Sunday, 11 January 2015

Great Chimney

Blair enjoying the finest Scottish conditions
These storms seem to be taking over the Scottish mountains like a cold virus in an old people's home.  If we didn't go out in the foul weather we wouldn't get any climbing done.  Last week my client and I braved some wild weather and today I had a day off so I thought I should practice what I preach.  Swail and Blair were both up for a day out climbing and we all agreed we would do something easy and seek out as much shelter as possible.  The Great Chimney (IV,5) fitted the criteria well.  With its East aspect we thought we would get some shelter from the strong Westerlies.
Blair's attempt to be a snowman
With only two pitches available, a quick game of rock, paper, scissors set Swail up with the first entry pitch and myself with the main pitch.  We all climbed with some fantastic spindrift avalanches coming down on our heads.  There were times when we couldn't see or breath due to the amounts of snow in our faces.  The forecast was grim and the reality was just the same.  As we are approaching mid January I have realised I have only climbed 4 routes on my days off (including today) which isn't very many so I have been building up the psyche to get out in poor weather.  Easier said then done.  With storms looking to continue into the second half of January I might well have more days like today.

Swaily emerging over the chockstone
Heading down Tower Ridge
 Pauls write up from the day HERE
Blairs write up from the day HERE

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Green Gully

Nick on the first pitch
Nick on the second pitch

Day 4 with Nick and we knew Ben Nevis would be a reliable option.  What exactly we would do was anyone's guess but I had a few ideas up my sleeve and we just needed to get into the mountain to have a look.  We wandered up into the Ciste as I felt there were lots of options to go for.  Word on the street was that Mike had climbed The Cascade 2 days ago, Al and Jamie reported bad conditions on Green Gully and Adam had success on Number 3 Gully Buttress.  Yesterdays thaw was nasty but today's cold temps were great.  I believed Green would be climbable, it had to be.  It was.  The first pitch was a little thin but had a succession of bomber blobs which aloud us to pick our way up.  From the top of the first pitch I could see it looked good.  I shouted to Nick "We're on!".  "Sweet!" he yelled back.  And it was sweet!  The ice was lovely all the way up.  Screws were saved for higher up the route as the ice got even better and various options were available at the top.  Despite getting a good flow of spindrift all day, the plateau didn't feel too windy.  Despite this, I fancied a look down Number 3 Gully and too seek out more shelter.  It looked ok, we could pick our way down avoiding any wind slab accumulations.  I belayed Nick down 50m into the gully before climbing down and we had a nice soft walk down spotting climbers on Thompson's Route and evidence of folk on Number 3 Gully Buttress.  A wild day but great fun and great conditions.  Tomorrow however.....??
Nick in the top basin

White out whilst descending from Number 3 Gully

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Indoor ice

With a very poor forecast Nick and I agreed we would get more out of the day if we started with a coffee and a cake at the Ice Factor.  This led on to us spending the whole day indoors watching the rain and wind beat of the windows of the old aluminium smelting building.  Powered by coffee, we launched onto the rock walls looking at how Nick could up his game and move away from 6a's and move into the realms of 6b and above.  From here, still buzzing from our strong latte's, we navigated our way into the ice wall where we looked at a wide range of techniques that would get us pumped but more importantly, avoid the pump.  The ice wall is great for ice technique, there are lots of ways to make it very inventive.  From here we took a baring over to the cafe for some chicken and chips and more importantly another latte.  Fed and wired we picked up where we left up on the rock walls and Nick proved that what I had said had been sinking in.  With arms starting to fatigue we headed for the bolts, built multiple belays, all skills nick wanted to get even slicker at, the one handed clove hitch is child's play for Nick now.  From the bolts we finished ourselves off with some dry tooling coaching in the bouldering wall before getting so pumped we could hardly remember our own names.  A great productive day indoors and legs are rested for tomorrow.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Two routes in Glencoe

Right, we were having it today.  Cold spell forecast today.  Horrendous tomorrow.  We nipped up to Stob Coire Nan Lochain in Glencoe to see what we could climb.  Oh, who made the path up even longer this year!?  We arrived at the coire to find we had the place to ourselves so we geared up and headed for plan B.  (plan A looked far less wintery).
2nd pitch on Twisting

Nice view from the office
Twisting Gully (III,4) provided 4 great pitches of mixed and icy climbing with some wet snow thrown in for good measure.  The belays are great on this route, nice stances and brilliant views.  It was a little thin in terms of consolidated snow but the damp snow provided enough purchase.  We topped out to find that it was only 12.15.  So I suggested we nip down Broard Gully (I) and climbed the classic Dorsal Arete (II).  I love this route, as I'm sure so many other do.
Nick on Doersal
We found two teams on the ridge who were enjoying this short weather window.  We topped out for the second time and made our way to the bag and skipped back down to the car.  We cashed in on today's weather as tomorrow looks like an indoor day at the Ice Factor!  I will not eat cake, I will not eat cake, I will not eat cake, I will eat cake, I eat cake.....
Nick on the Arete

