Total Pageviews

Monday, 19 December 2011

Three new winter routes in Glen Clova

Glen Clova and the neighbouring Glen Prosen are the nearest winter climbing venues for Dundonians and also close to Aberdeen and Perth. In Glen Clova the two main crags are corrie Fee with the classic look C gully and winter corrie. However, when the recent Cairngorms guidebook came out I stumbled over the south facing North Craig where Greg Strange and Rob Archbold had put up a two pitch HVS summer climb named ‘High Plains Drifter’. This suggested that the crag must be steep and reasonably high. I think three years ago Ryan Slater went up in a thaw and fog to have a first look of the crag. Last year Robbie Miller, Andrew Melvin and I went up again in thaw conditions and saw surprising quantities of ice due to drainage from above but the ice was rotten as it was far too warm. Finally yesterday (17.12.2011) Arno Alpi and I decided to make an optimistic walk in as we had cold nights for a while and as the end of the week was frosty around the clock.

When we arrived we saw a lot of ice, we were out of the wind and the sun was shining! We did three routes and graded them according for ‘average’, less than ideal conditions. The routes are (see topo below):
1) White Plains Drifter IV,4* 45 m, red;
2) Whitewash IV,4 50 m, yellow;
3) White Sun of the Desert III,4 45 m, blue.

We encountered thin and hollow sounding ice making the climbing interesting at times but after a prolonged freeze on an icy day with sunshine most routes should be easily a grade easier, deserve more stars and the crag will be a mini Beinn Udlaidh (so we hope!). Presumably conditions will be good here if look C gully in Corrie Fee is in nick. We started with the most icy route. Unfortunately the ice was quite thin and hollow sounding especially the last 10 m at the top. Nonetheless, it is a rare privilege to climb ice in the sunshine in December in Scotland. Ask Pete Wisthal who experienced very different conditions on Lochnagar. Here is me near the top before the delicate stretch of ice.

Next was the corner to the right. It looked good but in pieces the ice was poorly bonded and fell off making the climbing a bit too exciting. Again it will probably be a grade easier when in good nick.

Arno then tried the final obvious gully line furthest to the right.

However the snowice on the steepest bit was hollow and so we decided entering the gully via the buttress on the left which is a grade III and will not change much with conditions.

Good fun climbing and an excellent day. Here is Arno on the way back.

Some detail for North Craig which was first explored by Greg Strange and Rob Archbold.
1) Approach: Ascent the Kilbo path, walk for about 500 m towards the summit of Mayar and then contour to find the south-facing crag at ≈700 m altitude. It is not named but marked as one black line on the 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey map about ≈500 in south-westerly direction below the summit of Mayar. Alternatively use any route to the summit of Mayar and descent to the crag. The location is NO239 733.

2) Map:,773350&st=4&mapp=oldmap.srf&searchp=oldsearch.srf&ax=323850&ay=773350&lm=0

3) Routes
High Plains Drifter HVS Greg Strange, Rob Archbold 2001. See SMC Cairngorms guide page 428.

White plains drifter IV,4* 45 m. Climb the obvious, iciest corner. If the ice is thin or hollow the last 10 m can be precarious.

Whitewash IV,4 50 m To the right of ‘white plains drifter’ climb the obvious gully line with an ice step one third up. The route will probably be a grade easier if there is good neve.

White Sun of the Desert III,4 45 m On the first attempt the ice in the gully was fragile so the buttress to the left was climbed to gain the upper part of the gully via a few airy steps.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Tainted Elixir V,6***: Northern Corries climbing on Ben Cruachan

No need to wait any longer: winter has finally arrived and Arno and I decided to combine plenty of hill fitness training with a short climb given the relatively poor forecast and the few hours of daylight. We decided on the Noe Buttress in Coire Chat (Ben Cruachan) which has only seen first ascents after 2000. We left Dundee at 6 am and here is Arno walking near the stream towards the Cruachan reservoir.

There was snow from 200 m upwards making the ascent to the 1126 m high summit of Ben Cruachan the hill fitness exercise that we were looking for.

From the summit the buttress is visible. Descend from the summit and walk maybe for 200 m on the ridge that goes to the West until you find East gully. At the bottom there is a good spot to gear up. It was Baltic with a strong, icy Westerly but the Eastern side of the crag more or less sheltered from the wind.

We decided to climb Tainted Elixir, a short, 70 m V,6*** first climbed by Chris Cartwright and Simon Richardson on the 14th of December 2003. The climbing was physical, technical and sustained and very similar to the best the Northern Corries have to offer. Gear was very good even despite the ice which required scraping and hammering. Here is Arno climbing. The steepness of the crag becomes apparent.

And here he is a bit higher.

