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Sunday, 25 January 2015

Forestry Commission V,6

On Wednesday Arno Alpi sent an e-mail saying 'I need some mountain air'. As there is tons of adventure in front of our doors we went into Glen Clova to have a look. There was ice forming in some areas but some buttresses had lost their snow after the mild thaw on Friday. We decided to go into Corrie Fee, the lowest Corrie in Clova, which seemed a viable option after an overnight frost.
 Two or three teams had a look at Look C gully (good luck to them, the main icefall did not look formed). We opted for the large face to the right where Robbie and I had done two long mixed routes previously. After testing one groove that contained a useless icy crust we moved on to the lowest groove which contained good neve, some ice and solid turf. Here I am starting pitch 1. Unfortunately the groove is hidden (see topo at the end).
 Above the groove the snow was less consolidated and there were trees on the face which is one of two reason for the name of the route. So bring plenty of slings! I belayed at a big block at 60 metres. The next pitch was semi-consolidated snow without much of a line and we reached a tree belay to the right of the rocky band that divides the face. I knew that there was a steep wall with a good crack but the wall was not really in full winter condition, it was much steeper than it looked from below (tech 7?), the crack seemed to finish well below the top of the wall (tech >7?) and all these reasons were much appreciated by myself as it allowed me to chicken out. Oh, we also started late and still had lots of climbing to do. This did not prevent us from taking a photo though!
 Instead I opted for a groove line to the right. Again it turned out to be steeper than it looked from below but had good gear where needed. 20 metres of sustained, technical and in places superb climbing followed to reach a ramp that led to the upper part of the face. Here I am on the second of two easy pitches (it started to get dark...) to reach a belay at the bottom of the buttress seen above ... 
 The buttress had little snow so we opted for a groove that separated the main buttress from the small buttress to the right. It contained good neve and turf and sufficient protection at tech 3. I just continued on easy ground whilst Arno started to follow at dusk. After more than 6 long pitches, all close to 60 m, we topped out. So overall a climb with some overlap with other routes but the crux groove and probably the start and perhaps the finish should be new ground. We then descended D gully to the right. It was well consolidated so would have been a great grade I climb during the day. 
 Here is Arno at the bottom of the face keeping the diesel going with some coffee.
 Overall we rate the climb V,6 as the crux groove is technical and physical and goes on for a bit.
Is it worth it and when to go? The face to the right of Look C gully is a good alternative if the main ice cascade of Look C is not properly formed as was the case yesterday. There are many possible lines (we have done 3 now), several buttresses and grooves for technical climbing allowing anything from grade III to VII. The face is in good condition after freeze-thaws and cold nights so that the snow is consolidated and that the turf is solid but it is doable as long as it is cold. Avoid climbing it after a big dump of snow and Westerlies as windslab may form on the snowfields. It is a big face for Scotland so expect 6 pitches or more. Not something for everyone but Arno's and my rat have been  well fed.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

More Angus glens mixed

After a holiday on Cuba Simon and I went to a new corrie (for me) in the Angus glens. We started early and a nasty Northerly was blowing.
 It took a long time to the bottom of our buttress and I led the first, easier, turfy pitch with limited gear to a ramp. Above the climb proper starts. Here Simon begins the second pitch...
 ... and here he has reached the crux, a deceptively steep, short corner. 
 There was a lot of snow around but almost all turf was in good condition. 
 At the end of he ramp Simon had to swing over a rib into another groove which again was steeper than it looked from below. 
 Above some easy climbing in markedly improved weather...
 ... to a tricky but well protected corner which was a special, highly enjoyable gift!
 (Photo SR) V,6 we thought with some great technical problems linked by turfy ramps. I was missing the trees though!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Corrie of Farchal: Silver Threads among the Gold, IV,5

Winter begins and I managed a short exit ticket. Brian and I decided to go once again into Corrie of Farchal which is to the South of Winter Corrie in Glen Clova. Here is Brain during the walk in: snow! The hills did not look promising from Forfar but from 600 m onwards there was snow.
 I continued my 'new' tradition of starting the season with 'Silver Threads among the Gold'. It is a three pitch IV,5 with a short walk in and some great climbing, arguably the best winter buttress climb in the Angus glens. Here is Brian on the last technical problem of the first pitch. 
 There are plenty of chimneys, technical walls, a cave and some variation. Here Brian climbs a steepish little wall. 
 Whilst the turf was admittedly poor at the start it was good here making the problem considerably easier. 
 After that a tunnel pitch, a troglodytes dream, to emerge at the bottom of the final wall.The wall is steeper than it looks and balancy but has, like the rest of the climb, good gear. Top conditions up here as the spindrift had plastered this area.  

Overall a great climb which is not obvious at all from the road but reveals its qualities to those who climb it! Brian thought one star in average and two stars in good conditions.