Monday, 5 January 2015

Tower Ridge

Look ice!
And snow!
Hardrians and Point 5 looking sad! :(
Back to work today and quite a difference from yesterdays conditions.  I am out with Nick for the next 5 days so he can enjoy the delights of Scottish winter climbing.  This weeks weather is going to provide some obstacles.  Today however went with no hassle.  We shared a great day on Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis.  Ascending the ridge was quite delightful.  The old thawing snow was becoming compact and the old ice was becoming soft.  Great for an efficient ascent.  The wind was blowing over the top from the south so we didn't feel a breath until we pulled onto the summit plateau.  Perfect day.  OK, it was above freezing on the summit, so it wasn't amazing winter conditions but it was still great climbing, crampons all the way, rock, ice, snow, no rain, no wind and no sweat!  Cold tomorrow!
Nick on the Eastern Traverse
Summit team!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The Gathering

After what has felt like a good while away from winter climbing I finally managed to get back out today with Murdoch.  Sickness, skiing and gluttony had dammed my flow.  East coast again had a slightly more reliable forecast so the blurry eyed drive across started at 5.30am.  We booted and suited and quested off with the shimmer of light from our torches with a cold crisp underfoot.  We acquired a 4 legged canine on the walk in, this energetic spaniel was clearly in the belief that we were its owners, fortunately we managed to loose it before we started climbing.

We walked into Coire an Lochain to find that The Pillar was looking super white where other sections of the coire were quite marginal.  The decision was made that we, or Murdoch, would do the Gathering and I would do what I can to get up this grade VIII,9.  I was running through my head what I could improvise as a rope ascender...prussik....check....ropeman....check.  Right lets have it!

Murdoch dispatched the first crux pitch well, as he always does.  However this time was different.  As I sat shivering on the belay, I noticed he was shaking out quite alot.  "OH NO!" I thought.  This is going to be nails!  After a close call, Murdoch pulled onto the belay ledge and clipped himself in and I'm sure he swore and smiled at the same time.  Happy boy!

My turn was up, cold hands, negative thoughts running through my head, ropeman handy, I set off, putting bets with myself at how far I would get.  Perfect, Iain Small is on a belay behind me watching every move as I struggle up this pitch.  I tried extra hard, inching further and further up the wall, the belay seemed so far away yet the climbing was so absorbing.  Hooks and foothold kept appearing as the steepness increased.  Murdoch delivered some useful information and encouragement about upcoming placement which were vital.  I couldn't hold on much longer, I fought but unfortunately not enough.  I was off.  Hanging on the rope like a wreaking ball on a chain.  Only a couple of moves from the belay.  I glanced to Murdoch who was clearly suppressing a smile, he loves to watch me struggle.  After a wee breather, I pulled up and ungracefully shuffled over onto the belay ledge.  The stance was small but I didn't mind as the anchors were so good.  I could fall asleep.

Murdoch led the second pitch which was no pushover.  I'm glad I offered it to him as if I hadn't I would still be there right now.  I was to drained.  Brilliant climbing, great day, great company and maybe next year I will learn not to eat and drink so much over the festive period (and then get really ill).

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Avalanche forecasting

Blair looking for a snow patch.  Aonach Beag behind.
After the last two day of being bed ridden and sick, I decided to gather some strength and make it into the hills today.  Especially as it was such a beautiful day.  Fortunately Blair was out avalanche forecasting and at this short notice I could tag along and not be a burden to him.  As well as learning alot of science and improving my knowledge of avalanches I had a great day on the top of Aonach Mor.  Fantastic views all around with great clarity.  Great day to be out. Am I fit to go climbing tomorrow??

Monday, 29 December 2014

December Skiing

Kenny and Rhona enjoying first Scottish ski of the season
Ben Nevis looking great
December has continued to bring a mixture of unsettled weather.  High winds, rapid thaws and some deep freezes.  All great news for the long run, however trying to burn off the Christmas turkey is proving to be difficult.  Activities done on two wheels or in the indoor climbing walls seem to be the most productive.  I have managed to get a few days out skiing also at Nevis Range which has been nice and sociable and I have everyday lined up to get out winter climbing...I just need a weather window.  Hopefully one comes soon!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

