Friday, 31 July 2015

Isle of Lewis

Our camp site view 
Impressive coastline
Originally we planned a 6/7 day trip to the island but given the way our summer has gone we knew the this would be an optimistic itinerary.  With Uisdean's van and my tent, we agreed that if it was very wet then we would head back to the mainland (so I didn't get wet and uncomfortable) to find some alternative plans.  Our plan to visit Lewis developed quite a while ago however as the trip approached the weather was looking doubtful.  Fortunately we were given a break and it looked as if we could climb for the first 4 days at least.  By no means 'stella', but we went for it anyway.
Cold but we could still climb
We left Glen Elg at 3am, took the 5am ferry from Uig on the Isle of Skye and arrived at Tarbet at 7am.  Admittedly quite tired but we drove on to our chosen destination.  Given the 'long isle' of Harris and Lewis comprises the largest of all the Scottish islands it was over an hour before we arrived at Uig Sands campsite, idyllic and perfectly located for some of the best sea cliffs on the island.  Tent was erected then, Uisdean slept in his van and I got 3 hours in the tent before we geared up, had some breakfast and headed to the crags.
Me on Painted Wall
We headed to The Painted Wall, a easy 3 minute walk in to an array of quality routes on the eponymous Lewisian gneiss.  We started off on a nice 2 pitch E1 5b called Triton***, accessed by abseil which gave nice climbing above the water at low tide.  From here we abseiled into the main area of The Painted Wall.  It was my lead so I couldn't turn down the 4* E4 5c called...The Painted Wall, a superb route on great rock.  Best E4 I have done this year for sure.  After this Uisdean cruised up another brilliant route called Dauntless E5 6a *** which certainly built the pump up into our forearms, sensational climbing again.  After a quick bagel, we abseiled back in and I led up The Dreaded Dram, a 3* E4 5c which again, was brilliant climbing and pretty spaced protection.  Another great route!  A good start.

Me seconding Dauntless.  Uisdean's foot in for a photo bomb!
The Dreaded Dram
Day two was dawned with drizzle and cloud.  Our plan was to climb the spectacular exposed diagonal line of the Prozac Link but after we abseiled in we found damp and 'smeggy' rock.  Lets save it for another day.  So to get back out we climbed a VDiff called 'If All Else Fails' followed by 'It's Raining Rocks' E3 6a just before the weather closed in.  We bailed and opted for a spot of sight seeing instead.
One of the many abseils.  Prozac Link is the wall behind me.
The morning of day 3 was the same, damp and overcast.  As the day went on it was dry enough to climb (between showers).  We went to the stunning Dalbeg beach and onto Dalbeg Buttress.  Given that it was my lead, I stupidly jumped on the stunning 4* crack line of Limpet Crack E3 5c.  Given it was a little greasy and damp I got utterly 'flash pumped' and had to sit on the rope to allow my arms to recover before continuing onto the top.  My advice, warm up on the E2!  Uisdean then forged a path up the amazing 3* Tweetie Pie Slalom E5 6a which was stunning and a great lead by the youth.  We were both feeling a wee bit tired so I finished off on the excellent 4* E2 5c called Neptune up the right side of the crag.  Probably in the top five E2's I have ever done.
Limpet Crack
Tweetie Pie Slalom
A beautiful little bothie
We had got intelligence from our source that Thursday was to be the best weather.  This meant The Prozac Link.  We didn't want to make the same mistake so we went and climbed a route called Moscow Mule, a 2* HVS 5b which we both agreed was more like E3/4 5c.  Desperate.  Anyway, as this took ages to climb it gave ample time for the PL to dry.  The sea was calm, the wind was gentle and the sky was blue.  Everything was perfect.  Off we went, every pitch was brilliant, this turned out to be the best E4 I have climbed....ever!  Exposed, impressive, perfect rock, adequate protection and on a deserted cliff.  These 2,900 million year old weathered cliffs certainly provide some of the best rock climbing in the country.  Cant wait to get back.

Sun at last

Topping out on Moscow Mule.
Uisdean on the 1st pitch of The Prozac Link
1st pitch of PL
2nd pitch - brilliant
End of the second pitch
We timed it perfectly, as we reached the top, the heavens opened which marked the end of the climbing for us on the island, the weather deteriorated and we headed back to the mainland the following day...after a good few beers, games of pool and a couple of rounds of darts in Tarbet.  A great wee trip, back to work this week working on a Summer Mountain Leader Training.

