Total Pageviews

Monday, 17 December 2012

Grooved Arete, Aonach Mor

Two colds, plenty of work and weekend thaws had kept me out of action this winter so far. But when Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell climbed the Vapourizer VIII,8 (****?), the much sought after direct ice start to Vertigo Wall followed by a traverse into exposure heaven with a hard and airy finish out of the cul de sac where Andrew, Robbie and I had to return two years ago I was going cold turkey like Gene Hackman in French Connection 2.

The forecast did not look good with a freezing level of 1000 m but we decided to try Aonach Mor where both Robbie and I had never climbed. Aonach Mor was high enough for the forecast and also there is a mix of ice and mixed routes. Here is Robbie, with a Nisbetean winter climbing beard, waiting for the gondola. Definately not traditional (i.e. the gondola).
From the top of the gondola it was still a decent walk to the top where the ski guys were very helpful. We quickly found easy gully, kicked a snow bollard and abbed into our own world. We were the only ones.
It was all white, icy and buried and so we decided on Grooved Arete V,6*** (ex IV,5) climbed first by Simon Richardson and Roger Everett in 1988. Here is Robbie walking past the twins area...
Here I am starting the climb. It starts not well defined but soon forms a distinct ridge.
The turf was still well frozen but many of the cracks were icy. Thus easier climbing but not much protection. Here is Robbie starting the crux pitch...
... which culminated in a vertical corner with hooks slightly to the left so that the rockover was out of balance. After that one more step and it is an easy slope to the large cornice. However, the angle is easier but the snow is less compact and so a delicate approach helps. I found a not too bad bit of cornice and tunneled for maybe 15 min before moving onto the plateau.

After retrieving the rucksacks we realised that we had only 15 min to get the last gondola. We thus ran and bum glissaded down the hill to get the comfy ride down with 5 min to spare.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Too fast too furious

Not really cold enough for winter climbing? Not much time? Need to get strong? Need to be precise with ice axes and crampons? For those living not too far away Newtyle quarry is a good option. So Robbie and I went last Saturday again for working 'fast and furious', a route by Scott Muir graded D10, which is the drytooling equivalent of the mixed M10 grade. We managed both to clip the first 5 bolts before giving up pumped. The other team in the cave were Andy Inglis and James Higgins who had bagged several grade VIIs and VIIIs last winter season and who both managed to redpoint fast and furious last season. Here is James belayed by Andy on the 'too fast too furious' (D11+) extension after jugging up to the roof.
Also Andy attempted 'too fast too furious' and I made a wee video of his impressive attempt in order to get more footage for a video on conditioning for Scottish winter climbing. The video is here...

Monday, 5 November 2012

The long way over the Minigaig

As a teenager I spent much time with Supertramps 'Breakfast in America' which was the only tape I had at the time. Whilst listening to 'take the long way home' and all the other songs I planned a cycle tour through Sweden and Norway. The tour happened only many years later but the longing for long ways stayed with me until today. So when I came across the Minigaig walk in Cameron McNeish's 'Scotlands 100 best walks' I knew I had to do this. The opportunity came last weekend. Declan and Ana were up for it and so we met in Blair Atholl as we wanted to walk from Blair Atholl in the South to Kingussie in the North, a distance of 45 km or 30 miles over the Minigaig which is a mountain pass. It used to be the equivalent of the A9, an old trade route that connected the two settlements since the 16th century. 

We met in the Bothy Bar of the Atholl Arms Hotel on Friday night for good food and a pint. We then walked out into the cold night past the whim plantation to reach via snowy landrover tracks the Allt Scheicheachan bothy. Here it is in the morning...
... and here it is when Ana and I arrived. Dec had gone ahead and lita candle in the window. We had it to ourselves. It was a frosty night.
We then walked a boggy path to reach the landrover track of Glen Buar at Bruar Lodge. A few holes with blue skies opened up from time to time.
 Several herds of red deer were on the western and eastern flanks of the glen.
At the cul de sac of the glen I went ahead to prepare coffee and soup for Ana and Dec before ascending the   Minigaig plateau. Here we ascend from the glen.
The path is marked by irregular cairns but at one stage the normal path was hidden by snow and so we just followed deer footprints near a stream that would meet the regular path according to the map. We were in the clag but the sun was at times nearly breaking through turning everything into an white-orange glow. Here are Ana and Dec in the distance close to the Minigaig which is the highest point of the pass at the northern end of the high plateau.
 And here are Ana and I near the highest point of the Minigaig for the official Minigaig photo.
On the descent the clouds left us and we saw the hills of the Monadliath, of Glen Tromrie and Glen Feshie. Here is Declan putting the first foosteps into the fresh snow...
 ... and here is Ana.
 At the bottom several miles of boggy ground are the link to Glen Tromrie where we pitched 'camp orange'.
 Glen Tromrie comprises tarmac and landrover tracks and it is a long plod to reach the road to Kingussie.
 Here is Dec and the sign that shows the other way.
 Two miles of road to reach Ruthven barracks where the grey skies opened up.
 Here another view with a snowy hill and Kingussie in the distance.
We took the train to Pitlochry and taxi back to Blair Atholl for meal number 2 in the bothy bar.

