Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Winter update

The great start to the season has continued over the last week and a half. I headed up Sron Na Lairig last week with Dessie, Davie, Kev, Craig and Anna and we also met up with Craig, Suzie and John. It was a very social gathering on the hill! This was my first time up here and it was a really enjoyable wee route, at no point hard but enough to keep it interesting. A quick trip up to Stob Coire Sgreamhach to finish off the day.

The next day was another stunner so a trip back on the Ben was in order. We chose Ledge route to continue with theme of ridges and were treated to nice conditions and a glorious view from the plateau. A descent down No. 4 gully lead us back down again, after a very kind chap who had just ascended the gully shared his hip flask with us!

Definitely feel like I've been having too much fun recently so I needed to knuckle down for some navigation practice for my assessment. I headed up Beinn an t Sneachda near Kinlocheil in properly foul weather. Some good legs through deep snow and clag certainly felt useful!

Grim but useful conditions!

The next day was a trip up the Tourist track to get to some good snow for practice of snow anchors and general winter skills. The path it self was covered in a very slippy layer of water ice and I reluctantly had to put crampons on from just before the Lochan! After all the fresh snow the path itself beyond the Red Burn was properly covered which seemed to pose some problems for the day trippers. Thankfully the sun was out and there was very little cloud.

On Monday Glenda and I headed down to Glen Loy and I did a quick circuit up Beinn Bhan. Some good hard patches of neve forming which was encouraging for yesterdays plans on the Ben. From Banavie I could see that there was certainly some more ice forming on the CIC cascades...

Yesterday Kev, Davie and myself headed up the Ben to look at either the cascades, the Curtain or Tower Scoop. Unfortunately all were too thin to climb. Kev headed back down the Glen to check out a project so Davie and I settled on Tower Gully. The snow was surprising unconsolidated with a crusty layer covering fairly loose powder underneath. There were also a fair few large slabs in the  gully that we were careful to avoid. Not ideal conditions but still good fun. I tried a small ice step near Tower Scoop and after 2 axe placements the water came spurting out like a burst pipe. Definitely time to give Tower Scoop a miss after that! The cornice was small at the top of the gully and we topped out to beautiful blue skies and sunshine. The moment of leaving the dark and cold gully and emerging into the sun is truly one of the special moments in Winter climbing and this was certainly a memorable one!

Davie enjoying the cornice

The Ben is definitely shaping up nicely. Some more snow and a few freeze thaw cycles should definitely improve things.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

An Epic Week!

It's been a productive couple of weeks. I've been keen to get some hill days for my upcoming Winter ML assessment but unfortunately, the snow has been coming and going, mainly going! Had a good day up Sgurr Choinnich Mor and Chno Dearg circuit near Loch Trieg, both days in bog, clag and rain! Also competed in round one of the Scottish Tooling Series at the Icefactor.
Quick nip up to the CIC to see how the Ben was shaping up- Friday 23rd November

The finals route at the STS

Thankfully the Winter has finally arrived and on Saturday I headed along the Aonach Eagach with Kev, Davie and Craig. Great weather and a quiet ridge made for a truly outstanding day. Some tricky sections on the slabby down climbs as the snow as still unconsolidated and there was enough ice and verglas on the rocks to make them pretty slippy. Descending just as it got dark, we raced along the road to the Clachaig for  much deserved food and a pint!

Monday was an easier day as we had a big trip on the Ben planned and so went for a short jaunt up the north Ridge of Stob Ban in Glen Nevis.

Yesterday was a one of those days that will last a long time in the memory! A 6am start saw Kev, Davie, Craig and myself heading up the Allt a Mhuilinn in a landscape illuminated by moonlight. We made good time to the foot of the Douglas Boulder but were met with some dodgy looking windslab on the approach to the Douglas Gully East. Thankfully the slab was much thinner in the gully and we were able to kick through it to reach the initial chimney pitch leading onto the ridge.

