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Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Once in a blue moon

Here it is: the ´Once in a blue moon´ buttress taken with a long exposure.

An esoteric, eight pitch gem requiring a long drive and walk in. [Well, that was a bit of a smokescreen because the climb is actually in Glen Esk] Here is the first pitch, a turfy, vegetated ramp.

The second pitch leads up to a corner with a smooth slab on the right and a difficult top out on dry turf under powder. But bashing the vegetation means that after a while it turns into gardener's questiontime!

The third pitch was my turn. A short traverse into an exposed, steep, shallow chimney. The rock was friable and it took ages to place two cams to protect the traverse and to get established in the chimney. At this stage I let my axes dangle on the spring leashes and climbed the steep bit with hands and crampons. A good hold turned out to be a loose block but it was past the point of return and I tried to focus on the job in hand rather than to worry about breaking holds and airmiles. The pump increased but holds just large enough to hang on and just solid enough not to fall out. Finally I got my axes into good turf onto an easier angled slope. Pitch four was a tricky traverse and a short and sharp step up a steep wall and then snowed up heather to a tree belay. Here is the steep, short wall.

Pitch five was a deceptively hard slab. After trying a thin hook I bashed my axe into a tuft of turf on the righ, hooked an arrete with the left axe and bridged over to a small foothold. Still laybacking I found a small hook on the arete that allowed to step up and to find better turf placements to finish the problem. Nice, technical climbing and good to learn from the pros. Here is the belay below the slab which we climbed with headtorches.

The last three pitches were easier climbing under deep powder to the top. We topped out under a blue moon, a 13th full moon in the year. Very grateful for being given the opportunity to be part of this adventure but I am ready for a Lanzarotean deck chair now!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

No Blue Skies rematch (sort of)

The morning started with a lot of snow in Aberdeen and Mark and I would not have started if the Scottish road webcams did not show free roads after Aberdeen. We found a very wintry Loch Morlich ...
... and Sneachda was a winter wonderland. Here climbers on Jacobs ladder and the slant.
No wind but it was cold. We decided to try a rematch on 'No Blue Skies' VI,7 because Brian and I had to walk off after pitch 2 earlier in the year due to darkness. Today the cliff was buried under sometimes good but mostly cruddy neve and ice. It was time consuming to find any protection and the climbing was sometimes bold and often very delicate. Here is Mark on pitch 2...
... me on belay duty ...

... and here Mark on pitch 3.
The crux move was on a flake and all the good hooks were covered by ice blobs or cruddy neve. Nothing to do a slightly overhanging move. Mark gave up after 30 min and I had a go. After a bit more gardening I found a very good hook but only for one axe and it was unclear whether the neve above would hold the cruxial second pull to get established on the upper slabs. It was 15.45 h and the climbers next to us had just finished The Melting Pot V,7. I decided to ask for a top rope (abuse now please!), did the move and found that the neve above was actually decent. Mark seconded quickly and when he arrived at the top it was already dusk.
Finlay and his mate climbed The Melting Pot and found the going tough as well. Here is them on the first pitch...

... and here is Finlay doing the crux move through the notch in the overhang. A great effort.

Conclusion: tough conditions, slow going. It should be considerably easier with either better neve or with much less of it. But the day was excellent even if the rematch wasn't perfect!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Creag an Dubh Loch conditions

Yesterday my climbing partner had to pull out and I just went to the Dubh Loch for a look. The roads were fine; less snow than reported elsewhere. First, a photo of a tame local deer.

The Dubh loch cliff didn't look very white and should be better for mixed than for ice.

I walked up central gully to have a look at Vertigo wall. There seems to be enough ice on the third pitch and there is a line to it as well. Not sure about what follows after that. It should be climable on turf and ice but is by no means plastered.

Labyrinth wasn't formed and Yeti and hanging garden did not really look in. However, Bower buttress on the left seemed OK.

To the left of central gully there is an iceline (Minotaur?) which looked quite good.

On the way back I passed funeral falls which is well formed and should be excellent ice practice.


Thursday, 17 December 2009

Gargoyle wall: reality check

The last time I visited the Ben for a winter route was in 2007 when the ice was thick, the sun was shining and hard, scary routes became easy. After a couple of good Patey routes I thought that Ben Nevis mixed would be a good idea and the recent Crocket & Richardson Nevis book put plenty of oil into the flames. So James and I decided to give it a bash on Thursday. The idea of maybe trying the stunning Darth Vadar as a first VII,7 was quickly abandoned when we saw the dark, steep creature. Also the cold, wind and iced up cracks made Darth say 'come, try me for a wee epic' in-between the deep pneumonic breaths.

