Monday, 31 January 2011

A week of training

I'm in the Cairngorms this week at Glenmore Lodge attending the MIC (Mountaineering Instructor Certificate) training. So a change of location for a few days. Today we had a short day out looking at movement skills and snow belays and how we might teach them to people in the future. We weren't far from the Coire Cas car park and only saw a WML group and a skills group out.
The crags in the Northern Corries were white this morning but the freezing level very quickly went above the summits and the buttress' soon started turning black.
There has been some wild weather over the last couple of days and it is forecast to get worse as the week goes on. Alex and John were on Vanishing Gully yesterday and said the ice was in Good condition but they were getting hit with heavy spindrift. This route is low on the Ben so I imagine the conditions high up were miserable.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

West Face of Aonach Mor.

The summit of the Ben and Carn Mor Dearg just peering through the breaking cloud.

Day 2 with Ivan and he wanted to do a mountaineering route to look at the different techniques you might use and the kind of terrain you might use them on. So we headed to the West face of Aonach Mor, this is a great part of the mountain with lots of ground at about grade II/III and usually quiet. The cloud was in when we arrived and this face is notoriously difficult to find the base of the routes in the clag.
We made are way up the steep snow slopes to the start of the routes to find the lower parts of the buttress' to be a bit bare. Just to our left was a snowy gully which split the buttress in two so we headed for that. Three rope lengths of grade two later and we found ourselves with a choice. To the left there was a 30-40m ice fall at about grade three or on the right there was another ice fall or some turfy mixed ground. We chose the left and it gave an excellent pitch but by now the cloud had cleared and the sun was out warming the crag so we were being showered with stuff from the gully above. About 150m of grade I brought us onto the final ridge and an amazing finish to the summit bathed in the sun.
There were some good reports from the East face but a lot of parties found themselves on the wrong route as they had started in the clag too. By the end of the day any rock that had been exposed to the sun was black again.

Ivan just finishing off the grade three pitch.

The final part of the ridge with the Ben in the background.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Quiet in Stob Coire nan Lochan

Yesterday I was out on the Ben with Ken and Mike and it was a stunning day. After a bit of deliberation we decided to go and have a look at Pinnacle Buttress direct. The heavy freeze has done a world of good with rock hard neve all the way. Mike set off up the first pitch which gave an interesting icy mixed pitch. I did a quick link pitch which brought us to a groove in the middle of the face. We weren't sure whether this groove had been climbed before but we fancied an adventure. A couple of pitches later and we were stood under the west side of the Great Tower. Mike lead us on up and we finished up Tower Ridge to top out in the sun. A great day to be out in the mountains. See Mikes video on his blog.

Mike making his way up the Great Tower.

Today I was out climbing with Ivan who had done a intro course a couple of years ago and just wanted to cover some more difficult ground to get a feel of it. We decided on Stob Coire nan Lochan because it gave us a few more options.
Once we arrived in the corrie we soon realised our options were more limited as the thaw from last week has taken its toll. All of the Buttress' were black and Twisting Gully didn't look complete  and the cloud was covering most of the crag. So we headed for the SC Gully and kept our fingers crossed. The route thankfully was climbable if a little thin in places and perhaps warranted III,4 today. We descended down Broad Gully and decided to get another quick one in and climbed NC Gully, which was holding more snow and was a straight forward climb.
The snow at the moment in the corrie is fantastic and what ice there is, is good. The only routes really in condition at the moment are the gully lines and the grade III/IV buttress routes. A team did climb Twisting Gully but I didn't get a chance to find out how it was.   

Ivan on the first steep icy step in SC Gully.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Aonach Mor East Face

Dave setting off on pitch 1.

I've got a busy couple of weeks coming up so I was planning on another rest day and some sorted but when Ken and Dave said they were going to go for a quick blast in between shifts I thought why not. We abseiled into Easy gully and moved on round to the bottom of White Shark (IV,4). The crags at the moment are looking in fantastic nick, good snow ice, Rime starting to build and where we were the cracks were free of any ice.
Dave made short work of the first pitch and Ken ticked off the steeper second pitch and conveniently found a tunnel through the cornice on the left side. I didn't get a pitch but hey I'm sure I'll be back again at some point.
Conditions really have improved, the wet snow from the thaw is starting to refreeze, at the moment there is still just a crust in places and the plateau was covered in bullet hard water ice and neve. I had a wonder round to see what else was going on and saw a team just topping out of Left twin which is clear of a cornice at the moment. There are some very large cornices at the moment but they have firmed up and gave us little to be concerned about. Looking promising for the weekend.