Bath time!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Jersey Brain Tumor team

I have just finished off 4 days working with Eric, Elsa, William and Gary.  The purpose of this trip was to raise money for the Jersey Brain Tumour Charity.  This is a charity which is especially close to Gary's heart as he had undergone surgery last year to have a tumor removed.  This trip has shown Gary that he is still fit and able, they have raised thousands of pounds and had a great challenge along the way.  The main plan was to summit Ben Nevis.  Day one we headed up the zig-zags on Gearr Aonach then continued onto Stob Coire nan Lochain.  This was a great round and good introduction to scrambling and mountains, especially for the younger two.
Day two we headed up Ledge route on Ben Nevis in less than ideal conditions and reached the summit, not quite a beautiful day but at least the team did what they came to do.  A brilliant effort from them all.
Day three we headed into Glen Nevis for half a day navigation and half a day rock climbing and today we had a mass ascent of Curved Ridge in a combination of sunshine and showers followed by round of drinks in the Clachaig Inn.

Friday, 17 July 2015

The perfect traverse - Cuillin Ridge - Isle of Skye

The Start - The dream team - Me, Austin, Ruairidh, Linda and Alan.  The ridge behind
Our transport leaving as we head up the hill
The scrambling begins
You may have seen from reading my account of this season on Skye, infact in Scotland, has been vastly wet with below average temperatures.  We have been denied any long spells of sunny settled weather, only a couple of days have been worthy of washing on the line.  This has lead to a very wet season of work for me which doesn't only dampen clothing but also dampen spirits a wee bit.  I have always believed that one nice day in the mountains on the Isle of Skye make up for multiple wet, cold and cloudy days, the days where we have hoods up and heads down.

Austin making light work of King's Chimney
I am just back down from 3 fantastic days on Skye, where we finished by completing a brilliant 2 day traverse in 21 hours of mind blowing walking, scrambling and climbing.  With a perfect forecast we opted for the start from the boat shuttle (Aquaxplore) from Elgol, the finest way to start a traverse. We endured the 2 hour ascent upto Gars-bheinn and made our way to the first Munro of Sgurr nan Eag.  Our team was a well organised affair, I was the guide, our head of base camp, transport, nutrition, bag packing and well wishes was Linda, Alan was the brains behind the expedition and was looking to complete the traverse, a dream of his for over 20 years.  We also had Austin (Linda and Alan's son) and Ruairidh (good friend of the whole family) to join the party on the ridge.  Our only blow was Alan was feeling unwell and gallantly removed himself from the equation, we proceeded as a team of three rather than four.

No prizes for those who guess which peak this is!

T is for Traverse, TD, Tipple, Top and TENNENTS!! Thank you!
Our first day we stashed some food, water and over night equipment by Sgurr na Banachdich allowing a comfortable, light opening day on the traverse.  R, A and I had agreed that we would asvend all the Munro's, climb all the tricky climbs and seek out the best bits of scrambling.  So after Sgurr Dubh Mor we made our way through the Thearlaich Dubh (TD) Gap, a good awakening after two of the easier summits.  We had Bill and Colin up ahead who made light work of the Dubh's Ridge and the TD gap, always great not to get held up here.  We pressed on, Sgurr Alasdair, Sgurr Thealaich, King's chimney onto Sgurr MhicChoinnich, up An Stac and onto the Inaccessible Pinnacle.  A patch of mist descended on us as we ascended the In Pinn, I believe R and A were quite pleased of this.  We proceeded onto the bivi site, arriving at 6pm to a great surprise.  As Alan had decided to pull out of the traverse, he and Linda walked up to remove his bivi kit, in its place were some extra sandwiches and 3 cans of Tennent's!  Winner!  A wee treat for completing day 1!  We ate and drank like king's that night, and as we felt so good we decided to build some stone shelters to sleep in.