I climbed the first two pitches as one and belayed below an overhang. The overhang was climbed with interest as the guidebook says but actually it was easier than it looked with lots of gear and good hooks, very satisfactory. After that some easy climbing to the crest. Because the climbing is so good and sustained the end was disappointing and it would have been nice if there was another pitch. On the other hand there are good looking routes to the left and right and so keen folk can easily climb another route. Here is me on the descent happy about the first route of the season.

At the end a sunrise over St Cyrus nature reserve on my way to Aberdeen. Whenever I get fed up with the dark Scottish winter days like yesterday and vistas like this make me forget all that gloominess.


Sunday, 20 November 2011

Waiting for winter 2011/2012

Last November and in November 2009 we were already climbing winter routes. Not so this year. It has been unusually warm and so the only thing we can do is getting fit for the day when winter comes to Scotland. In Aberdeen there are few possibilities to train for winter but one is an old cottage ruin near the Aberdeen harbour lighthouse. It offers a half decent traverse which I did tonight on my way back to Aberdeen:


Monday, 26 September 2011

Ben Rinnes

Currently we are running and walking some decent mileage to prepare for the Aviemore half Marathon. This Sunday, after a long run on Saturday, we tried Ben Rinnes for a wee hillwalk. An easy land rover track to the top although it was very windy in places.

It stayed dry with some good views over the Speyside Whisky country towards the Moray firth.

Christian and a granite tor I...

... and II.

Dark clouds but still no rain on the in parts soggy landrover track back to the car park.

Autumn is coming.


Wednesday, 24 August 2011


On Saturday I returned from Spain but on the way to Aberdeen I fancied doing some Scottish hill miles in order to remove some of the Chorizo fat in my poor, middle-aged body. Glen Esk is on the way and it is nice:

I jogged along the loch to the upper glen ...

... and past the falls to return over a boggy plateau to the loch.

Here is the river Esk.

After that the Tower with a Scottish sky above.

Here is the river Esk.

Yes, Northern Spain is nice and the food is far better than in Scotland but Scotland is still special. Also the days are getting shorter and after a dysmal climbing summer it is time to get fit again for the great adventure named 'Scottish winter climbing'.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Black Mamba

The summer 2011 is a bad one: it rains far too much in Scotland and I struggle to get days in the hills due to conferences and other commitments. But yesterday Arno and I finally managed to walk the long walk from Glen Clova to the bottom of the mighty Dubh Loch. We had a look at Pink Elephant but the top corner seemed soaking and so did a lot of other routes. As there was also a strong wind we decided to play it safe and did Black Mamba, a VS4c classic on the left hand side of the cliff.

We had the whole cliff, 1.5 km X 350 m, to ourselves. The first pitch involves some initially poorly protected slab climbing and the crux of the climb.

Here I am a bit higher up. The angle is deceptive. It is steeper than it looks and padding is not an option. We passed some potentially unstable rock (there was a rockfall just a few weeks ago) and quickly reached the middle ledge for lunch.

Some walkers arrived at the bottom of the loch and lay on the white sand beach.

On the higher section the route finding is tricky. We traversed probably too far left to wet ground but a rib came as a rescue.

We climbed a micro-waterfall chimney directly under the Pink Elephant chimney and needed a dodgy traverse to get to below the quartz corner where the Blue Max, Cyclops and Black Mamba finish. I then went down Central Gully to have a look at our winter route, More Vertigo. It looks impossible from below and I am still amazed that we managed to pull it off. Arno and I met again after Broad Cairn and the long walk back to the car followed.

Good to have a mountain route in the bag. Not a hard one but a good choice for the conditions. Hopefully it'll stay dryer for a while so that the routes dry off properly.


Thursday, 7 July 2011


Yesterday I visited Portlethen for the first time this year. Despite spray and high humidity the rock had mostly good friction maybe due to the Easterly wind. I climbed a few easier classics and then watched Steven Wallce climb 'The Pit', a V6 test piece. A short video is here:


Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Souter Head video

Last week Chris, Jon and I were out to climb a few routes at Souter head. Here is a wee video.


Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Fulmar Wall & Meikle Partans

Meikle Partan is the favourite of many low and mid-grade Aberdeen-based climbers since it offers climbing on perfect pink granite. Next to it is the larger Fulmar Wall with longer routes on almost as good granite in place. Yesterday Graham and I went and we started with a ***HS, The Weight.

Poor protection at the black bulge at the start but it soon turns into a jugfest in an exposed position. We then went over to Meikle Partans and climbed a couple of VSs and one of the best E1's on the Aberden coast, 'Strawclutchers wall'. Here I am having done the first section to reach the big flake.

