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Tuesday, 16 December 2008

A secret Howff

As a little boy back in Germany I was very keen on stories about 'Räuber Hotzenplotz' - a Robin Hood-like bandit - who lived in a secret, remote place in a dark forest. My dream at the time was to know and use such a place as a hideaway. I only recently heard rumours that there was such a place in Scotland: built in the 1950s, tucked away in the hillside and unknown to the landowners in the area at least at the time. When researching a strategy for a remote winter climb 'the Howff' was mentioned and whilst there is no grid reference there are a few hints as to where it might be. In the end it warmed up and we did not do the remote climb but Ryan and I decided to look for the secret Howff instead.

The temperatures were well above freezing and a lot of meltwater came down the hills in a couple of streams that crossed our track. We could jump most but had to wade through one of them. The photo below shows Ryan crossing it.

The path then goes uphill and after quite a bit of searching we found the secret Howff hiding well in the hilside. Inside it is a very small place and there is a plaque mentioning those that erected it in the 50s, two Saltires, and a logbook. We took photos of each other with the Saltire in the background and another photo of both of us using the timer function of the camera. Here is Ryan on the photo below ...
and that's me, again below, Henning...

... and that's us both together.

I have on purpose not posted a picture of the Howff itself from the outside as that might reveal a bit too much of the story. So good luck to those that try to find it and thanks to the heroes that build it. If you find it, please keep it secret folks!

Western Rib II/III

After another soggy night in Johns tent, this time in the sugar bowl car park, John and myself struggled to leave the relative warmth of or bags to don our cold damp clothing for another day on the hill.

The Corie Cas car park was empty when we arrived and only a couple of cars had arrived by the time we set off. With a light, but constant, snow falling we made our way up i to the high Corie, breaking trail thought ankle, knee and the odd pocket of waist deep snow made the going tough thus it took us longer than usual to reach the mountain rescue box just after dawn.

We were both keen to try the Seam but the cliffs in the Coire were plastered in ice and snow, also still feeling slightly groggy form the previous days outing, we decided to try an easier line. I'd looked at Western Rib ii/iii a couple of years ago but had never tried it.

We geared up and soled up goat track gully to the base of the route identified by a 'toadstool' shaped block. John led out up a corner that got steeper with height, this proved tricky to move in to but once firmly in good neve was found i the back. A powder laden slope led to the next belay. From here the way was clear and the crux was in sight. After climbing a short rib then a tricky traverse i found a reasonable belay were i brought john up to the stance.

A short wall lay ahead, this was climbed inch by inch after much scraping of the rock to clear the ice hiding any useful cracks and hooks. Next up was a fine rib to the plateau but to gain a stance on the rib i had to climb out of a gap, much like tower gap, after much pondering and scraping i found the good hook and a torque then finally committed to the moves. After that the way to the top was clear and easy ground lay ahead.


Monday, 15 December 2008

North Buttress IV,4***

With the weather forecast looking wet on the east side of Scotland John Forrester and myself decided it would be best to head west. After a damp night spent at the north face car park under the Ben. in the morning we quickly came to the conclusion that there would be too much powder to climb in the Ben so we headed to Glen Coe and the iconic mountain Buachaille Etive Mor.

We had our sights set on North buttress. After much route finding problems, in the dark and both new to the hill, we found the start of the route proper. A fine line of chimneys leading 150m up the north buttress.

I had the pleasure of leading the first pitch after drawing the short straw. The chimney's provided good climbing for the grade and warmed us up for what was to come. A climb with three cruxes. The second pitch looked much harder. John was keen to lead. A short narrow chimney with some good back and foot moves needed to gain height led up to a snowy gully.

The next consisted of a short rib then a steep chimney, which proved to be the real crux, with some good technical moves and balanced crampon work the last of the difficulty's were behind us.

The rest of the climb is quite straight forward, though under heavy powder it took longer than one would have liked. Once we topped out on Stob Dearg, we had the magnificent view of Ben Nevis, glowing pink in the setting sun, just breaking through the clag.


Sunday, 14 December 2008

Deep Cut Chimney IV,5****

Today Brian and I met at 9 am at the Coire Cas car park. We had a look at the harder options in Sneachda but they would have required a lot of cleaning and we therefore decided to walk over to Hells Lum to do deep cut chimney. The first photo shows the whole Hell's Lum crag on a good day when Adam and I did Route Major on Carn Etchachan. Deep Cut Chimney is to the left of the icy middle bit.

