weather, quite a change from 35+ degrees and kangaroos jumping around everywhere.  Unsurprisingly we had the ridge to ourselves and neither of us wanted to 'savour the moment' and hang around too long.  We made a relatively constant flow along the ridge completing car to car in 7 hours with some close to disaster* river crossings!  This route is probably one of the best of its type in the UK and should be sought out by anyone who enjoys climbing, mountaineering and the delights of Skye.  Even Eugene enjoyed it in horrendous conditions and he barely goes hill walking!
...and never stopped being wet!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Ben Nevis...Still winter!

David, never worn crampons
Spot the ice!
Ready for action
Today I was out with David and he was keen for Ben Nevis via the 'hard way'!  His original was a lovely summer scramble, instead he had his first ever day in crampons and his first ever day of winter mountaineering.  He got a great winter experience today, all the hazards were on show today, we saw several avalanches going off around us, total white out across the plateau, large cornices that we couldn't see, cold winds and no views from the top.  Felt like mid winter.  One other team headed up Number 4 Gully, both hard work and a bit scary with all the sluffs coming down around them.
We had to put crampons on below number 5 gully and barely touched exposed rock all the way up.  The snow is very saturated and quite deep in places so progress was tough going.  Ice still holding in up high, I'd say there could be some winter routes climbed this weekend for sure.  Not me though, I want some sunshine.

No easy day here

Ben Nevis the hard way

Into the cloud

White room...with some rock

To the top

Monday, 18 May 2015

Skye season has started

Munro number 1!
This weekend has seen me back on Skye and it was great to be back.  Unfortunately we have come back with no traverse cigar but instead had 3 great days in the hills.  Claire has had her sights on the ridge traverse fro some while and with 5 kids and limited time off, we were really keen to make an attempt.  Despite the horrendous forecast.
Not clearing up.  This is the vis we had all day.
There was a slight glimmer of hope that it could clear on Friday evening but unfortunately we got to a potential bivi spot 4 hours to early for the clearing.  We were far to wet and cold to sit it out.  Down we went.  From Car - Sgurr nan Eag - An Dorus - to Car was 11 hours and we were glad to get back to warmth.  Only 2 photos that day!
Heading up Pinnacle Ridge
Heading off Pinnacle Ridge
Day two had an unpleasant forecast so we stayed low and climbed the brilliant Spur on Sgurr an Fheadain for a short day.  No photos as left camera in drying room.  To finish off we decided Pinnacle Ridge would be a good shout but half way up we were hit by some snow storms and decided to traverse off of some easier pleasant ground.  A good call we felt.  We traversed off and made our way over to Sgurr Beag for some well needed views.  I hope my next few trips to Skye bring good views and dry rock.



Cloudy....Skye, we just love it!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Rock climbing season has started!

All this sun and we chose the shade (what were we thinking!?)

Really glad to have a day off as the weather was fantastic.  Blue skies, cold and crisp.  I had to be in Skye later this evening so we made a quick dash to Glen Nevis.  Blair and I wandered up to Wave Buttress for a few routes but found the crag to be pretty damp.  Instead we went up to Spreadeagle buttress and found dryish, just climbable, rock in the form of Slip Away (E3 6a) and The Singing Ringing Tree (E5 6a).  Unfortunately this crag was in the shade and was freezing so took a few ups and downs to get warmed up before being able to climb the desperate crux which nearly saw both Blair and I fall off!  Fortunately not though.  Slip away was a much nicer proposition, didn't feel quite as cruxy so was really pleasant for me to follow.  From here we thought we would do Crack Attack (E3 6a) on Wave Buttress but with other climbers on and time running out I nipped up First Wave (E1 5c) which I hadnt done and is a brilliant E1.  Well worth a visit.  Skye is calling and it looks like a wild weekend!
Blair doing his E5 magic

