Monday, 29 February 2016

Versatile Coffee Cups

SCNL Summit Buttress Ordinary Route from C Coid on Vimeo.

Winter has arrived at last (for weekend warriors anyway!).  Stunning stellar morning with alpenglow over the early hills...things were looking good - hopefully the cold snap had made for great conditions.

A sunny Creish
The infamous Hurt Lochan
Craig and Mark had Scabbard Chimney in mind and headed up the Hurt Lochan light, bright and early with only a couple of parties ahead.  On getting to the corrie, the route was clear and had a pleasant trench to the base.  However, the cold snap had caused evaporation to dry the snow pack and what was left in many places was a powdered sugary top-pack which collapsed under weight - a feature of the day with some steps eventually collapsing and becoming a near insurmountable face.  There is also a lot of surface hoar about making for dangerous future conditions if we have another dump of snow soon.  That said, it made for a beautiful corrie.

Simply stunning
Scabbard looked thin on the first slab with the first 3-4metres battered out (understandably!) and covered in verglas and useless absent/thin neve.  Craig led off and got into the thin slot on the left wall but the lack of a good placement on the main slab made for very tenuous moves and getting a foot hold proved too much.  Common sense prevailed and down he came with Mark giving it a bash...he found precisely the same problem; at V 6 it was always going to a 'fun' but this was too committing and they decided it just wasn't worth it on the day.

P1 Scabbard Chimney - thin and difficult
P1 Ordinary Route
Thence to Summit Buttress Ordinary Route - one they have looked at for some time but never got round to doing.  It starts about 10metres left on a different crack line and off Craig went on pitch one - again a fairly thin line which meanders up a steep wall, traverses far left and continues up - this time to a very busy belay!

Mark coming up to p1 belay
After a while (big while) Mark climbed through on an easy pitch and we wondered if the fun had finished...however, given the easy p2, Craig gave up the third pitch and Mark headed off up a steep, thin chimney line.  This proved to be a very nice pitch with some spice; in retrospect and referencing the book we wondered if this was the grade V finish.  It ticked all the boxes from the guide about mantel shelfs and thin chimney/ledges etc but we're not sure - if anyone knows for sure, grateful for some beta and/or pics.
Mark heading up p3 - V variant finish??
A long solo to the top saw a quick pack up, sarnie and fast descent of the NE ridge in fabulous condition and also some sun for the first time that day - we were in shade for the route.

Despite the disappointment of Scabbard 'Chim-no', this turned in to a 5* day with super weather and a fine new route, which merited its grade and 1*, maybe a 2* route in our minds.

About the coffee cup...really, you wouldn't want to know!

Monday, 22 February 2016

Sense and Sensibility

Craig and Mark saw a scrappy forecast and pretty rough avalanche predictions for the snow pack so a local day seemed more amenable than a long drive to waste.

They headed for the Cobbler thinking of a route, any route, which might be climbable. The weather was poor at the carpark but the rain turned to wet snow around 350-400m with deep pockets developing on approaches.

Slow progress going up
We plumped for Maclay's Crack but in the mist it proved more difficult to find than we anticipated. We soloed up some increasingly steep ground then topped out on a plateau adjacent to Great Gully. 

Snowy approaches
We were on the cusp of predicted avalanche ground so our radar was on - there is no SAIS for Arrochar per se but the West Highlands forecast is good enough to adapt to local interpretation and gave us sufficient info to be aware of the predicted Considerable warning - human triggered avalanches likely!. We zig zagged cautiously, with care and sensible heads on, up towards the route belay, digging a couple of hasty pits enroute, which showed two weak layers at 8" and just short of full depth. 

Thinking about it...
As we were about to start the climb, a fairly significant sluff of snow came down GG and then down Maclay's Crack. We discussed things and decided conditions just didn't justify the risks, so we ran away down the safest exit path - seeking islands of safety, away from terrain traps and the line of fire. 

There was more snow on the mountain than we had anticipated from the drive up & walk in; significant wind slab, with cross loading, was developing on N to SE aspects and sink-pockets were up to 5' in depth! It was a place demanding respect and we were thankfully in a 'safe' place to make good our escape.

Wind scoops, wind slab and plenty blowing snow too
It was a day framed by sensible decisions...not least of which was trying out the new Jottnar Alfar jacket. A cracking warm jacket worn as a mid layer (love the hood!) over the equally excellent and comfortable Uller base layer.  Even in the wind with a pretty significant windchill factor, we found this combo (and the Bergelmir hard shell) to be more than sufficient to keep us toasty, even on belay.  Thanks to Tommy at Jottnar for turning around a quick order for our weekend fun...check out their apparel - top notch quality kit from a quality British company, focused on the winter mountaineer and skier.

