Thursday, 14 March 2013

Pumpkin, Comb and Gardyloo

This season just about all of my climbing has been on Ben Nevis so on Monday Davie and I headed to Creag Meagaidh for a change of scenery and some more climbing!
Creag Meagaidh
The long walk in was actually quite pleasant and it was nice not to be racing up the Allt a Mhullin for once! We had our sights set on The Pumpkin (V.4) one of the classic ice routes on the mountain. The air temperature was about -6C when we set out from the car and as soon as the wind picked up it was freezing. Still, the brisk walk in with climbing packs kept us warm and the sun was shining too. We geared up and headed up to the start of the climb, behind another guided team who were just finishing up the first pitch.

 The cold temperatures had really caused the ice to become brittle but obviously a very popular route, the ice was stepped and most axe placements were hooks. The first pitch was very enjoyable with a short steep wall at the end. Again the bomber hooks allowed short work to made of it. Davie cracked on up a long pitch 2 with about half a meter of rope to spare! I met Rob Johnson and his clients as they reached the first belay so after having a nice chat we carried on.

Starting up pitch 3

Davie seconding pitch 3

Another team topping out
 Another nice ice pitch with great belays and before we knew it, Davie was leading the 4th pitch up an iced up turfy groove. The final pitch was an easy snow slope and was climbed in the belay jacket as the winds picked up. Some great views from the top were enjoyed before a quick descent via the window and back at the car for before 5.

Davie glad of a warm jacket!

I was also enjoying the belay jacket!
Yesterday day Davie and headed back on to home territory and were back on the Ben. We had both wanted to climb Comb Gully (IV,4) but hadn't got round to it this season yet. Both of us were also keen on Gardyloo Gully (II/III) as we walk past every time when guiding on the Tourist Track, we thought it would be nice to climb out of it for once! We raced up through the Gulch to get ahead of a team who were also heading for Comb Gully ( they didn't seem too happy to get second place but the early bird and all that!) We got the gear and ropes out at the narrows and I led up the first pitch, which lent itself well to being climbed in a long 60m pitch. Above the difficulties Davie raced up to the summit and we enjoyed a quick refueling session.
Finishing up the main pitch of Comb Gully

We climbed down Tower gully (I) which was actually quite awkward as there was a lot of fresh powder covering some large stepped out sections of neve. The calves were burning a bit by the time we reached Gardyloo but were keen to press on while the weather was good.

Descending Tower Guly (I)

The exposed traverse underneath Gardyloo buttress

Heading towards the chockstone

Great decorations hanging down at the belay!
 The cave/tunnel pitch of Gardyloo was probably the most bizarre bit of climbing I've done. As it narrowed I took off my rucksack and clipped it to a sling to drag up after I escaped the tunnel. With no room to swing the axe I slowly wriggled through the exit tunnel and squeezed out back into the gully. Great fun if a bit weird! Another great view at the summit, and a Red Burn descent back to the car.

It looks like the weather is changing a bit now and I have to admit, it's been a superb season for me. Not quite time to hang up the tools just yet but if it was I'd be quite satisfied with how this winter has gone.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Windy, Winter Weekend

Yesterday and today I was taking Jamie out on some Winter days in preparation for his expedition to Mera Peak (6,476m) in Nepal. Whilst the Scottish mountains don't have anything like the stature of the Himalaya, they can certainly offer very challenging conditions, as we found out. We started on Ben Nevis yesterday at the Youth Hostel and after a steady start we had a quick break at the Red Burn and then headed onto the Zig Zags. The forecast of 60 mph gusts didn't seem too troublesome lower down but once up at about the 4th Zig Zag, we were blasted by waves of spindrift and strong gusts! We cramponed up and headed onto the plateau which was pretty full on. Visibility came and went, we braced ourselves against the wind and were battered by spindrift- a proper Himalayan feel to the day for Jamie. We headed down the Red Burn to keep on the snow as long as possible and give Jamie as much time using crampons as possible.
Davie was also working for me on the hill with Agata and Jon and also made a successful ascent. A sterling effort by everyone considering the conditions.

First stop at the Red Burn

Jon and Agata on the summit- photo by Davie Scott

A rimed summit trig point- photo by Davie Scott

Jamie on the summit

 Today, we decided on a slightly easier day and headed up Mullach nan Coirean in the Mamores to add to Jamie's Munro count. Some great views over to the Ben and South to Glencoe were had in splendid sunshine and clear skies. As we started to leave the summit the wind started to pick up again and hasty departure from the top saw us in a more sheltered spot. We looked at some step cutting which was actually a useful technique to use today due to the relatively small but bullet hard patches of snow and ice. As we finished the day a fairly heavy flurry of snow came blowing in from the East definitely adding to the Four-seasons-in-a-day feeling! A great weekend and good luck to Jamie on his trip to Nepal!

A smashing sunny morning
On to the snow

Enjoying the views

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

High Fives!

Making the most of the stunning weather and climbing conditions on Friday Davie and I headed high on the Ben to the Indicator Wall area. These climbs start at 1200m but are often in good condition and are well worth the long walk in. After both of us climbing Point Five separately last week, we were keen to try another grade V so decided on Indicator Wall itself (V,4). An exposed traverse underneath the wall saw us at the start of the route.

Good view of Gardyloo Buttress and Smith's route

 No rock gear in sight, we settles for a 3 screw belay. Davie took the lead and headed up the iced up chimney of the first pitch. The climbing was great fun, never too steep but certainly enjoyable. At the belay for the top of pitch one, some screws would have been handy but all of ours had been used as runners and on the first belay!

 Some creative thinking and digging by Davie produced an adequate belay and I headed off on pitch two. This was great fun and suddenly the sense of exposure became apparent as I looked down at my feet and could see the bottom of Observatory gully!
Pitch 2
A nice icy bulge finished the hard climbing and we got a chance to enjoy the stunning situation.

 We headed up the right hand finish at around IV,4 to top out in bright sun. The summit trig point was used as is tradition for the belay, ending a fantastic route!

Highest Belay in the UK!

 Yesterday Davie and I headed up to Zero Gully (V,4). Both of us knew of the fairly serious reputation this route had but with a lot of ascents this season and good conditions we thought this would be the time to try it!
We geared up just below the first pitch which looked deceivingly easy until actually on it at which point it seemed to get steeper and steeper!

View down pitch 1
Still, the climbing was steady and although I don't think I would have trusted any of the Ice screw runners to hold, the axe placements were very good. I brought Davie up on a reasonable spike belay and he took the lead for pitch two.
Past the sketchy moves on the traverse

This starts with a very delicate traverse to the right to regain the gully. Some detached ice and lack of axe placements certainly reminded us of why this was a serious climb but Davie soon regained the gully and headed up to enjoy the luxury of good ice. This was a fantastic lead from Davie as the pitch was both steep and sustained, a  very good effort!

Davie getting stuck into the second pitch
The rest of the route is quite similar to point five, with mainly grade II ground and the odd  short ice step of about tech 3 thrown in now and again.

We bumped into Mike and his clients who had just climber Vade Mecum next to Hadrian's Wall so a social couple of pitches lead us out at the summit. Another smashing day on a classic route on the Ben!