Sunday, 16 November 2014


Suilven is one of the classic Scottish hills. At 731 m it is a Graham so not a Munro or a Corbett. As winter climbing was off the agenda due to the mild November weather, Abdalla and I drove the 3 h to the North West. I decided to do Suilven as a trail run from the East (see route). The best walking route is probably from Canisp lodge near Lochinver. But we chose to go in from the East because I rather run more and drive less. My GPS route is shown below. 
Previously I had seen Suilven from many angles and because of its unique shape it was a hill I always wanted to do. Here I saw Suilven whilst kayaking with Giulio and the other Tayside sea kayakers...
 ... and here from Stac Pollaidh whilst walking with Ana. 
 The route from the East was bog central especially after the recent rain falls. Also the paths are faint or do not exist and so the going is slow.  As a consequence I gave up on the idea of also doing Canisp, shown here to the North. 
 I approached via the long Eastern ridge. After the first top there is a large drop but a small Cairn on the Northern side marks a scrambling descent to the bealach (on the left in the photo). This is not straight forward, exposed scrambling. It is like the Aonach Eagach but with more exposure. 
 Here the Eastern top from higher up. I started the run at the end of the loch seen in the distance. 
 Whilst much of the lower ridge was in the clag the ridge itself was cloud free. And then one of those special Scottish vistas: the summit of Suilven with the Atlantic in the distance. I could see the isle of Lewis out in the ocean. 
 Here another photo of the top...
... and here is one taken with my iPhone. 
 Here the view back to the ridge...
 ... and here a self timed shot with me running. 
 It was a long slog back to the loch. But luckily the wind stopped and warm late autumn sunlight was lighting the glen. 
 I was a little worried about Abdalla who was for the first time walking in the Highlands proper. He had a map, compass, binoculars and I had asked him to play it safe and to stay close to Cam Loch. I was glad when I saw him  on a small hillock near the car with a smile on his face. 
 It was 5 degrees but we nontheless grilled three lamb chops which went down well.  
A long drive home but we both got our fix after too many dark and wet November days in Aberdeen.


Sunday, 14 September 2014

Journey to the Bell Rock lighthouse

The Bell Rock lighthouse is an iconic feature of the North sea coast of Scotland. It marks a piece of sandstone which had cost the lives of thousands of seamen 18 km offshore. From 1807 to 1810 Robert Stevenson and 60 men erected the lighthouse using Aberdeen granite. Here is a BBC video report: and here is an article about its construction: 
The coordinates are 56° 26.065'N 002° 23.230'W or grid reference: NO762269.

Since moving to Scotland I saw the lighthouse from the coast and always wanted to see it up close. Unfortunately I was unable to join an earlier kayak trip but when Joan mentioned a second trip this year from Kingsbarns, which is 21 km away, I was very keen. We were nervous about the fog but Tim and Mike are experienced sea navigators and they were joined by Joan, Ian, Robbie and myself. Here we are about to launch.
 Conditions were exceptionally calm but the mist persisted. 
 Here the A team is checking our navigation.
 After 2 h 30 min we heard a diesel engine of a large ship and sounds which were generated by the fog horn of the lighthouse. Here is Robbie approaching the ship which is moored near the Bell Rock. 
 Finally the Bell Rock lighthouse emerged from the mist and at the same time a helicopter flew above. 
 We reached the Bell rock after 3 h and 5 min and the water was still flats. There were many seals for which the Bell rock is an ideal habitat. 
 Here are two of them. 
 We had lunch and were chatting with the lighthouse keepers while they were waiting for the helicopter. Here is the helicopter from the Northern lighthouse board.
 On the way back the sun came out at times.
 Here is Ian, far away from land but in the sun. 
Later it became windier, the fog returned and it was difficult to follow a bearing due to waves that came nearly at a 90 degree angle. Here is our return route. We saw land about 3 km North of Kingsbarns.
Here we arrive. We had paddled over 46 km. 

Skye, Tay dolphins, Abroath

Finally another blog entry after a summer with much sea kayaking, hill running, cycling but less climbing. During the 19-20th of July Karin organised a trip to Skye, paddling to the Black Cuillin on the first day and then around Soay, a small island to the South of Skye, on the second day. The starting point is this stunning beach in Elgol.
 I had brought my fishing gear and BBQ as we were grilling in the evening. Soon I had two mackerel and a large pollack. Here are Karin and Gordon on their way...
 We transported our kayaks to paddle in Loch Coruisk, a loch which I had seen several years earlier whilst doing the Black Cuillin traverse. 
 On our return the tide was out and so we had to do a sliding return into the water.
 The evening was wet but I BBQ'd the mackerel and pollack together with lemon, salt & garlic. A very hungry school party ate the rest in no time. The next morning we paddled over to Soay and around it...
 ... to have lunch on the other side. 
 A week or two later we had planned an easy paddle on the Tay but the dolphins were out. So we tried to get close.
 Here is one of them, less than a kilometre away from our front door in Broughty Ferry. 
 In August Paul and I went to Arbroath for a kayak fishing trip. Paul had also bought a creel in order to catch some lobster. We managed to launch and position the creel without any incident although it was a bit of a precarious affair. 
 Clouds came and went but we only had a few drops of rain. Here is Paul paddling near Auchmithie...
 ... and here we are leaving Auchmithie bay. We soon caught a few mackerel for dinner. 
 On our way back we collected the creel and despite 0.5% expectation there was a lobster in there. Here is Paul paddling home with his prey. 
What a great country to live in for active people. I hope we chose the right future for this great nation in a few days time...