Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Clachaig Inn Winter Safety Lecture series

The Clachaig Inn in Glencoe are running their annual Winter Safety lectures starting on Tuesday 5th February. These lectures are great to go to for anyone with an interest in the mountains. Always highly informative and entertaining with the speakers being top class in their field, an enjoyable evening is guaranteed. Plus, entry is FREE!!! Contact the Clachaig to book a place to make sure you'll get in! Mike Pescod is kicking things off for us on Tuesday so hope to see you there!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Ups and Downs

I've been having a great time recently enjoying the good weather and good climbing conditions. My enthusiasm took a small knock last week when I took a decent sized fall on the SW ridge of Douglas Boulder. A couple of cracked ribs and a bruised lower back was a small price to pay for length of the fall to be honest. I don't like going back to analyse mistakes over and over but looking back on that climb there were a couple of lessons to learn. I had finished the hard part of the first pitch graded in the new guidebooks as  IV 5 and so reckon relaxed a bit. As I approached the easier part I decided to try and keep as directly on the crest as possible, despite a couple of ways round which were easier. As I stepped up over the short wall, my right axe started sliding and I realised what I thought had been a good hook was actually just powder covering loose scree! At the point I realised I needed to downclimb, both axes ripped and I was off. Thankfully my gear held though I did come scarily close to Davie who was belaying me before stopping altogether. New stretchy ropes probably contributed slightly! After a few minutes of recovery I could tell the injuries weren't too serious which was a relief after thoughts of my spinal fracture in 2011 came flooding back. My first thoughts were to bail and head home but I knew heading back out on the next climb would be much harder. After some encouragement from Davie I headed back on the route and finished the pitch. A quick inspection of the sling revealed a bit of wear but more worrying was the gate on the karabiner which was broken and loose. Still, it did its job when it counted...The conditions were ok but a fair amount of powder made for slow going. We swung leads until reaching the abseil point and abbed into the Douglas Gully West just as darkness fell. A downclimb/swim saw as back at the hut. The cold seemed to help keep any swelling at bay and I didn't feel to bad until the next morning when a quick trip to A&E was on the cards to get things checked out.

Photos by Davie Scott
A couple of days rest and I was working for Maximum Adventure with Hannah. We had a great skills day on Aonach Mor and then a trip up the Ben on Sunday. A fantastic effort by the strong group saw us up and down in 7hrs 30min, not a bad time for a summer ascent!

the Red Burn adding some excitement- photo by Ed Bayliss

Ed and David at the Summit- photo by Ed Bayliss

The ribs have been aching away a bit over the last few days but I knew the current conditions werev't meant to last much longer so on Wednesday, myself, Kev, Craig and Joe headed up to the CIC hut cascades for a bit of winter cragging! We took the right most line which was great fun at about grade III-IV.

Photos by Craig MacDonald
With a thaw and lots of snow forecast it will be interesting to see how things are shaping up in a few days!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Busy on the Ben!

I headed up North Gully on the Ben nice and early today to avoid the crowds which were expected after a nice forecast. I was very glad I did! There was already a team ahead of me who kindly let me skip the queue. The first pitch was nice but fairly thin with a couple of mixed moves about half way. The second was better though there was a small amount of soft slab. This didn't really pose a problem though as the quantities were small.  A quick stop at the top then a decent down No. 4 which was in good condition.

North Gully (II)

Team on Green gully

I saw teams on a very thin looking first pitch of Green Gully, No.'s 2,3,4 and 5 gullies and spoke to some folk heading to look at Comb gully, No.2 Gully Buttress, Good Friday Climb and Gardyloo gully too.
Snow forecast tomorrow so lets up its a return to proper winter!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

A stunner on the Ben today!

After a fairly depressing day yesterday,  a good forecast rejuvenated the mindset and another 0530hrs alarm was on the cards. Davie, Joe and myself headed high on the Ben after seeing that some snow and ice had survived well. We headed up Observatory gully to Good Friday Climb (III). Good firm snow in the gully allowed us to make reasonable time up. We traversed under Indicator wall to the start and were very pleased to find absolutely bomber neve, first time axe and foot placements.