We walked in a whiteout and ended up well below the crag due to my far too casual and thus poor navigation. Here Brian is gearing up after the slog through sometimes deep snow.
The climb starts with a long, rising traverse passing the middle section of the crag, which was well iced today, followed by 'Nobody's Fault' before the deep cleft of deep cut chimney becomes visible. The photo below shows Brian below 'Nobody's Fault' (marked by big blocks on the right hand side of the fault) and Deep Cut Chimney is the next one.
Most of Deep Cut Chimney is tech 2-3 with a few steepenings that are tech 4. Today the snow was powdery and so it was often more swimming than climbing. However, the ice axe placements were mostly OK on the steeper bits, where the turf was more exposed. The photo shows me on the second pitch leaving the belay. The chimney gets narrower and deeper after that.
The chimney ends all of a sudden with a cul de sac and adventurous and good value back and footing is required in order to get out of it (abseiling at night is, however, another option for the more advanced mountaineer).
The back and footing section required a lot of cleaning and I think Brian doesn't need a bath tonight because I provided a constant snow shower for about 30 min while trying to clean this section and look for foot placements and gear. Both are good when finally unearthed.

Definitely a classic with a great atmosphere and the return from inner earth is fantastic climbing.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Invernookie III,4**

Sunday dawned another fine day and i found myself high in Corie an t Sneachda again though this time with my good mate John Forrester. We had our sights set on the seam. a classic iv,5 and according to Mr. Duthie the best of it's grade in the Corie. unfortunately it looked like most people on the Fiacaill buttress wanted to climb this also! so the decision was made to climb the neighbouring Invernookie iii,4.

The bottom two pitches were straight forward and the difficulties far from consistent. On pitch three i encountered some good climbing
up a steep step that perhaps would be easier with more build up. The second step in this pitch proved to be the crux and an interesting one for the grade. Good moves on good gear brought me up to a large ledge were i belayed john up. John, a rock climber at heart, reveled in his first taste of mixed climbing.

John was keen to lead the last pitch and i was happy to let him have it, giving me the chance to snap away. Leading in good style with endless positive hooks in no time he'd climbed the corner and found his way in to the groove
and thus the ridge proper. It started snowing lightly as i seconded the last pitch some people say this is the crux but i doubted it, not in these conditions anyway. I joined John at the top and could tell that this wouldn't be the last time we climbed together.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008


On Sunday I had my second outing this season and my partner this time was top gun Brian. Conditions seemed good and there was a lot of snow in the pass of Drummochter area (see photo above) but much less north of the pass. Aviemore and the Norries were much leaner than anything to the west of the A9.

We walked to the bottom of Fiacaill buttress and decided to do Belhaven, a V,6**, which looked best. We were queuing up behind an Edinburgh team (see photo below). Belhaven is a climb of two parts: a walk up to the bottom of the corner and then technical and thin but not strenuous hooking to the top. The turf was well frozen but a lot of the north facing rock was bare whereas the south facing bits were reasonably covered. We both climbed the corner relatively quickly and were back in daylight at the car. All the training seems to pay off.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Finger ridge IV,4***

The forecast suggested a fine calm day for Saturday. So Adam Henley and myself hatched a plan to tackle the respectful fingers ridge iv4 in Corie an t Sneachda. leaving Aberdeen at a ridiculously early time, we manage to reach the Corie cas car park for half 6 and this puts us high in the Corie at the mountain rescue box, were we bump in to another group from Aberdeen, just after dawn. the crag looks dry, not a great amount of snow around or rymie ice on the rocks but still in good condition for mixed climbing.

We gear up at the box and say out good lucks and goodbyes to John, Pete and Roy and set of for the route. The bottom proved to be tricky with iced up steps before i could arrange a good belay. I lead out by down climbing slightly then starting the traverse pitch, which although isn't really that steep until the end, proved more thought provoking than it would appear. Managing to get a good look at the second pitch while i brought Adam up the the belay stance, it looked like the fun was about to begin, steeper climbing lay ahead. The forecast was right, clear sky's and light winds ensured many walkers were heading up the goat track, getting a front seat view of us on the ridge.

The climbing soon steepens up with the moves and the exposure gained as i moved up made the climbing joyful and exciting. I climbed the fat rib 'til it was possible to cross in to the grove. Trying firstly to climb the left wall of the grove but this proved too hard, so i had to make a slightly desperate traverse back right in to the groove. This was climbed by way of jamming my thigh and lower torso in the wide crack at the back. Good hooks and torques make the climbing straight forward though enjoyable. Adam soon seconded me with ease until he had the airy traverse to deal with. Much humbling followed, then with a little hesitation he committed himself to the move. Next he had the groove to tackle, which he did in good style and with out any great difficulty.

After a short corner the ridge becomes narrow and exposed on both sides and farther up ahead the finger pinnacles that give the route it's name. i climbed through the middle of the two fingers and gaining a stance on the left one produced some interesting moves. The route then followed the wall straight in front of me to the top, but i notice a small corner to the right and traverse in to this. Climbing the corner proved to be harder than it looked at first, with a couple of nervy torquing moves i reach easy ground and the top. Bringing Adam up i can tell he's enjoying the moves as the time he spends in the corner and the huffing and puffing coming up from below. Soon he joins me though and we're both pleased, two happy chaps.