Ken on pitch 2.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Groove climb.

With the freezing levels forecast at about 1100m Ken and I decided to head back up the Ben. After yesterdays beating we fancied some thing that should guarantee success so we headed to The Groove climb (V,6) which is a couple of lines left of the slab climb. I started up pitch 1 which gave 30m of quite bold and insecure climbing. The snow was helpful neve in places but the slow thaw of the last couple of days have started to take effect as my axes were shearing through the wet snow in places. I finally made it to the belay with a little bit of relief, only to find the cave belay was just a little tight and I could only just turn around.
Ken came on up and after a lot of grunting by me we managed to swap the rack around and Ken set off. Pitch two was only 10m but had a few fierce moves from the belay that involved some good hooks and some useful neve and applying some rather brutal chimneying tactics.
Pitch 3 was just a 60m pitch of about grade III or IV to get to the belay. A 60m abseil and a bit of down climbing got us back to the foot of the buttress. A good route but stiff for the grade I think.
John and Guy climbed Slab climb and Wendigo and kindly retrieved our nuts from yesterday (cheers boys) and there were plenty of teams on Green gully again. The cloud was low today so couldn't really see much more but it seemed quieter than yesterday.

Not really got any photos today. I was either climbing or belaying in my tiny little cave which is shown above.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Busy on the Ben.

This morning Ken and I decided to head up onto the Ben. We thought we would have a reasonably early start but not too early. as we were putting our boots on in the top car park we were passed by a line of about 17 headtorchs and as we looked up the path we could see a lot more. So we joined the procession and headed up. We had decided to head for Pinnacle Buttress of the tower to have a look at Stringfellow(VI,6) or Pinnacle Buttress direct (V,5). As we walked in we could see loads of parties ahead of us heading into Observatory Gully but very few into Coire na Ciste. The cloud today was hovering around the summit so we got a good view as we stood by the lochains. Our chosen route didn't really look to be in from where we were so after alot of discussion between us both all it took was a friendly passer by to recommend Slab climb and we were off. The route looked to be in good condition and it gave good hooks and useful neve unfortunately the cracks were iced up and gear required a bit of digging out. Pitch 1 didn't really give any problems but pitch two was a different matter. After about an hour Ken was only about 8m up and still looking for his first bit of gear. Eventually he managed to dig out a small chock stone which he ended up lowering off and we retreated. Lots of other teams out today, point 5 had a no.of teams on it, Green gully must of had at least 7 or 8 teams up it. Darthvader, Babylon, Sioux wall, Gargoyle wall, No. 3 gully Buttress, Tower face of the comb all had teams on them some moving just as slow as us. Also Glover's Chimney, Comb gully, Central gully and Central gully right hand were busy. No pics today sorry, I forgot my camera.  

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Winter is back.

I'm working at Outward Bound this week so I'm not out on the hill but I did take a wander up to the half way lochain on the Ben today. On the way up I got a good look at the North face which is looking white again. There is snow lying down to just below the CIC hut, the Orion and minus face were white and with the freezing levels fluctuating through the day should hopefully be forming some climbable ice. Although I didn't see into Coire na Ciste the there was rime on the westerly face higher up the mountain and John and Guy Steven reported good conditions on Tower face of the Combe yesterday. Ken was out on the west face of Aonach Mor today and John was on twisting gully in Stob Coire nan lochan both reporting good conditions. Bring on the weekend.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Still damp and miserable.

I'm not sure that has stopped raining today but the cloud did lift for a short while this afternoon. I've not been able to bring myself to go out in the rain as I didn't really fancy plodding up a route in the wet snow whilst it rained. When it did clear this afternoon I did manage to see that there is still a reasonable amount of cover above 800m. Reports are that there has been some cornice collapse due to the extra weight of water and mild conditions and avalanche debris has been spotted too. If you do fancy going out this weekend I'd recommend picking some of the easier buttress routes and avoid hanging around under any cornices as the thaw is set to continue. Routes like Dorsal arete, ledge route, No.3 gully buttress and no.2 gully buttress might be worth a look and maybe the west face of Aonach Mor.These obviously depend on the avalanche forecast and conditions at the time but all of this comes from me sat at home looking out the window. Have fun and be careful.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Warm and wet.