So we went for Gargoyle wall VI,6*** as an alternative. Here is James approaching the cliffs. Darth Vadar is the off with on the right of number 3 gully and the gargoyle of Gargoyle wall is potruding on the left wall.

Here is another photo of Gargoyle wall coming down number 3 gully after the climb. The wide crack at the top belongs to Babylon VII,8.

I started pitch one and found it awkward, being more used to Cairngorms granite than to the iced up rock on the Ben. A step to a large ledge proved to be difficult as I did not yet trust the Nevis snow ice and the dodgy gear. At one stage I considered jumping in the style of Sylvester Stallone but then cut a step and went across. In contrast, James, who is more used to Nevis ice cruised it and then climbed the second pitch while I did the third one. Here is James following with big exposure.

The fourth pitch is the definate crux. All the holds and gear slots were covered with ice and James did a fantastic job staying on, getting some mostly dodgy gear in. It was a serious, thin lead and I struggled even to second the pitch because it is steep, there are few positive hooks never mind torques. The guidebook said it is 'memorable'. Here is James while I was standing below right in the line of fire. Needless to say, I was grateful that he didn't come off.

The fifth pitch was a groove with good neve but hardly any gear. I got a bit used to the Nevis neve at that stage and climbed better than at the beginning. Here is me starting the groove on a photo taken by James Richardson before his camera gave up!

Finally after an airy traverse on steep neve I ended up on the easy finishing ramp of number 3 buttress. A long way down followed. We saw still two parties in Green gully and the second must have become benighted. But a gully is better than a face route after dark.

Conclusions? Definately not used to iced/hoared up Ben Nevis mixed. It is scary and I prefer the granite of Carn Etchachan or Beinn a Bhuird which is more positive. But the Ben is the real thing...

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Patey III: Mitre ridge V,6****

Tom Patey needs no introduction to British climbers and certainly not to a climber working for the University of Aberdeen. Patey and his co-climbers achieved an increase in technical ability and combined with their apparent willingness to suffer in style (winter climbs without gloves) it allowed them to climb the long, striking lines that were beyond the previous generation. Winter was where Patey excelled and three climbs stand out for me: Scorpion, Eagle Ridge and Mitre ridge. They are long, sustained routes and in the 2008/2009 season I tried to do all three. I failed when Ryan and I decided after a 7 h walk in with blizzards, white outs, deep powder and a bad northerly gale not to climb Mitre ridge and returned at the bottom of the climb.

The 2009/2010 season started in late November and the weather forecast looked good enough for the 27th of November. Robbie, with whom I had drytooled two weekends as Newtyle and climbed minus one direct in summer, was also happy to do Mitre ridge as his first winter climb. I got up at 3 am, picked up Robbie at 3.30 am and we started to cycle in at 7 am. It was well below zero and there was ice on the path. At 7 we saw that Beinn a Bhuird was covered with lots of snow from 700 m upwards allowing us to cycle nearly to the point where a rougher path ascends to the Sneck. The winds were less than forecast and we walked into Garbh Choire and through deep powder to arrive at a very white Mitre ridge at 9.30 am. Here is Robbie entering the corrie...

... and here he approaches the start of the climb.

Pitch 1 was a 50 m chimney line at tech 4/5. The turf wasn't frozen but it was mainly hooking the broken granite under a lot of powder. Here is me approaching the shoulder on the impressive West face that is hidden on the approach. Cumming Crofton is the large open book corner to the right and Slochd wall, the new winter desperate even further right.

We climbed the short crux wall direct. There were only small potrusions for the front point and marginal hooks. I ensured to keep the front points in position, gently stepped up and after a breathhold found a reasonable hook and stepped up. The easy looking slabs, a hackfest if neve is present, were tenuous, often poorly protected and slow because a lot of powder had to be removed. Here is Robbie lost in a white void.

The belay was a corner with two reassuring pegs that showed that we were on the right line and to the left was the splintered chimney. The traverse on deep powder on slabs seemed trickier than the chimney itself which had meaty hooks and good gear. Here is me climbing the splintered chimney.

Above the turf was frozen but finding the turf under the powder was another matter because only the longest blades of grass were visible. A steep corner followed and then a traverse on a half-foot wide ledge to a run out, delicate, diagonal line to another corner and then a good belay behind two rocks. It was 14.30 h and because it would start to get dark at 15.30 h we decided not to do Bell's variation but ascended the Tower on the Eastern side to reach the belay above the very steep West wall. For the final ridge I ran the rope to the left and right of the mini towers instead of gear and then made another delicate traverse to the col. Here is Robbie belaying above Bell's variation.