The crux pitch was a bit thin but still good fun and it did take a few short ice screws. The freeze over yesterday and today has certainly improved things as some rime was forming higher up now. We topped out to stunning sunshine and an inversion south and eastwards. The pictures say it all really...
Crux pitch Good Friday Climb(III)

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Winter returns...but not quite yet

Today Kev, Davie, Andy and myself headed up the Ben for a look at what had survived the thaw. It was nice to be on the hill with the head torches again walking up the Allt a Mhuillin after the last few weeks of mild and damp weather. Our plans were fairly flexible as we didn't think there would be a huge amount of choice. And there certainly wasn't.... Warm temperatures on the walk in started a bit of niggling doubt. As did the rain sweeping in just before we reached the CIC hut. When the cloud lifted and we got a view of the Coire na Ciste area it was clear things weren't looking too good. Only the easy gullies looked complete and even then we weren't convinced the freezing level had dropped nearly enough to make these remotely enjoyable to climb. More like a wade through sugary snow and slush.
Kev looking really happy....

 After a quick stop we reached a consensus and bailed for the day having to postpone our season's tick list until the winter conditions return.

Today's conditions

On a promising note there was a fresh dusting of snow down to about 900m and the current forecasts do suggest a return to colder conditions. Unfortunately it feels that we're almost starting from scratch again. Disappointing to think that only a few weeks ago the Curtain was pretty much complete and Point Five was looking fat.
If only it looked like this! Photo taken 11th December 2012

Here's hoping a few weeks will make all the difference and bring back the good climbing! Think it may have to be a trip East tomorrow to see what is left in the Cairngorms...

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Winter update 2...

After waiting almost 9 months I was finally able to sit my Winter ML assessment on the 17th December.  The plan had been to do this in March 2012 but due to temperatures of +20C and a severe lack of snow this was rescheduled. Thankfully the snow arrived early enough this season for  Pete Hill to run the assessment. Due to a pretty dire forecast for the second half of the week we started with the expedition to make the most of conditions and weather. After a frantic repacking of the rucksacks we headed up to the Ski Centre and from there walked into the snow-holing site. The exped mainly focused on navigation and we were put through our paces during the night nav. The second day was spent in glorious weather on the Cairngorm Plateau looking at avalanche awareness and more navigation.

Enjoying one of our few breaks in the Sun!

From L-R- Mark, Cristian, Neil and me

The walk out on day 3 was pretty horrendous with very strong winds really reducing our mobility. Glad to make it off the hill we had a few hours of R&R at the bunkhouse. Day 4 was out security on steep ground section looking at all the usual belays and snow anchors as well as digging emergency shelters. The final day mainly focused on our Winter and snowcraft skills with some great practice of ice-axe arrest at speed!
After the debrief and pass result I was ecstatic! I'd spent a lot of time out over the past couple of seasons practicing in awful weather and was relieved that it had all paid off. Thanks to Pete and Ginge for running a great assessment that was enjoyable and informative. Also cheers to Neil, Mark and Cristian for being good company on the hill too and helping to reduce the assessment nerves
After some festive celebrations it was back to work at the weekend...

Paul and Michelle had come up from down South to do a days skills followed by an attempt at a Winter ascent of the Ben.
Due to high winds the gondola on Aonach Mor was closed so we headed up to Coire na Ciste on the North Face of Ben Nevis to make the most of the snow. We found some good snow not far from the hut and covered ice axe arrest, step kicking and cutting as well as some basic winter skills and movement. The guys did well and picked up things very quickly. Well done to Paul whose perseverance paid off when he nailed the head-first-on-his-back self arrest!
Michelle and Paul

Coire na Ciste on Saturday
On Sunday, despite a pretty dreadful forecast of 70mph+ winds we met at Achintee and headed up the Mountain Track. From a fairly early point in the day the weather made things very challenging but Paul and Michelle soldiered on. We put crampons on about the 3rd Zig Zag as the snow here was scoured and icy. At the end of the 5th Zig Zag it was time to call it a day as strong winds, spindrift and whiteout conditions reminded us the mountain was boss! Still, reaching a height of 1100m was a great achievement in itself given the conditions and Paul and Michelle should be proud of getting that far. All other teams we met decided on a similar strategy.

Some brief shelter from the wind at the Red Burn, everyone well wrapped up!
It's a good reminder that in Winter even the most straightforward of routes can become at best challenging and sometimes pretty dangerous to the less experienced. There were some worrying sightings of a chap with no gloves and trainers on the track!

Meanwhile there's been a massive thaw here which is set to continue for the next few days. Hopefully there will still be some good conditions for climbing left once everything freezes again. Time will tell...