Scary loaded slopes

Sunday, 14 February 2016

What ever happened to the rain...

Super freaky avalanche threats enunciated by many had Craig & Mark keep a keen eye on conditions with a trip up Shelf Route high on the agenda.  This is a really nice IV 6 route up high out of Crowberry Gully on the Bookle which has a spicy finish.

We checked the face from the Jacksonville carpark with binoculars and saw plenty of loaded slopes and wind blown snow...a recipe for a bad day demanding good decisions.

Blue steel

We headed up and found plenty of snow with a 2" layer of new blown snow on top of much of it.
We took the route for Curved Ridge and crossed low down towards Crowberry Gully and got to the entrance proper.  There was plenty of soft snow about but the first hasty pit was quite encouraging on a NE'ly aspect.  We moved up another 10m and dug another which released without assistance about 8-9" down - very scary.  We chatted and decided  to climb directly out the gully on our left - a nice steep line onto a snow terrace and upwards onto Crowberry Ridge.

There were patches of useful and plenty useless snow for climbing and we got to the route proper with three chimneys ahead of us, accessed by a thin snow terrace.  Mark led off towards the centre one, the correct line,

but when he got under them, he climbed the left hand chimney which turned out to be very thin...a fabulous lead by Mark on seriously hard terrain - the route proper is a much easier line!

We continued on but knew we were now off the route line.  Some steep ground ahead took us to an airily perched perfect block belay and abseil point.  After a bit of work, we were off on the first of four abseils down to the bottom of the route and low down on Curved Ridge.

All in an excellent day with good climbing and good decisions.  A sunny but very, very cold day with plenty disco dancing on belays to keep warm.  We hope to return next week for a shot at the route proper if we can get to the base via Crowberry Gully...a scary place today, which had no other parties in it.

NB pack even more tat next time !!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Catching Up

Midweek play in the hills with Lucy and Wally who are in Fort William on hols and working...lucky them.  East Buttress of the North Ridge of Stob Ban was the plan so we met in Glen Nevis and headed off at 8 early start from Glasgow...

One of the warmer stances!

It's a long walk in, with soft snow and a some recent avalanche activity nearby.  Once at the base, we kitted up and swung leads to the top with a slim rack, with me getting the first pitch which had a couple of nice steps on it.  It's a fairly long mountaineering route going at II/III but it never really felt at the grade for me; maybe a solid II but Wally felt it was solid II/III.

Wally on pitch 4

To be honest, grades are irrelevant as this is a lovely route up the mountain and we got it in pretty friendly conditions - cold, windy but reasonable placements.  There are a couple of nice traverses on it which demand your attention but all moves are well protectable.


Moving well, five and a bit 'pitches' later, we got to the outlier summit and got some food down us.  Then striking north down the ridge, which was fairly spicy at grade 1 probably, saw us back to the car in reasonable time.

Craig on p1

First time on this ridge and it was entertaining, and the company was great as always.  Nice to catch up with the Arran duo and hopefully not so long til next time.

Enjoy the forthcoming biking, walking, skiing and climbing...livin' the dream :)

Most pics courtesy of Lucy

Monday, 8 February 2016

Just Doing it!

Craig and Mark brought Liam and Robbie out for a bit of winter skills and fun in the hills.  With limited experience, they wanted an input on avalanche awareness and safe travel in the snow.

Given the truly pants weather, we all departed from the Coe carpark in a gale and driving rain...a proper winter day indeed.   Once in the lee of Gear Aonach, we made for the Zig Zags, a good way to the Hurt Lochan in such conditions.

About 20 minutes in, we all began to leak and the driving rain eventually won out over all kinds of 'waterproof' gear, however, once we got to 400m the temparutre dropped a bit further and the snow was not quite so soggy, although it remained saturated for the whole day.

A short fun-filled trip up the ZZs saw us don goggles and keep them on mostly all day.

On the ridge, the full effect of the wind became apparent and blew us off our feet on a number of occasions; sensible travel decisions were needed.  Plenty of chat and hasty pits, which reflected a high avalanche threat with a very weak layer 12" down, saw us take care with route choices avoiding obvious windslab.

Once we got to the lochans, it was obvious the weather was winning out, with a number of groups departing for the sanctuary of lower ground.  After a chat we headed down the well trodden path out the E side of the corrie and had a bite to eat out the swirling wind.  Thence to carpark and further sanctuary of a warm car to dry out sodden clothes.

Despite being a 'three pairs of glove' day, in some of the most miserable weather in a while, we all enjoyed ourselves with lots of learning for Liam and Robbie, most importantly when to accept the weather has won!   There were reports of avalanches out of Broad and SC Gully...a good day to avoid the approach slopes!