Sunday, 30 December 2012

Wild on the Ben.

I was working for Abacus Mountain Guides today with Stephanie and Dor who wanted to walk up the Ben. The forecast wasn't exactly favourable but we went to go and give it a try anyway, lots of fresh snow overnight and strong winds meant we encountered some pretty deep drifts just above the half-way lochain. There were some very heavy showers passing through today and the lying snow was being blown about all day and the old snow is refreezing nicely. Unfortunately conditions weren't on our side so we had to turn around as did many other teams on the track today.

The strong winds have deposited a lot of snow on the Northerly through to Easterly aspects and with a brief rise in temps tomorrow morning avalanches maybe a real issue. Remember to check the forecasts, be flexible and keep your eyes open when you're out and about.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

All quiet on Hells Lum

Hannah and I made plans to head over the back of Cairngorm today and I'm glad we did as the rain bouncing off my window over here on the West whilst lying in Bed didn't exactly fill me with Joy. The drive East thankfully gave us some blue sky and even a view of some of the tops but with a strong and steady wind blowing that made the walk up to 1141m take a bit longer than normal. From here we dropped into Coire  Domhain and down under Hells Lum to climb the Cold Climbs classic, Deep Cut Chimney.

Hannah on the entry pitch to get you inside the chimney.

What a great little route with some nice grade III/IV climbing to get you established deep inside the chimney and then a short steep traverse back out and onto the face. Many guide books give this IV,4/5 but I don't know whether I went at it expecting it to be easy but I actually had to pull. Not a sign of anyone all day until we dropped back down the goat track to hear a few teams still on routes as the light was fading fast.

An easy pitch of snow to get you deep inside the chimney.

There is still an excellent cover of snow and the surface is weight bearing in some places but you are still breaking through in quite a few places. The crags are white still but the thaw and freeze has made the crags a little icy, great for the climbing but gear is hard one still. Chatting to a team who had done the runnel and from our own experiences, the snow in the gullies is brilliant yet. consolidated in some places but still mostly loose but there are some helpful sections of ice about.

Hannah about to do battle with the crux.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

A winter Cuillin traverse.

After my visit to Skye last week and seeing how much snow was on the ridge I had been keeping an eye on the forecast to see if the weather was going to do what I wanted it to. Thankfully it did and after a quick phone call to Mike to confirm my thoughts Ken and I packed our bags on Monday and headed up to Skye.

Abseiling off the West ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean.

A cup of tea at Mikes and some info about a couple of bivvy spots and then we sorted the transport out and left the car at about 8pm so we could bivvy in Coire a' Bhasteir to put us at the start of the ridge first thing in the morning. A cold nights bivvy and I woke about 3.45am to head torches on the West ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean which turned out to be Guy, Kenny, Donald and Friend. We packed up and made our way onto the ridge and were stood on top of Sgurr nan Gillean at 6am. We made good progress South along the ridge from here with great conditions under foot and a track pointing the way so route finding wasn't exactly a problem.

Sunrise from An Caisteal.

A counter balance abseil off the North peak of Bidein Druim nan Ramh.

We made it to Sgurr Dearg at about 3.45 pm and stood and looked at the In Pinn and decided to do it first thing in the morning when we were feeling a little fresher. We popped down to our bivvy spot and had a  good feed and plenty of rest. Another cold night but it was a little warmer in our cave and we both got a  good nights sleep. Morning came and we made our way back up to the In Pinn which was a great wake up call and we had to switch on pretty quickly. Down the other side and we made quick progress round An Stac and over Sgurr Mhic Choinnich and Sgurr Thearlaich. We had a bite to eat at the top of the great stone shoot and took in Sgurr Alasdair before we carried on to the T-D gap and continued South.

The start of the In Pinn at first light.

Ken just teetering up the last few moves on the In Pin.

Kings Chimney abseil.

The legs are feeling tired now and the up to Sgurr nan Eag seemed to take forever but at the top we can see the summit of Gars-bheinn, the last on the ridge and it doesn't seem that far away. At the summit we bumped into John and Ronnie who had been on the traverse too, we had a quick catch up and then made our way to Gars-bheinn as a team of four.

The start of the last rise upto Gars-bheinn

Looking North back along the ridge from Gars-bheinn. 

Reaching the top of Gars-bheinn was a fantastic feeling and to be able to look back and see the whole ridge was brilliant. Not often to you get the right conditions, with the right forecast, the time off and a good friend that is in the same position. I do consider myself lucky to have managed to get this classic British tick.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Success on Skye!

Standing on the last summit of Gars-Bheinn.

Ken and I are just back from a successful attempt on the winter Cuillin traverse with some good conditions. I'll put a full report and photos up tomorrow, right now I want some sleep.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Cobbler conditions got the better of us.

With very deep accumulations of snow in the Mountains and a better forecast further South, Ben and I headed to the Cobbler hoping that we wouldn't have to do too much wading to get to a route. The lower path was icy but we were soon out of the trees and looking at a nice white Cobbler and with a set of tracks to follow it was all looking good.

Our first full view of the Cobbler in the Morning.