A great trip well worth doing. For planning, ensure to go with the wind if its Southerly or Northerly. For our weekend a Southerly was forecast and pushed us all the way. Also go lightweight as the felt weight increases over the miles. You don't need to carry water as there are streams nearly all the way. Good places to stay are the Allt Scheicheachan bothy but it can be busy in summer. So only use it alone or with a small group. In summer camping on the Minigaig plateau should be great. In Glen Tromrie the camping is not that great and it did not help that the drunken retard of the glen felt that he had to stop daddy's landrover in front of the tents at 3 am, put his super deer lights on and honk his horn for a while. I think I saw him the next day with daddy in the big rover. He now looked like a retard with a hangover...

Monday, 29 October 2012

Fast and Furious

Newtyle is a chossy slate quarry near Dunkeld which was developed for drytooling by Scott Muir. The climbing there is 'unscottish' because many holds are drilled and it is bolted and most definately not in winter condition. However it became fast and furiously the training ground for many of the leading Scottish winter climbers. Andy Turner, Dave MacLeod and Greg Boswell have all drytooled here which enabled these climbers to become strong and to learn to hook precisely. It is the major hard winter climbing training venue in Scotland. More recently other training tools training tools for indoor climbing such as FigFours became available although surprisingly they are not allowed everywhere even when toproping and using a spring leash.

The gradings are D grades to indicate drytooling followed by a number for the difficulty analogous to the bolted mixed climbing M grades. A landmark route is 'fast and furious' which was first climbed by Scott Muir and has been given D10 (the highest current grade is D13). Here is a very nearly successful attempt:
Fast and furious from Henning Wackerhage on Vimeo.
Sorry for the amateurish soundtrack and a note to all the Aberdonians: the ice axes were later retrieved.
More information on Newtyle::

Monday, 1 October 2012

The rough bounds of Knoydart

First apologies for not blogging over the summer. We climbed mainly on plastic as the worst Scottish East coast summer coincided with a lot of enjoyable work. As I was mountaineering-deprived and as Roger and Mike were also well up for a challenge, we decided to do Ladhar Bheinn in the rough bounds of Knoydart which is here:,804019&st=4&ar=y&mapp=map.srf&searchp=ids.srf&dn=580&ax=182452&ay=804019&lm=0

Act 1 The walk in. I left work early and Roger and Mike flew to Glasgow where they hired a Vauxhall Corsa. The plan was to meet in Barrisdale on the Knoydart peninsula. I arrived at the remote farm in Kinloch Hourn just after 20 h, payed the farmer a few pounds for the parking and as I saw a Vauxhall, I assumed that Roger and Mike were on their way. Over the next two hours I was going fast over rough terrain, wading through several wild streams with much more up and down than I remembered to eventually arrive in Barrisdale. In the Estate the lights were on and after a little bit of searching I found the bothy with noone in there. 

I forgot to say that it was wet, very wet and very windy. The rain reverberated on the metal roof. I cooked Korean noodles, had a beer and decided that it was no point searching for Roger and Mike and went to bed. At 3 am the door opened noisily and Mike and Roger appeared. I got up, brewed a tea and Roger and Mike told a tale of 5 and a half hours of dodging streams, losing the path and moving through high bracken. Here they are enjoying a very late night/early morning brew.

Act 2 Ladhar Bheinn. Given the late arrival we slept until nearly 9 h, had a good breakfast and set off towards Ladhar Bheinn which dominates Knoydart. Here is Mike on the Northern ridge with Loch Hourn in the background...

The skies were grey and it was windy but we had some views and made it to the summit by lunchtime...

... and had lunch in a sheltered spot. But Mike felt not surprisingly tired after the nocturnal walk in and so we decided to just do Ladhar Bheinn.

Here the dramatic corrie rim further on...

... and here another picture of the rough path.

We decided to drop into the corrie where we saw groups of red deer. I forgot to mention that it is the rutting season and so the whole weekend we heard stags roaring on the hillside. Here is Roger further down with a view onto Loch Hourn and Beinnn Sgritheall, a Munro on the other side.

Also the skies became lighter, some blue appeared and it was warmer as well. Mike decided to go at his own pace as he wanted to find a place to have a nap in perfect solitude, to recover a bit.

Here we reach the final descent towards Barrisdale...
... and here we reach the bothy. No idea how the tractor got there but Barrisdale is a hunting estate and the owner and guests were hunting while we were there. Also, as the bothy is on the estate the owners have put an honesty box and ask guests to contribute £3 per night. Although unusual it is fair as the bothy has a toilet with running water and is very well maintained.

Act 3. The dinner. Our early arrival and the fact that we had brought a lot of food meant that we could have a multi-course dinner which we did. It included tea, Korean noodles, Pasta with Carbonara sauce, Pasta with tomato sauce, Custard with Kiwi and dried apricots and beer, Aussie wine and some Ardbeg to finish it all off.

