Sunday, 31 March 2013

Alpine Wanderings - harnessing the ice

Craig and Mark headed uber (like, really uber) early for another Cold Climb Classic - this time the much sought after No. 6 Gully of Aonach Dubh in Glen Coe.  This had seen a bit of action recently and they wanted to bag it before the winter starts again!!  Lovely cold spring weather just now - keep it going please?

Spot the cloud?
So, Nick Bullock and Craig don't have much in common - he climbs super tough routes...Craig doesn't! - but they are inexorably linked!  Two minutes from the car park, I muttered something unrepeatable and advised Mark I knew what had been niggling my bird brain - I'd forgotten to pack my harness...what a dope!!  However, I undertook to test the improvised sling alternative, by way of self flagellation penance.   Never tried it before and wont again - it was not overly comfortable and a fall would test parts of your body you'd rather not have touched in such a way!   So I put a 'screamer' thing on to the rig, for added protection, and off we with some trepidation!

We were second on route but the pair ahead were soloing it to the crux and were off and running.  We kitted up ahead of a couple of hardy Lake District dudes who had climber Minus 1 on the Ben the day before; a proper sociable pair they were too as we chatted much on route etc etc.  Hope your drive wasn't too bad?

Anyway, I took the first pitch with a nice short ice section, and Mark the second (walk!), third in prep for the crux (which I didn't fancy with my 'new' harness on) and fourth (crux).   It is pretty steady going to the crux which is a mighty long ice pitch of supreme quality.  It starts off nicely and gets increasingly steep near the top.  Nowhere technically difficult but the piton on the left wall at half height was appreciated; the exit from the pitch demands ones attention and, latterly, the pitch was very wet - like bath wet, which was surprising given we left the car at minus 3 - must have been an inversion going on?

Anyway, Mark brought me up and I led out the gully on the right to the top of the route.   A beautiful climb - maybe best of the year?  Close to Green Gully and maybe surpassing.   A worthy inclusion to this year's palmares, and the Cold Climb listing.

We moved round to the corrie of Stob Corrie nam Beith and dug a quick hasty-pit to check avalanche conditions - and found a very weak layer below the hard snow at 9".   It concerned us more than sufficiently to find rocky ground and islands of safety away from the bowl and suspect slopes.

De-kit, soup and sarnies, thence packing bags saw us heading off the mountain in truly alpine conditions - it was an amazing winter/spring day in glorious sunshine and stunning white landscapes...a photographers wonderland!  I enjoyed it too :)

Anyway, with more time, we might have continued our journey but I was on a mission to get home, and help out Bill who was running a mountain bike expedition assessment in and around Aberfoyle; drive to Glen Ogle to move the truck and trailer to Drymen saw us home in time for partying and thoughts of more winter climbing...if it's still here after hols...fingers crossed!

NNAS wanderings

Craig has been out doing work in the past few days teaching navigation skills as part of the National Navigation Award Scheme (NNAS).  This is a great way to learn the skills needed to keep you safe in the hills.

He was out with a group of young people who completed their course on Thursday around Aberfoyle area, then on Friday Craig and Kathleen headed for the hills above Loch Lomond towards Helensburgh for a tour of Craperoch, a great wee hill for getting to grips with bearings, features, timing, pacing and interpreting ground to map and vice versa.

It was a beautiful crisp day and Kathleen brushed up on her skills with a view to getting her bronze award in early course.   We even included a winter element (not really part of the award!) in the light snow higher up.

Monday, 11 March 2013

These Boots Are Made for Walking...

Craig and Mark took the opportunity to visit Ben Nevis for some serious CPD and to check out the Hilux for luxury camping!

Sadly the Hilux is about a foot too short in the 'boot' for comfort but it is acceptable for 5 am starts in the North Face car park.   Saturday saw the wind blowing a traditional Scottish 'Hooly', which made climbing near impossible (beyond justifiable risk for us) and walking a real struggle.

We got into Corrie na Ciste and Mark was blown off his feet, thankfully just as he got his crampons on and was able to recover being lifted about two feet off the ground - the wind was really gusting that bad...with a wind chill factor of about minus lord knows what - there were plenty of doleful looking monkeys about, that's for sure!

Rather than climb, we went on a long journey around the corrie scoping out future routes and having a good day chilling (literally) in the wind.  It isn't really until you get higher in the corrie that you realise just how massive the Ben is - the scale of the whole place is pretty intimidating and there are 100's of climbs to be had at all grades.   We had a leisurely tramp out and some fiery pasta for dinner to set us up for Sunday...

...which saw us up early and into the corrie around 6am.  We sped past all and sundry on the walk in (the youth of today have no will power!!) and found ourselves first, by the proverbial mile, into Corrie na Ciste and onto Green Gully.   Only a couple of parties from the CIC hut came close to us but we got to the route first and showed them a clean pair of heels.

Mark led the first pitch and we swung it to the top; it is a great climb, meriting its Cold Climb Classic status.  Although stepped out, the pitches are all bomber hard neve and great steep ice pitches on 1, 3 and 4 pitches - well worth its grade.  Protection is pretty scarce on some pitches but manifests itself at just the right times...2 rusty pegs at the top of pitch two came into sight at just the right time, backed up by a couple of bomber ice axes!

It was staggeringly cold on the climb mind you, with us both shivering uncontrollably on belays, despite wearing every stitch of clothing...that said, it reminds you what a great day you're having :)   We made good, efficient progress to the top, topping out in the start of a passing snow squall.   We descended gingerly via the Red Burn - because of its bomber hard neve, and my 9 month old ankle injury which continues to cause me grief.

A stop off for the biggest box of chips we've ever had at the chippy in Fort William saw us down the road in time for a celebratory Mother's Day toast and then bed for a well earned snooze!

A great weekend, with lots of good learning points and an excellent climb ticked off the list.

5 star Simply Epic fun

Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Streak

Craig and Mark had another super alpine start and got walking into Stob Corrie nan Lochan at 0630hrs.  We started light, bags and clothes, in the rain but by the entrance to the corrie proper, we were down to base layer and waterproofs off completely - it was a warm day and the prospects didn't look great.

We got to the corrie in 1hr 25m and, not surprisingly, it was empty.  The buttresses are black but the gully lines looked ok.  We jumped on to Twisting with intent to do the RH variation but it was somewhat watery underneath and the top of the pitch looked thin and fragile.

We got up Twisting with gusto and, with plenty time on our hands, down climbed NC gully and jumped back on Raeburn's Route on summit buttress for two pitches. This was very thin and felt like summer climbing.  Suspect SC gully is in but the ice pitch might be running out fast, tho it can be avoided with harder mixed climbing to the LHS - otherwise there is plenty of snow in the easier sections tho I'd be careful of collapsing cornices, which are beginning to sag all over the top.

All in, a great day but we felt slightly cheated out of some harder climbing.   The snow is very sugary in places but hanging in there in the shade.  If the warm spell continues, SCNL might be running out fast...bring on a freeze, please!