After that the crux: a crimpy move to another break. Today I did poorly and the sling around the flake nearly came off. After that another reachy but easier move to reach the juggy finish. Here I am nearly there. In the background Slains Castle, which is believed to be the inspiration for the gothic Dracula novel by Bram Stoker.

Graham seconded it well and he should be able to lead it soon.

After that a few shots of the sea and pink sky tonight.


Monday, 30 May 2011

Lochnagar five with Roger, Mike and Adam

Mike and Roger's plane from Stanstead only landed one hour later, at 21.30 h at Aberdeen airport. After mutterings of staying at my place we decided to for the nocturnal walk down Loch Muick to the bothy where we arrived at 1 h in the morning. A sausage, bean & muesli breakfast at 7.15 h and Adam arrived at 7.45 h. Just after 8 h we walked up the path from the loch to Broad Cairn. Here is Mike...

... and here are Roger and Adam just after Broad Cairn.

Easy walking under wide skies with a cold westerly wind. Good for a reunion walk...

... with views over the central Cairngorms.

At one time it snowed and the Munros were nearly in winter condition...

... but quickly the clouds disappeared once again and the granite tor of the Lochnagar summit became visible.

Here is Adam looking down the Lochnagar corrie...

... and here is Mike on the last bit of ascent.

Team photo...

... and a view towards the Meikle pap...

... and another one towards An Stuic.

We descended to Loch Muick and had chicken soup & tea (bachelor menu). Cheers to the guys from the Dundee rucksack club for doing it up. And then Adam and I already had to leave whilst Roger and Mike stayed to savour a Scottish bothy night with the crocodile (only for insiders).

Good old Munro bagging: always special even if the weather isn't!


Thursday, 26 May 2011

Shelterstone & Beinn Mheadhoin

Last weekend Declan, a good friend originally from Enniskillen who now lives in Singapore, came back for a visit. We stayed under the Shelterstone and bagged Beinn Mheadhoin in the morning.


Monday, 11 April 2011

Spring on Erraid

In the last years we have always made a pilgrimage in spring to the Hebrides. After weighing up the options, we decided to go to Erraid, a tidal island on the West coast of the isle of Mull.

Here is the Calmac ferry from Oban to Craignure on Mull, the last at 22.30 h which we had booked to enable us to go after work on Friday.

Another hour of driving through the night on Mull and then a nocturnal, boggy walk to our beautiful beach. Bring your wellies. I did and did not regret it.

Here is a video of our trip...

Erraid does not offer spectacular cliffs but small, red granite crags. Very rough and unforgiving to climb but perfect rock. Here is Robbie climbing a HVS on the upper tier...

... and here is Arno seconding an E1 on which I had failed and which Robbie had led with preplaced gear. The grades seem tough.

On the way back to our campsite.

Robert Louis Stevenson visited Erraid and some writings such as'Kidnapped' play on Erraid. After the climbing we decided to go for a swim, which was rather short. Ze German went for the nude sprint in and out variant whilst the Austrian and Scotsman decided for the suitably dressed option just in case that a class of 30 schoolkids would turn up.

We were keen to supplement our diet with some maritime protein but our approach to fishing was not energetic enough. So no fish and Robbie is veggie anyway.

Whilst walking along the shore to try to find a more productive fishing spot we came across the asteroid chasm where we met Robbie, who was exploring the crags.

We had a look inside but it was quite wet at the bottom and so we decided against returning for a climb.

Our next climbing venue was another Meikle Partan's-like crag close to our tents. I led a VS 4c, Arno a severe ...

... and Robbie a VS 5a which involved some tough starting moves and seems a bit sandbaggy.

Robbie is clearly a better rock climber than I am now and after frying my brain this winter I was happy not to push too hard and rather to enjoy the whole atmosphere. We started a fire ...

... had some beers, Jura malt and fish-free pasta...

... and started to experiment with our cameras.

It was supposed to rain at night but in the end it stayed dry and Sunday morning emerged sunnier than Saturday. There is some superb but hard deep water soloing on the Otter walls close to the beach. In the morning I jumped again into the water and found it as cold as the day before and worried that if we would fall in whether we would get out safely. Howevrer Robbie was keen to try the 5b/c traverse despite us all struggling on 5a/s and 5b's here. Here is Robbie doing the traverse.

However, there is a cop out before it gets really hard and so Robbie finished it by a crack early. We walked back at 11 h and crossed the tidal area back to Mull at around lunchtime.

As our ferry back to the mainland was only at 17.30 h we decided to take the Fionnfort-to-Iona ferry to the Island of Iona which is a mile west of Mull. According to the Wikipedia entry the island was founded in 563 by the monk Columba and played an important role in the change to Christianity. The abbey of Iona is the icon and there are other signs of the early inhabitants like this cross.

Here is the return ferry arriving.