West side boys go East

This weekend I have been working with Mike and Donald in the Cairngorms with a college group from St Paul's in London.  I worked with them last year on their first trip to Scotland where we covered winter skills as they had no experience.  This year was about doing some climbing and we headed into the Northern Corries and climbed some grade one gullies.  Jacobs Ladder and Aladdin's Couloir.  Unfortunately Sunday suffered from a turbo thaw and very high winds so we headed to Huntley's cave for some rock climbing, rope work, abseiling, tyrolean traverse and a nice picnic.  A great couple of days but unfortunately my camera stayed in the West.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Excellent ice conditons

Alas, this was not the case outside.  Freezing levels above the summits, raining all day and strong winds were forecast.  The accuracy of the forecast was spot on.  So Robin and I spent our second and final day in the comfort of the Ice Factor in Kinloch leven.  The beauty of this facility is that one can squeeze so much in to a session.  Ice climbing, ice screw placement, Abalakov threads, dry tool bouldering and bottom roping, placing trad gread on lead, rock climbing, leading, coffee and cake.  All in the comfort of being indoors.  What would we have learnt if we went up Ben Nevis....Robins Alpine soft shells aren't good for Scotland and it was very wet!  WE both knew that before leaving the car.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Curved Ridge

Robin crossing the Glencoe glacier
Living the winter dream
Freezing levels above the summits, strong westerlies and passing showers.  Its a Curved Ridge day.  It was the best option to find snow, stay sheltered and keep moving.  Robin from Sweden was super psyched for some good climbing but soon realised it was very conditions dependant so we had to drop a few grades and seek some snow.  No snow on the steep routes so a ridge delivered.  Robin did a spot of leading on the way up and enjoyed his first Scottish mountain summit.  We had the place to ourselves and enjoyed a nice rapid descent down Coire an Tulaich mostly on snow.  A great day.  Worse conditions tomorrow...options are running low for now!

It's melting over there...
Robin leading the crux
Robin trail breaking...didn't last long.
Melt, Melt, Melt...

Tuesday, 16 December 2014


Great weather and conditions
After spending every minute looking at the forecast to find a weather window, one finally came today and I was free to get out.  Earlier in the week my flatmate Blair agreed to go climbing which was great and then asked if Iain could join us.  Again, great news as I would have two rope guns.

Iain getting stuck in to the crux pitch
Then Blair pulled out which meant I had to climb with Iain.  I got a little nervous as Iain never climbs easy routes and always climbs with very strong climbers.  Oh well, what's the worst that could happen?  So we had an early start and headed into Ben Nevis and we were both keen for a route high and left on the Ciste.  It was great to see that two other climbers had woken early, walked in early and put in a great set of tracks up to our route.

However the problem was that they went onto our climb!  Gutted.  So instead we headed over to Number 3 Gully buttress to get established on a route.  This turned out to be a non starter.  The whole crag was coved in a 5 millimetre layer of ice, choking all the cracks and covering all the edges.  Iain suggested it would be hard and scary, I obviously didn't argue.
Iain on small footholds but cool as a cucumber
Instead we climbed Cornucopia (VII 9) as its a big wide crack and turned out to give two nice pitches of climbing and a mega cornice to dig through.  It was the best outcome as the team on our original plan were taking quite a while to get established into the crux as it was choked with ice.  I'm not even sure they managed to top out.  Great day non the less.  Just need more days like this.  Unfortunately its thawing tomorrow.
The other team on our intended day I might climb this.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

No Blue Skies

Coire An t-Sneachda.  We climbed on the small crag on the left.
News of a settled(ish) winter day had come in and fortunately Murdoch and I had planned about a month ago to climb this weekend.  As Scotland had been pelted by storms, we were pleased our first day out this season was a relatively chilled one.  A perfect opportunity to stretch our legs, have a good catch up and enjoy some nice climbing.  We had several objective's but fortunately we agreed that a nice 2/3 pitch route would suit and something which isn't totally nails and scary.  We wrote off Coire an Lochain and went for the closer option of Coire an t-Sneachda and onto the Mess of Pottage.  Unsurprisingly, we were accompanied by many other teams, it is the weekend after all.  
Murdoch finding some accommodating frozen turf.
Murdoch setting off on the 15m easy middle pitch.
We decided whilst walking that we would climb No Blue Skies (VI,7) which turned out to be a great climb.  Everything we wanted to get our heads back into winter climbing and keep the psyche high.  The first pitch was delicate and sustained, and the top pitch was ....well....I don't think I have hand jammed so much on a winter route before, America must still be fresh in my mind.  The top pitch led into familiar ground of Wachacha (VI,7) which I climbed last year with Blair and Murdoch.  Fortunately the cracks were clearing quite well but we both agreed that it would be very hard to protect in very ice conditions.
Faff Faff Faff

The week is looking quite changeable for the next few days and into next week, plenty of thaws and refreezes will lead to good patient.  My psyche is high this winter, hopefully get a few more routes done before work starts.
Some cha[ on The Melting Pot, looks ace!