From there we could see it was going to be a long day! The ridge was plastered in powder snow with no trail at all.

We split into 2 teams and carried on picking our way along the ridge. Even the Little Tower was awkward under the conditions. We re-grouped just before the Eastern Traverse and decided to push on despite the time consuming nature of the route. A retreat from this high was more likely to be problematic than carrying on. The Eastern Traverse certainly caused pause for thought as it was completely banked out in deep powder. I tentatively cleared a path stamping hard on the snow to create a feeling of security underfoot. With every second step some of the thin crust would slide off down Tower Gully certainly adding to the memorable feel of this pitch! The old pegs about a third of the way along suddenly seemed bomb proof and so these were clipped with relief until I was able to get a solid wire placement.

 Kev carried on under the chockstone which was more akin to swimming than climbing and definitely a tight squeeze!

 The pitch out on the top of the Great Tower was really tricky and a couple of attempts eventually saw us on the top of the Tower. We headed down to the Gap just as the light faded and again, what we would normally stroll over in Summer felt very challenging.

 The darkness arrived abruptly but then just as abruptly the whole mountain was lit up by a stunning yellow moon. The final exit gully was a joy compared to the scrappy climbing of the day, with good axe and crampon placements.
Crossing the Gap in the Moonlight

 Relieved but elated we topped out to a breathtaking view of snow capped peaks as far as we could see.
 As much as the day had felt a bit like a battle the whole way, the team was still in good spirits as we marched down the Zig Zags back to the car.  A successful day perhaps, but one where a few lessons were learned.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Rock, snow and a promising start...

My efforts over the last few weeks have been spent preparing for my SPA assessment which I undertook last week with Pete Hill. We started with the climbing wall aspect on the Friday night at Grantown. Leaving the centre we were surprised by the 2 inches of snow that had fallen since we started the session! A rather chilly forecast saw us heading to Cummingston on the Saturday which focused on the personal climbing element

Alan holding Gareth as he off!
Cold fingers aside, we managed to avoid the bad weather seemingly affecting everywhere else which was a bonus! The final day saw us looking at the group side of the SPA syllabus at Huntley's Cave, concentrating on group rigging, top and bottom roping, problem solving and abseiling sessions. Whilst always nerve-racking, I find the assessments a great experience and am always pleased to come through these having learned more than I knew before. Happy with a pass result, it was time to start getting the Winter head on, ready for the season which awaits...

Zig Zag number 2 under there somewhere!

I returned to Fort William, working for Abacus Mountaineering to guide Alex and his son, also Alex on Ben Nevis. We had snow down to about 650m and I found myself in the unusual position of trail breaking on the Tourist Track. As we gained height the snow became pretty deep and making out the Zig Zags under the snow became slightly more challenging. As so often happens in Winter, the blue sky day readily disappeared as we reached the summit plateau and the compass came out to avoid heading too close to the corniced edges of the North Face. The guys did really well considering the relatively tough going in the snow.

Looking west to Beinn Teallach before the weather turned

Back over to Beinn a' Choarainn as the weather improved!

Sunday I headed out for some preparation of my upcoming Winter ML assessment. I headed to new ground near Roy Bridge up Beinn a' Choarainn and Beinn Teallach for some nav practice and a workout. By about 800m up the first hill the cloud descended and I found myself in a full on white-out. Perfect for some navigation practice! Managing to avoid the edges on the East side of Beinn a' Choarainn I descended to the bealach between the 2 tops for some lunch. After a sociable lunch stop with some walkers I headed up to Beinn Teallach as the weather improved and back down to Roughburn. Slightly worrying was the approach by some other parties out of simply 'following the footprints' as a navigational strategy to get through the whiteout...

Yesterday I headed up Aonach Mor for a brief wander with Glenda. The snow was pretty soft and mushy even at 900m so we did a bit of nav in Corrie Dubh and headed down. Hopefully a freeze after this thaw today will start to improve climbing conditions a bit. Looking forward to the Winter season ahead...!