Great climbing

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

North East Buttress

Summer?  Winter?
High up on NE Buttress
The last couple few days of wet and windy weather were perfectly timed as I needed a day of 'admin' and a day down at the Ice Factor to keep some strength up.
Today I was back to work and a great day for it (well it did improve when we summited).  I have been excited to get back onto Ben Nevis after the winter and see what is left over.  Alan and I headed up for a climb, we had a very open plan, we had a rack, a rope, 2 screws, 4 axes and crampons.  On arrival the ridges were looking promising and we opted for North East Buttress.  Alan and I did North East Buttress a couple of years ago in less than optimal conditions so it was great to see it in another light.  We took a slight deviation, we headed left below the man trap and found some nice scrambling to get around it before getting stuck into the 40ft corner which is just about clear of snow.  We had crampons on from just above the first platform all the way to the top.  A top day.  Many other teams out enjoying the spring time conditions.  Andy, Alison and James were out skiing, they skied Number 2,3 and 5.  Jonny Mc and his buddy did Tower Scoop and Tower Cascade's, they said Smiths was fat.  Point 5 looked complete as did Hadrian's and Indicator area.  Number 3 Gully looks like the best climbers descent but would need a wee abseil at the top.  Number 4 has a huge cornice but one could down climb on skiers left.

Alan swinging into good ice
Better conditions than last time!

Andy climbing up number 4 
Lovely day now
Alan loves a 'selfie'

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Skye ridge training in the Lakes

The last two days I have been out with Chris and Mick for a spot of preparation for the Cuillin ridge later this year.  The chaps were keen to see if they were up to scratch and had fitness levels to suit the two days on the Cuillin.  I had Jeremy along to shadow for the two days, a old school friend who is wanting to refresh his outdoor qualifications again.

The plan was a two day trip with an overnight bivi but with a horrendous overnight forecast we decided against it and just went for two individual days.  I had been looking forward to these two days for a while now, despite growing up in the Lakes, I hadn't done a great deal of scrambling and the bigger hills.  This was a perfect opportunity to do this.  Mick knows the hills in the Lake district very well but has never really been off the beaten track or onto scrambling terrain so this was going to be new territory for him and Chris.

We met at Seathwaite in Borrowdale, welcomed by sunshine and light breeze, after a kit chat and check we headed off to the hills.  Our first point of call was Ill Crag (935m).  To summit here we headed up to Esk Hause (759m), and down to the start of the South East Face.  From the bottom we had a brilliant 500m scramble on some of the roughest rock I have touched in the Lake District.  With its sunny aspect, great length and options for variety at any grade, this was a fantastic scramble and I highly recommend it.  From the summit of Ill Crag we moved over Scafell Pike (978m), down Mickledore and onto Broard Stand.  Mick was very keen to do this as he has stood below it a few times contemplating it.  As an accident hotspot he was glad to have a rope on.  Fortunately we had it nice and dry and made it up to the summit of Scafell (964m) before descending back to Mickledore via Foxes Tarn, the walkers descent.  After we got off all the technical climbing and walking the heavens opened as expected.  Thumbs up to the forecast.  We donned our hoods, heads went down and we made our way down to the brilliant Corridor Route which lies on the NW slopes of Scafell and Great End all the way to Sty Head Tarn.  From here, we were back to a drenched Seathwaite, looking forward to cups of tea in front of the fire.

Day two consisted of a wet start and a dry finish.  After meeting again at Seathwaite we headed back up to Styhead tarn and this time headed west to Napes Needle.  We took the climbers traverse which had some interesting terrain to cover in the wet and was great practice for everyone.  We arrived at the needle and agreed that we should all do the classic Grade 1 and 'Thread the Needle'.  Classic it may be, on the day, E1!  Quite a contrast from Ill Crag, very smooth and slippy in the wet.  After threading the needle we stayed on the climbers traverse (we think) and continued scrambling, following our noses, weaving in and around the crag and ridges before questing up a gully, past Westmorland crag and onto Great Gable (899m).  On the summit, it was Saturday after all, were several teams, a couple thinking they were on Kirk Fell (1km away)....ooops!  After giving them some direction we descended into Black Sail Pass, over to Windy Col and back to Styhead Tarn and finishing our day back at Seathwaite.  Looks like Chris and Mick are ready for the Cuillin!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Route setting

Whayy back to work for me!  After a few days at home I whisked up to Faslane, hopped onto the Naval base, stripped their climbing wall and did a complete re-set of the whole wall.  It has been a wee while since I did some route setting but after a couple of route's I remembered how fun it can be.  I created some great problems and had the Navy climbing champion come done and try them all out.  A great couple of days!