Porridge and hot chocolate kick started day two at 4am.  We started moving at 5am hitting Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh and Sgurr a' Mhadaidh as the sun gave a gentle warming.  The rock was still dry and rough and the temperature was perfect.  Exposure was amplified this early in the morning.  We cruised along the tricky section between the Munro's, the 3 tops of Mhadaidh, Bidein Druim nan Ramh and An Caisteal before making our way onto Bruach na Frithe at midday.  Two Munro's to go.  Both were ascended without any problems in great weather leaving up with fantastic views of the whole ridge, a huge undertaking for Austin and Ruairidh, both have agreed it was physically and mentally the hardest days they have endured in the mountains.  We were greeted by a warm welcome and a cold beer from Linda and Alan at the Sligachan, the best way to finish a Cuillin Ridge traverse.  A brilliant 3 days with great company, good laughs and completing the best two mountains days one can have in the UK.  Thank you Linda, Alan, Austin and Ruridihdihdihdih! ;)

Yawnn...who ordered exposure for breakfast?

A nice day dawning

Half asleep so a the rope goes on

Should we of shouldn't we?  Direct of indirect?
Happy days, traverse complete.  True gentlemen!
One last abseil
Finished!  Well done chaps

Monday, 13 July 2015

Curved Ridge and North East Ridge of Aonach Beag

A sneaky view of the moor
Love this route!
I have just spent two days out with Grahame who has been keen to climb some scrambling routes, to spice up his Munro ticking campaign.  He had already walked both munros on Buachaille Etive Mor but has had a burning desire to climb Curved Ridge so this was our objective for the first day.  A little surprised to see a deserted ridge on a Sunday but the forecast was pretty poor however it turned out pretty nice (not constant rain and some beams of sunlight).
Crux corner
Hero shot
We made steady progress up the ridge, chatting away merrily, rarely stopping other than to take some pictures when the views opened.  We arrived at the top of the ridge and nipped up Crowberry Tower for some excellent views of cloud to the north as well as the south!  With a press onto the summit we finally became exposed to the winds, we locked up our hoods, had a wee break on the summit then headed down into Corie nan Tulach.  A nicer day than expected.  Tomorrow on the North East ridge Aonach Beag will be mint....

Looking at what we have done
Orchids bring light to a gloomy day
Today Grahame and I took the Aonach Mor Gondola up to the top station then plodded up to the summit of Aonach Mor for some fantastic views of the clouds.  Just white and grey.
Descending into An Cul Choire, axe and cramoons!

I suppose I was a little apprehensive as I have never climbed the North East ridge of Aonach Beag but it was on Grahames to do list and the weather was to improve at midday, somewhere near the crux.  Views, sunshine and no rian!  Cant wait.  Well it did clear at about 6pm!  On the whole route we endured constant rain, thick low cloud and incredibly greasy rock.  I would strongly suggest to any folk off to try this route that they save it for a dry day with good views.  I would say it turned into the hardest days work this summer.
Mellow mountaineering
Abseiling off the crux section to bypass it

 We were both very relieved to get past the crux section which involved quite a bit of rope trickery and an assisted hoist.  Grahame did incredible well as every footstep was like soap and most handholds were the same.  We had thought about bailing earlier but we were holding onto the forecast that it would never did.  I suspect it is a great route in the dry in a fantastic setting, I am really keen to get back in more suitable conditions.  In winter, I suspect it will be amazing.
Greahame relieved to be at the top

Me tired and relieved.  

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Scrambling, Sea Kayaking and Cuillin Ridge Traverse

I am just back from a brilliant 4 days with Willie and Barnie. They had 3 days booked out of 4 with the intention of doing a Cuillin Ridge Traverse. With the weather looking a wee bit appealing for the last two days we thought we would save that for a traverse attempt. Day one we hit the Clach Glas - Bla Bheinn Traverse. Probably one of my favourite routes on Skye, a true classic with fantastic situations, views and scrambling. This was 17 year old Barnie's first time on something like this and he did exceptionally well. 

Day two was very wet so we opted for a rest day. Willie and Barnie invited me on a 6 hour sea kayaking expedition which I'm so glad I didn't turn down, it was great to see some of Skye's coastline. Then to finish the trip we successfully traversed the Cuillin Ridge in less the idea conditions over 2 days. Rain, hail, 4 degree's, windy, cloudy and a bit of sun. A cold damp bivi but a great sunny finish on Sgurr nan Gillian. Well done to Willie and Barnie for digging deep and for being brilliant company for the 4 days. This week I was working for Moran Mountain.

More Pictures here