I agreed Robbie to just walk off onto the plateau making sure not to pull too hard so that Robbie would not be pulled off one of the Towers.
After a cookie or two we descended quickly. Because of our previous 7 h whiteout adventure I bought a GPS with a 1:50,000 Scotland OS map on we walked down knowing our exact position on the map every minute. Mountain bikes and GPS, I wonder what Patey would made of it all and how much it reduces the overall effort for the climb but the GPS made it safer with the map and compass as a back up. We reached the car at 18.30 h, Dundee at 20.00 h with Robbie having done a very special first winter climb!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Glen Affric in autumn

Autumn is the last time to take in colours before winter comes with its long nights and often it is a time of good weather. This year Ana, Christian and I went to Glen Affric where birches are yellow colour spots among caledonian pines.
We camped on the car park and it was below zero over night. In the morning cobwebs were marked by dew...
... and we walked up loch Affric and then up the hillside through heather & bog to Carn Glas lochdarach (771 m) on the Southern side of Glen Affric. Towards the East it was a bit hazy and so the photos do not bring out the colours. Here is Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin which is South of Loch Affric...

... and here a more wide angle view.
To the North and West there were deep blue skies and the warm colours of the grass on the Glen Affric (North) and Glen Shiel (West) Munros with Loch Affric and the river Affric below in the Glen.
We took plenty of shots...

... with various objects in the foreground...
... which slowed our descent but the weather was stable and it was warm.
We walked beyond the end of the loch and crossed the river at Athanamulloch and then returned on the north side of the glen in a warm evening light...

... and unfortunately the sun disappeared behind the hills before we could take photos of the birches and other autumn trees lining the various lochs.

Only a 20 s exposure shot of the stream connecting loch Affric with the lower loch.

A long journey back with sheeps on the road, a curry in Elgin and an irritating contact lens.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

How to advertise Scotland

I think I could work for the Scottish tourism office because I seem to advertise Scotland a lot. So Oli, with whom I studied, and Sebastian, a friend of Oli, took the bait and came over to a cold and rainy Scotland on Friday. Gales but drier conditions were forecast for Saturday and this is how it looked at Clashrodney...

...where we climbed Chester...

... and then Capitol wall.

Oli, father of three, kept his head down and went fishing instead of climbing but finally our brainwashing worked and he had a go at the Hairline as his first climb and also did Capitol wall afterwards.
Here is us topping out traumatised after a spicy solo.
We followed the coastal route via Dunnotar castle...
... and had our desert storm on Lunan bay.
On Sunday we hit 100 balls each at the driving range at St. Andrews and afterwards I had a wee jog at Clova and spotted these climbers doing ZigZag double direct E2 5c. One of my favourite routes.

Another good weekend. Scotland has a lot going for it and I'll carry on singing hymns of praise!

Monday, 14 September 2009

Minus one direct

Due to weekend commitments, poor weather and many other excuses I only got one multi-pitch route done this year which was Inbred right at the beginning. A good forecast for the 12/13th of September gave hope for the Cuillin ridge but then the forecast changed for Skye but was good for the Ben. Minus One Direct E1 5b**** was what Robbie and I independently came up with and so on Saturday at 6.30 am sharp we walked in from the North Face car park.

The route consists of 10 pitches and here Robbie is starting the climb proper with a 4b pitch.

Two other teams were behind us. A couple from Edinburgh (you fancy a wee climb darling?) and two seasoned campaigners from Glasgow, Neil Adams and Ross Barnes while Andy Inglis managed to climb a wet Centurion. Here are the teams below.

Well I managed to get onto a wet and scary 4c pitch while the other teams avoided this pitch on the right. Apart from that the route was dry. As we got higher the exposure increased with Zero gully below.

The minus buttresses and Orion faces are the largest rock face in the UK. The photo below gives an impression of the Alpine atmostphere.
The first 5b pitch was led smoothly by Robbie and it is very soft for 5b and I had no problems climbing it with a rucksack. The following 5a pitch was much trickier with an akward layback mini-dyno. If you are short: good luck! After that a 4c pitch followed by the airy 5b crux traverse below an overhang onto a tiny pedestal above a lot of air. Here is Neil Adams placing a good nut, the best piece of gear on the traverse...

... and here Neil on joining the mini stance.

From there on climbing got progressively easier with a 4c crack towards the great terrace...

... before a 4b pitch and then a final four pitch romp up Northeast buttress.

Here Robbie is on the Mantrap probably 4b (start the UKC post now) but traditionally Vdiff (but can be avoided).
Well, a good end to a season with a good start and nothing in-between. Fourteen pitches of climbing.