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Another fantastic alpine trip finished

Uisdean heading up to the tear drop
It's just amazing!
I knew I couldn't resist one more route.  It had to be done, something inside my head was telling me it wasn't over.  I as write this, I know for sure then my winter season is well and truly over.  No more ice axes, skis, 4 season sleeping bags.  No more 'shiver bivi's', no more hot aches, no more crampons and no more melting snow.  I can now look forward to rock climbing, bbq's, sunshine, sea, cold beers, flip flops and scottish weather (oh...well that could be any of the above!?  eek!)

Bivi views
This winter season has been fantastic and this alpine trip has been the icing on the cake.  Since my last post I spent 3 days in Oltre Finale on the Italian Coast.  Nope, I wasn't enjoying the comforts of the beach but enlightening myself as to how strong my fingers are after holding ice axes for several months.  Despite not being the strongest they have ever been, I was still happy with what I climbed, both Uisdean and I were climbing exactly the same so had I been much much weaker I would probably have got a wee bitty upset.

Bivi views
Les Dru
After 3 days in Finale, it had stopped snowing int he mountains, so back to Chamonix for one last route.  Bearing in mind, the last route I tried in the mountains was the Grande Jorasses, and failed again, (I have history here, when I fail on the Grande Jorasses I succeed elsewhere (Eiger 2010, Matterhorn 2014).  This time would I suceed on Les Dru?
Team psyche
I remember first setting eyes on the Dru, back then it was an impossible peak, something that I could only ever look at.  Years later coming back as a climber, it cried out as an iconic objective, a mountain which would require all I have to give.  It came together for us on this trip.  I was teamed up with the youthful Uisdean, a Scottish winter climbing warrior and we climbed the North Couloir Direct (ED2) on the North Face.  The route breaks off the Cechinel-Jager route after 300m, which leads to 3 amazing pitches which we thought were in the range of Scottish 8/9.  I knew it was going to be hard, i had huge doubts in my mind as to whether this was the right route for me.  Could I get up it?  Should I even bother leading? 3 hard pitches, 2 climbers, who does what? When did I last climb grade 8? or even grade 9?  Oh well....lets give it a shot.  I'm just glad it worked out.  Definitely the best route I have climbed in the Alps so far and kept me psyched for more!

Spot the fault
I'm back in the UK now after another week down in Finale doing some more rock climbing, some biking, some swimming and plenty of pizza and wine.  A great trip away from home and ready to get back to work...well....sort of!

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Alpine trip so far

Great Skiining conditions
The team. Jamie, Ben and Calum
I feel as I am going through a little transition with this Alpine hit.  I'm starting to look forward to reaching for crimps rather than swinging into ice, walking in trainers rather than sliding on ski's.  It does feel a little premature as there is plenty of snow and ice in the mountains but maybe 4 months on snow is enough for this season.  Since leaving Scotland the trip has been fantastic.  I drove out to the Alps with my good friend Ben Cooling, he is a bit like a strawberry blonde Duracell bunny.  He wanted to do everything in the Alps!  We had 10 days before he returns home.  From leaving my mums house in Cumbria, we drove flat out to Dover, then non stop to the start of the Grand Paradiso Ski tour.  In 25 hours from leaving Cumbria, we had skinned up to the Sella Hut to start an amazing 6 day ski tour.

