Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Magic days

The high pressure that has lasted over the past week or so has seen some fantastic days on the mountains. There are many routes in great condition.
Last week Kev and I headed up Green Gully (IV,3) to make the most of the sunny weather. A fairly early start saw us first in the Coire and we had the route all to ourselves for about an hour. After that there seemed to be team after team all heading for the same route! We counted at least 4 teams below us. The route was in easy nick with plenty parts stepped out, belays stances stamped out and the climbing on styrofoam type ice- all great fun!

On Thursday and Friday I was working for the West Highland College. Myself and Jamie B took a group of students up on the gondola at Nevis range to look at basic winter skills. We found some nice neve for step kicking and cutting in the Nid area as well as some good low angle water ice for cramponing. The snow was all a bit too hard to do much ice axe arrest practice but we were able to cover the basics.
Friday was a stunning forecast so we headed up to Carn Mor Dearg on more of a journey day letting the students put into practice what we had covered previously. The views were inspirational as we approached the summit and I could count dozens of teams out climbing on the Ben. It was nice to let the students experience the joy of the winter mountains.

Some nav practice

 Yesterday I finally got to realise one of my long term climbing ambitions and climbed Point Five Gully (V,5) on the Ben. I'd been dreaming about this route since I first starting climbing but wanted to wait until I felt comfortable leading it, conditions were good and I had a good partner. All of those things came together yesterday. Kev and I set the alarms for 0300 and a 0355 pick up saw us driving up the forestry track with bleary eyes! The walk in itself was stunning, we didn't even need headtorches as the moon was so bright it lit up the area. After realising we were going to be having a lot of hanging around in the dark we slowed the pace as we approached the hut. We could see one solitary head torch below the start to the Orion Face Direct, but otherwise the early start seemed to have paid off and we were going to be first on the route. The slog up Observatory gully seemed to take a while but before we knew it, it was time to gear up at the base of Point Five. The first pitch was great fun, stepped in places but the axe placements were bomber and the ice good enough to take some screws too. Kev breezed up the sustained second pitch which was a joy to climb. The Rogue pitch was in great condition and also a sheer pleasure to climb. A couple of icy steps on the exit slopes kept up the interest and with burning calf muscles and big smiles we topped out into brilliant blue skies and sunshine. There wasn't the need for much chat at the summit. We just soaked in the views and enjoyed the moment that no amount of money can buy.
Silly O'clock

Time to start climbing!

Pitch 1

Pitch 2

Rogue Pitch (P3)

Two happy chappies!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Smashing Times!

It's been a life changing couple of weeks! I was up in Coire Leis with Wilderness Scotland when I got the call from Glenda that she'd gone into labour! A speedy walk back, a trip up to Raigmore and  a LOT of hard work from Glenda finally delivered our son Robin on 1st of February! Absolutely over the moon, he's a wee belter! Looking forward to having many adventures with him in the mountains (but not quite yet!)
A good strong climbers grip already!

This week I had James from James Grant Photography up for a couple of days. He was keen to learn some of the basic skills to allow him to head into the mountains in Winter as well as getting a couple of days out too. Our first plan was to head up Aonach Mor for some skills practice but high winds saw us heading up into Coire na Ciste on the Ben instead. We got a lot covered including ice axe arrest, cramponing and some avalanche awareness too. There were loads of teams out climbing lots of the mid level ice routes including the Curtain, Waterfall Gully, the CIC Cascades as well as teams on Tower Ridge and Ledge Route. Day two had a better looking forecast so we headed to Glencoe. As well as looking at step cutting on the way up, we took various skills from the day before and looked how we put them into practice on the mountains for real. We then saw James claiming his first Winter Munro too, which was Stob Coire Raineach (925m) on Buachaille Etive Beag, a great end to the couple of days.

James on the summit!

Wednesday was my day off and thankfully, the weather was pretty rubbish as I was feeling dreadful and full of the cold!

On Thursday it was a similar start again and Gerry and I headed onto the Ben again for some more skills. The weather was fairly kind to us despite the forecast and again we managed to cover lots. We found some great ice on some of the slabs in the gulch which was fantastic for practicing crampon technique.

Gerry hadn't done any walking in Glencoe, and again, with a good forecast we headed back up Buachaille Etive Beag. The day was aimed at letting Gerry make the decisions that we need to make on a trip to the Winter mountains and we looked at navigation, route choice as well as a fair bit of avalanche awareness. We found a very easy shear test on a NE aspect about 850m which was a great reminder of staying alert when avalanche is concerned.

The Hilary pose- had to be done Gerry!

Some sad news again this week about the avalanche in the Cairngorms.
Without wanting to get too involved in the media debate, its true that the mountains can be dangerous but for nearly all climbers, walkers and mountaineers, the enjoyment they give us always outweighs this risk. For those who don't understand that, its almost impossible for us to try and make you understand.

This week looks fairly warm to start with but cooling down on Wednesday, hopefully bringing some of the gullies into condition.