We decided to head for Recess route as it was catching some sun which felt more appealing than hanging around in the shade on North Wall Groove with strong Northerly winds forecast. We made it to the path junction in about an hour and a half and turned off to make a new track into the corrie. An hour and a half later we still weren't at the bottom of the route and were now waist deep in wet snow and our chosen route was now stripping quickly as the sun got higher in the sky. North Wall Groove now looked appealing but after some thought we estimated it was probably going to take us another hour or so just to get across the coire which meant we were looking at starting the route at about 1pm.

A bit of a swim to get there.

Stripping fast in the sun. You can just make out someone on the steep bottom wall.

A crack that has appeared on a freshly formed cornice probably due to the rise in temp.

Looking across the Central and South peaks in deteriorating weather.

A bite to eat and we just decided to see if we could get a quick easier consolation route in but just ended up climbing some grade II ground to get to the top of the North Summit which is about where the freezing level was. The wind had really picked up by now and we battled to get down and round to the South face again. A good thaw going on at the moment which will initially cause some very unstable slopes but it is set to freeze again tomorrow so looking good for the long run I think. The SAIS forecasts have started this weekend so please remember to check this before you head out and keep your eyes open whilst you move around in the hills.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Plan B on Skye.

Mike Lates dropped me an email at the start of the week asking if I was free for Wednesday to go and have a look at an unclimbed winter route. After some phone calls and a very generous sentiment from the partner I was supposed to be climbing with, it was on. I set off last night and we spent the night in the Glen Brittle hut so we could get an early start without having to attempt the drive in the morning.

Our first view of the ridge with Sgurr a'Ghreadaidh in the morning sun.

Looking South from Sgurr na Banadich

The Inn Pinn stripping quickly in the midday sun.

Looking South to Rhum.

We set off from the Youth Hostel this morning under clear skies but had some pretty nasty weather to get through before we reached the top of Sgurr na Banadich. From here we could see how much snow had been blown over onto our intended route and the swim down the descent gully didn't exactly look appealing. So we opted to just have a nice day out on the ridge. We headed South towards the Inn Pinn with some decent snow conditions at some points along the crest but there is a lot of snow up there at the moment and going is slow in some places. We met up with Tom, Annie and Gemma who had come in along the West ridge and then we all made the bum-slide descent into Coire Lagan. A stunning day to be out in the mountains and my first winter day on the Cuillin, I'm looking forward to more.   

Monday, 3 December 2012

Hiding in the Ice Factor

Working with Ben and Dave today with some students from the West Highland College, it was supposed to be a day of outdoor rock climbing but with an inch of wet snow outside my window, plans were obviously going to change. After a quick discussion it was decided to change this weeks days around so today we spent the day in the Ice Factor with some coaching but also giving the students a chance to get some mileage so they could get their leads for CWA training. 

It snowed heavily at sea level all morning then turned to heavy rain after lunch, there is going to be a lot of fresh snow on the hills and getting anywhere is going to be time consuming and hard work. Lower lying routes will probably be the best bet for the next couple of days.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Bombing out on Stirling Bomber.

Alex and I fancied a short day so we decided to head to the Northern coires and grab a short route. We opted for Stirling Bomber and were glad to see no one on it as we arrived in the coire. We'd heard reports about people having to dig their way up routes but thought they were just over exaggerating  they weren't. Alex set off up the first pitch and after an hour and a half of digging and climbing later he finally arrived at the belay. I followed up and was surprised at how much climbing there was on it, a good lead by Alex.

Alex hoovering his way up pitch one.

My turn now and and thankfully the lower part of the upper corner wasn't as plastered as the rest of the route but the slab and higher up were covered in thick rime. I made my way up a few meters with some good hooks and torques and managed to find a semi rest so I could place a high nut before I stepped Right. Just as I unclipped the rest of the nuts from the one I'd placed my right foot popped and the next thing I knew I was hanging by the rope minus two axes and still with the set of nuts in my right hand. I shook myself off and managed to get back to my high point clip the nut and continue. Unfortunately my next runner was a large cam in an icy crack that didn't exactly fill me with confidence. After a few more minutes of clearing and digging I called it a day and climbed back down to a peg and lowered off. Just means I'll have to come back and show it who's boss another time.

My high point today.

Quite a few teams out today with all the usual suspects being climbed but gear is hard won and the climbing is time consuming, more fresh snow forecast overnight too. Pick your route carefully and get prepared to dig and dig.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Menage a Trois.

With the conditions looking good I gave an old climbing partner Alex a ring to see if he was free to come up from the Lakes and he was very keen to get here as soon as possible so headed up straight away. With the good conditions having been reported we knew things were going to be busy so we thought we'd avoid the normal areas and headed to Beinn an Dothaidh just North of Bridge of Orchy. This crag has a number of routes in the range we were looking for so we had a few more options if it was busy. Thankfully our guess was right and there were only two other teams in the coire in the Femme Fatale area. We headed round to the West side of the crag which looked fantastic, lots of rime and a good covering of snow. We opted for Menage a Trois at V,6 as it is one of the classics of the crag and now I can see why, three pitches with some great climbing on the First and Second. Where the turf is exposed and there is less snow it is frozen solid but in the bigger snow bays the snow has been insulating the turf, it is frozen in places but not everywhere. A great first route for the season and hopefully more to come. 

Me bridging through the crux.

Alex looking for that bomber placement over the crux bulge.

A beautiful sight to top out to and a great finish to the day.