Well the last two days in Lochaber have been fantastic. Blue Sky's and very little wind. Unfortunately I had too many things that needed to be done to get out. The weather at the moment is 8 degrees at sea level and with prolonged periods of drizzle. The snow line is slowly retreating and more of the same is forecast for the next few days but with higher winds due at the weekend. On the plus side as long as the thaw isn't too deep when it refreezes the conditions will be fantastic.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

You win some and you lose some.

I woke up at 5.30am this morning to some very heavy snow falling in Corpach. In the space of an hour about 2 inches had settled. Our plan today had been to head to the Ben to have a look at Cutlass (VI,7) on the Douglas boulder. I was climbing with Tony and Ken today and this route was Tony's choice, who was more than happy to take the crux. Unfortunately even the four wheel drive minibus couldn't make it up the Ben track and after an eventful hour of trying to get the van back down the track, without rolling it in the ditch we were already wet as the snow had now turned to sleet. So we decided to cut our losses and head home. At about 10am the sky cleared and the summit of the Ben looks like it has a lot of fresh snow and with more forecast over night the next couple of days might be a bit interesting higher up. A day of sorting tomorrow so I'm not out on the hill. I've included a photo from Kens camera yesterday looking down the route from the top of the difficulties.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Good conditions in stob Coire nan Lochan

Ken and I headed up to Glen Coe this morning to go and have a look at Scabbard Chimney (V,6). It was a very sociable walk in as we bumped into some friends that were aiming for the route next to us on Summit Buttress. It was quiet when we arrived in the coire but once we had started climbing it soon got busier. The conditions on Scabbard were excellent with good firm snow ice in the back of the chimney and someone had already dug out most of the gear. The route is a fantastic one with sustained climbing through all three pitches. It does continue to the summit but we decided to ab off after the difficulties and got to the ground in one.The route has been bugging me ever since Alex and I had backed off back in November and it is great to get it done.
As for the rest of the crags there was some digging required which made the going a little slow for some teams but the mixed is in excellent condition. Other teams were on Ordinary route, Dorsal arete, Twisting gully, Forked gully and Raeburns route. There was also a team on Inclination(VII,8) and the Duel (IX,9).

Ken Seconding the second pitch.

Ken leading pitch Three.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Beautiful day for a walk.

"Unfortunately" my day of training at Outward Bound was cancelled, oh well. I ended up going up the Ben with Joe and Fin. Neither of them had been walking in Scotland before and had very little experience of winter but after a day like today anyone could catch the bug. We had views all the way up with the only bit of cloud out to the west and we could see Ben Lomond, Cairngorm and the Lawers hills. The snow under foot was soft with a wind blown crust in places and with pockets of wind slab on a number of aspects. The North face was quiet today with a few teams on Ledge route and one team on Tower ridge. There looked to be a lot of snow on all of the routes but there is also a good build up of rime on the higher crags. Today I was working for Abacus Mountaineering.

Joe and Fin bathing in the sunlight on the summit.

Enjoying the bum slide back down Red Burn.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Plenty of the white stuff.

The weather on the West coast has been a bit wild over the last couple of days. Strong winds at times with heavy snow fall higher up. After a wet start this morning things soon started to brighten with the clouds braking and some blue sky. Snow is lying down to about 150m and it has been cold all day. Looks like good route choice and a bit of digging might be the way for a couple of days. Unfortunately I've just been looking out the window at it all day as I have some training with Outward Bound which lasts till the weekend.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Difficult conditions on Creag Meagaidh.

Pitch 1

Headed in to Creag Meagaidh yesterday with Ken and Hannah to have a look at last post(V,5). There were only a couple of teams in front of us but they very quickly started to grab any lines that were free. A quick check of the guide book and we decided to go for South post direct V,4 and low in the grade so the guide book says. I started up the first pitch and it soon became obvious it was going to be a hard day. The going was slow with very brittle ice and huge areas of ice dinner plating off. What looked like a steady pitch of IV,4 ending up feeling like a 40m stiff pitch of V,5. Any way we carried on and Hannah lead the next ice fall climbing smoothly on another stiffer pitch than it looked. We soon found ourselves under a very steep looking crux pitch. With failing light and difficult conditions we opted to head out left onto the grade three finish. We topped out in the dark and had a long and tiring walk off. Other parties in the corrie also reported difficult conditions with quite a few teams backing off and a lot of falling ice from climbers almost causing a few accidents. Cheers to Hannah for the photos.