Making a new plan

Ben on Frendo - Ravanel

Ben again

Me on Frendo - Ravanel

In the Sella hut we met Calum and Jamie who had the same idea so we joined forces and completed the 6 day tour together, driven on by Calums endless cheese related jokes!  I had been on this tour a couple of years ago but bailed due to bad snow conditions, this time I was keen to complete.  The tour started with some very difficult conditions, high winds and knee high sastrugi (wind erosion).  Word had got around that several teams hadn't made the summit of Gran Paradiso (4061m) so we hoped our attempt the next day would bring results.  Fortunately the wind eased, the clouds parted and the summit was there for the taking.  A brilliant day and a great ski down.  This was our high point of the tour, everything we did was slightly lower but we were blessed with fresh snow every night.  Each of the following days we had fresh tracks, Calum and I hit some sweet jumps and the final day completed the best week of ski touring I have ever done.  I can't wait to be able to do a week like this as work!
Great company, great condition's and a brilliant tour.
Uisdean on the Swiss route
Ben and I on the summit Les Courtes
View of Mont Blanc and Jorasses on the left

After our week in Italy, Ben and I headed to Chamonix to make the most of Ben's last 4 days.  We thought no need for a rest day, lets just get up high again and climb Supercoulior!  We were psyched, first in line for a lift up the Aiguille du Midi, we had ski's, climbing gear and some grub.  We also met up with Uisdean and Tim. All we needed is for the lift to open.  Guess what! didn't.  Damn it, we had to have a rest day.  New plan had to be formed!
Swiss route

Swiss route
We decided to make the most of the good weather by heading up to Argentiere Hut and having 3 days climbing from there.  We all made use of mechanical uplift and then went straight into the Frendo-Ravenell Gully (TD-) which was a brilliant 540m route with abseil descent.  Perfect for getting up to the hut in time for dinner!  The next day we all agreed on doing a 'Grande Course'.  Uisdean, Ben and Tim were keen for their first long tick and I was keen for my 7th so we opted for the 'Swiss Route' on Les Courtes.  A great day which only took up 5 hours as 2 roped teams.  When we returned back to the Argentiere hut to find that my ski boots, rope, cams and wires had been removed from the hut!  WTF!!  It turned out that my stuff had been scooped up by a film crew and taken for a helicopter ride down the valley!  I needed to get this back ASAP.  Fortunately the guardian of the hut lent me his ski boots and despite being a size too small, we still managed to ski down.  I retrieved my kit and with one day to spare before Ben fly's home, we headed up the Aiguille du Midi and climbed the Perroux-Proffit Gully (TD) before driving Ben to Geneva.  Despite a few hiccups, it all went well, we were active for 9 out of 10 days and had some fantastic days in the mountains.

The following day Uisdean and I met up with Paul Swail and John Macune for a spot of relaxing sport climbing, to be honest we only did 3 routes as we were all pretty tired from the last few days.
For us all, it was back to the weather forecasts, back to the drawing board.  Our research showed that the weather looked good so John, Uisdean and I planned for an ascent on the Colton Macintyre on the Grande Jorasses.  Surely 3rd time lucky for me on this North Face?!  We took the afternoon lift up to the Aiguille du Midi and skied into the face, carrying all out climbing equipment, bivi equipment, winter boots and plenty of food.  We dug bed space below the face, away from any fall lines, brewed up and settled for the night.  I remember thinking that this time I would make it to the top!  Everything was falling into place in the morning, we started on time and we were all feeling pretty fresh.  We made good progress into daylight and found ourselves at the midway this point we hit our brick wall!  The 90 degree ice was cruddy snow.  No placements, no ice screws.  OK not to worry, lets take the harder variation...cruddy snow.  No placements, no ice screws.  I couldn't believe it!  Why does this face not let up for me!?  After several attempts we decided to call it a day, retreat back to our ski's, retreat back to Chamonix.  I knew this was going to be my last window for a big route on this trip and as I am writing this I am now on the wire...I want to climb another big route but maybe I will save it for another time, should I just go rock climbing or should I endure another big committing North Face...only time will tell!  Either way, I'm sure it will be fun. day!

Cruddy 90 degree snow!