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Sunday, 22 February 2015


Just a quick post to show the current conditions in the Angus glens. On Sunday Ana, Sharon, Paul and I drove to the Clova car park to practice some winter skills.
 Not much winter left in the glen and whilst Corrie Farchal looked quite white, there was little left in Winter corrie. 
 Equally, Corrie Fee was black and even A and D gully were largely stripped. So we practiced on a snow slope near E gully to reach the normal path...
 ... to the White Mounth plateau. 
 From there southwards...
 ... to the top of Mayar which was Sharon's and Paul's first Munro.
 More winter skills on the way down (hard neve yesterday) ...
 ... and some sunshine with a view towards Driesh.
It is all changing again with sub 5 degrees temperatures and rain in Dundee meaning that snow will accumulate higher up. Freeze thaw cycles are predicted for the week so thing will look better for winter climbing and ski touring next weekend!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Hadrian's Wall Direct V,5***

February is the time when the icy lines on Ben Nevis come into condition. The cliffs collect snow in December and January which in February repeatedly thaws and freezes to transform into snow ice. One of the great icy lines which I had never climbed is Hadrian's Wall Direct, first climbed by Mike G. Geddes and Graham E Little in 1971. Robbie was available, I had some time, the forecast predicted not too much wind and some clouds on the coastal hills and the UKCers and guides seemed happy with the conditions. So game on. Robbie and I left Dundee at a relatively late 5.15 am but the drive was smooth and we were racing up the hill, overtaking several teams on the way. And no coastal clouds!
We drank some water at the CIC hut and quickly ascended past the Douglas boulder towards Point Five Gully seen above Robbie's head and Hadrian's Wall to the left...
 Here is a photo of Point Five Gully and Hadrian's Wall. The route takes the inital ice fall, followed by a chimney, easier snow fields and a final band of iced up rocks. 
 Here is a team from Aviemore on the first icefall, the key feature of the route...
 ... and here yet another team joining the Point Five party!
 Here I am starting the icefall.
 I am initially a little nervous on ice but after a few moves the routine comes back and it all feels solid. Robbie then led the second pitch of the ice fall...
 ... whilst team Glasgow was hot on our heels.
Hadrian's wall is a good point to take photos of the lower pitches of Point Five, seen below. 
 The icefall of Hadrian's eventually relents and a chimney becomes visible, here tackled by team Aviemore. 
 Here I set off, carrying the limited rock gear on one sling and the quickraws on another. Rockgear is almost useless as there is 90% ice screw protection. 
 After the chimney two long pitches ascend the snowfield which was mostly good neve with a couple of welcome ice blobs for screw protection. Here is Robbie on the first of the snowfield pitches...
 ... and here I set off on the second aiming for the final rock band. 
 Two pitches then climb the rock band at roughly grade IV. Climbing with 60 m ropes allowed Robbie to belay near the place where the Aviemore climber is seen. 
 From there it was just 15 m to top out. Here I climb the last metres of the route.
 I walked off onto the plateau and Robbie followed on a tight rope. Here I am on the top of the UK once again with a clear view ranging from Schiehallion to the North Western hills with hardly any coastal clouds...
 The skies turned into a warm orange...
 ...easing the descent.
 We mountaineered into number 4 gully where the normal entry was blocked by a cornice and bum glissaded to the CIC hut. The skies were a mix of pink and blue. This is me...
 ... and this is Robbie in a photo taken with a flash.
 We slogged on to arrive at the car just after 6 pm.
No need to comment on whether it was good as some things are self evident.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Skinning up and skiing down Ben Tirran

After two weekends of winter climbing I had planned a no hills weekend. But the skies were blue and a strong North-Easterly is easily ignored. So I jumped into the car at lunchtime to head with my skis for the Angus glens to look for a skiable hill. The foothills such as Cat's Law were not white enough but Clova had collected a lot of snow overnight. So I went to near Rottal lodge planning to skin up and ski down Ben Tirran. Here is my GPS recording of mainly the descent. 
 Clova was surprisingly wintry with the Eastern side being much whiter than the Western side. 
 Sun and February snow. Here some of the dune-like sculptures on the way up. 
 I initially wanted to skin around Loch Wharral which is in the Corrie seen in the distance...
 ... and this is me heading that way (selfie)...
 ... but I spotted a line of continuous snow on a burn which is labelled as 'Gowed Hole' on the OS map. It is clearly visible on the image below. 
 I skinned up, largely out of the wind ...
 ... to reach the summit. 
Actually the real summit is called 'The Goet' and is a rather flat 600 m away from this cairn to the East. But I did not fancy skinning the scoured top in the icy wind as time was limited and as the descent looked like skiing heaven. So after a short stretch of skinning over the scoured heather I reached the compact, soft snow of the burn to experience a few minutes of skiing heaven all the way down to the car. Very much recommended and much of it will survive a thaw.

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!