Act 4. The walk out. After 9 h of sleep we set off on our return trip which took us 3 h walking at normal pace. Some blue skies appeared and the hills on the Southern side of Glenshiel appeared. The hill on the left must be the Saddle which is reached by the Forcan ridge. The streams were not in spate despite the rain at night and so it was low stress. 

Here is Roger about to reach the last stretch of loch Hourn. Some great autumn colours in the light.

Act 5. The second Munro. We then decided to do Sgurr a'Mhaoraich, a solitary Munro just up the glen. Here is Mike on the upper reaches...

... and here are Roger and Mike on the summit.

Here they are on their way down with loch Quoich and Gairich in the distance. Soon a heavy shower would hit us which together with the strong wind made the walking a pain but modern gear takes the sting out of the weather.

Mike and Roger then went to Glasgow, where they spent the night enjoying watching the Ryder cup (Mike plays golf) before flying back to Oxford in the morning.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Arisaig sea kayaking

Climbing: The North East of Scotland is experiencing the wettest summer since I came here and so climbing took place mainly indoors. Apart from that a few evenings repeating routes from previous years with a bolt clipping 6c+ at Kirrie the highlight so far. It is frustrating for many of us here.

Arisaig sea kayaking: I was increasingly fed up with the poor summer and needed an adventure. So Ana and I decided to go sea kayaking in Arisaig, a good place for beginners. I got a Trak T-1600 folding kayak from Ebay and Ana rented a Valley Avocet from which were very helpful and are recommended. First we were unsure whether to go because of a windy and rainy forecast but an adventure underdose made us pack up the car and drive west. After a rainy night clear skies over the Arisaig bay.
 The bay is fantastic with inquisitive seals everywhere.
 Arisaig is known for its Caribbean beaches. We landed on one for lunch in the sunshine.
On day two we paddled out onto loch nan Uamh. A much bigger and open loch where bonnie prince Charlie left Scotland on the 20th September 1746. We paddled along Robinson Crusoe islands noting climbing potential here and there.
We stopped on a pebble beach on one of the islands for lunch. At the left is my folding kayak which doesn't really look like a folding kayak and all fits into one heavy, XL-sized golf bag. The principle of the kayak is that three hydraulic jacks tension a heavy duty aluminium frame within a heavy duty PVC shell. It is the kayaking equivalent of the Brompton folding bike.
We then crossed the loch which was 2 km wide. The swell got bigger and bigger and I kept the camera in the bag. When we got closer to the end of the loch the sea calmed, the sun came out and we made the last few relaxed strokes to the car.
The trip to the West is definately recommended and doing a course with Glenmore lodge or other providers followed by renting sea kayaks is a good idea.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Sea Kayaking Glenmore lodge course

Some time ago Ana had booked a sea kayaking course at Glenmore lodge: Glenmore lodge is the Scottish National Outdoor Training Centre which is part funded by the government and this is money well spent as the quality of the courses, instructors and equipment is second to none.

When the weather forecast displayed temperatures up to 27 degrees for Aviemore for the whole weekend we knew that that we were in for a winner. The course was £235 per person for two days which included top notch equipment (sea kayak, paddle, wet suit, cagoule etc.), a 1:5 instructor to client ratio, accommodation at the lodge from Friday to Sunday and quality food from Saturday morning until Sunday afternoon.

I arrived Friday evening and it was already gorgeous with the car thermometer displaying 25 degrees at time.   Here is loch Morlich with the still snowy Northern corries behind. A cold night and a winter climb is still possible.
 On Saturday we met Mike and Stuart, the very experienced instructors. We first practiced turning upside down and leaving the kayak in the Glenmore lodge pool. All fine. We then loaded all the kayaks onto the big trailer and went onto loch Morlich where we paddled in the sun and worked in two 5er groups on our technique: forward, turning in a circle and upside down, getting back into the kayak alone and without help and a few fast strokes. Rather good at well over 20 degrees.
Glenmore lodge provides a packed lunch for a break on the shore.
A wee bit of theory about tides and all that and then a pint at the bar. Mike and Stuart decided to drive us in the Glenmore van plus kayak trailer across the Moray firth over Kessock bridge to launch our kayaks on the other side. Again a gorgeous day.
 We paddled under the bridge in calm waters...
 ... on the Northern shore eastwards...
 ... to find a great place for lunch.
 We then caught the inflowing tide with more waves and practised paddling 90 degrees to the waves and surfed the odd wave.
 Under Kessock bridge the waves were chaotic going in all directions due to the currents, wind...
 ... and we were riding a strong current but with few waves to our launch point.
 Here we practised rescues again in salt water and then went back to the lodge on the happy bus.

Overall the weekend was one of the most enjoyable and we are now fully fired up to do some more sea kayaking. The course and other courses by Glenmore lodge and other providers are much recommended especially for beginners and intermediates as the instructors will ensure a good day and good skills. Also Glenmore lodge courses are a good idea for those coming from abroad who not only the full Scottish breakfast but also full Scottish action. Both is guaranteed!