Thursday, 22 March 2012

The mighty ben, and a lochaber sunset!

1st day of Spring, bring on all things good and dry!

A trial with panorama mode on my smart phone, not perfect, I can assure you though that the view was excellent!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Ironman hoping!!

For this years challenge I have chosen to TRY an ironman triathlon which, will be in Bolton of all places!  As of a week ago, serious training commenced, following a 20week programme that I found off the internet, lets hope the person that wrote it knows a thing or two or I could be in trouble!  But up until now and just flicking through the upcoming weeks it looks like a well thought out programme so hopefully ill finish the race before it gets to dark and will be able lend a bit of advice to people who would like to try one.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Rjukan Ice Climbing

I was meant to post this after I got back but have been mega busy!!  First trip to Rjukan done and definitely not the last, amazing place.  Luckily Matt and myself had Grandfather Dave and Edd to show us around which is always good in a new place.
There is obviously a very good guidebook and a lot of information on the web but I thought I would just share a couple of our 'top tips' if you are heading out there for the first time (next year now).

Edd, Matt & Myself

Trapfoss, brilliant route

Dave cranking

The little dots at the bottom are us, these waterfalls line the valley

Matt top roping at Kroken

I packed for everything, from rain to extreme cold but most days I found myself wearing softshells and having a light jacket to belay in (Nano Puff).  However speaking to Sandy and Rob who were there working, the week previous was extremely cold, down to minus 20 so definitely worth packing for everything.  We flew with Ryanair to Oslo Torp (Sandefjord) who are renowned for taking your money!!  So I got the lightest bag I could find (as the bag can lose you a couple of kilo's) and weighed it before I got to the airport.  We each had 15kg and the 10kg hand baggage, I wore my boots (Phantom Guides) and down jacket through check in.  We all took abit of food, tea, coffee etc... when I go again and there is a few of us I will be buying an extra 15kg bag just for food as reckon this would work out cheaper between you rather, than buying all the food in country, excluding the fresh stuff.
We hired a Ford Fiesta from 'Sixt' which was big enough for four people and only used one tank for the whole trip.  One week after returning I did however receive a random receipt from 'Sixt' for an additional driver fee which we did have, but I presumed we had paid for this when I received an email thanking me for paying the full amount, so that is worth bearing in mind, apart from that it was the cheapest rental company I found at the time.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Back to school with a bump!

Tuesday was one of those days that gives your ego a good hard poke... We felt like there would be no stopping us this season as we prepared to slowly crank through the grades, we’d been climbing loads and had found Sioux wall really quite ok. But by the end of the second pitch of Ventriloquist we started to think that we’d been having it easy. 

Arrival in Lochain started well, next door to us an American lady (perhaps Canadian though) set about changing her base-layer, displaying her sports bra only to get blasted by spindrift halfway through, screams and laughter followed, she laughed too so totally acceptable! 

Anyway back to climbing, Luke got the first hard pitch on our route, barely 20 metres.  I arrived at his belay having nearly fallen off several times –not to say this is rare, but this time I felt quite at the mercy of the rope above me. 
–An off balance start, climbed with hands for most of the way, and an all on the arms not so positive final section.  
Luke on P2 of Ventriloquist
I nearly always relish having the crux of a route but my confidence was already shaken by what I’d just climbed.  Anyway, I self talked my way up the start of the pitch, unfortunately I was still in “this should be easy mode” so rushed the first bit and thought I’d be able to just stand onto the first pillar that guarded the crack proper, wrong!  I ended up committing myself without taking the trouble to place any gear and so faced with the choice between a difficult down climb or a out of balance feeling move with no gear.  The third option was to hook tat hanging at the base of the crack, I swallowed my pride and reached for it, bollocks.  After placing a couple of pieces of good gear as high as I could find from the pillar I started to get stuck in.  An axe hammered into the crack just above my last piece, a high grip on my axe and a high search with the other.  Nothing!  I tried again this time with my feet a little higher and found a rather thin feeling placement in the back of the crack.  Shouting watch me I committed and removed the hammered axe, searching high I found an edge on the left of the crack, committing to this I found another thin placement for my other axe.  Now what!  I couldn’t muster the effort or the grunt to hang on with one hand to even attempt to find some gear, no real obvious possibilities anyway, maybe if I had a size four or five cam... Anyway I didn’t have one and after a bit of hanging about I decided to weight the ropes, my gear just below my waist.
Myself on the crux pitch 
I felt a bit silly of course and ruminated that this was what climbing was, if I wasn’t prepared to risk a ledge hitting fall whilst pulling into uncertainty I wasn't really climbing.  With a few rational words from Luke and a decision from him to leave it for today as we didn’t have any large gear I moved over to Auricle.  Well what an ‘easy’ option, what absolute bollocks.

Yours truly getting in the groove of Auricle

Strenuous climbing on thankfully positive hooks led me to an overhang, above which I couldn't find any good hooks so reached and pulled on some tat, my ethics totally out of the window now.  

So next and final pitch, entrance Luke.
Luke on the final difficult pitch of Ventriloquist
First he headed down to top rope the crux of Ventriloquist to collect my gear, having to resort to fist jamming a substantial portion.  I was consoled to see he struggled, weighting the rope several times reassuring me that I’d made the right decision.  Now for the final pitch... Luke led off out of sight, I settled into my double belay jacket, arranging the tea and food bag within reach.  Quite a while and multiple watch me’s later he was safely belayed.  I set off, an initial two difficult short corners, then a heinous pull left and up followed by a paralyzing pose for a few minutes trying to figure out what the beep to do. Then a sheepish shimmy right along a narrow ledge with axes wedged down a crack.  Then a shuffle back left once I realized I couldn’t get up that way.  Somewhere around here the Americans abseiled past, Nick bringing up the rear.  A few supportive words from him at what felt like a trousers round the ankles moment helped a bit and I pulled myself together to make the move onto the penultimate ledge. 

I was now about 8 m left and 4m down from the belay, I had a v baffling move right to make.  Luckily there was gear to prevent a swing so I left it in and clipped a long sling to it to save me from a monster pendulum.  A high axe, high handed, the other axe higher still and I tried to rock over onto this chest high ledge.  I tried again and again getting slowly frustrated with it all, eventually I pulled really hard and went for the rock over and I was off, my axe had ripped.  The gear held and I didn’t swing far but I was later to find that one of my rope sheaths had been cut through by the granite ledge.     
I was the antithesis of an old bag of suds after this but by foul means or fair I arrived at Luke’s Belay.  By now the strong warm westerly had arrived and everything was melty, by the time we’d made it back to the corrie No. 1 buttress was black. 

Back to the car in the dark via the now v slippery path we bundled ourselves into my trusty Skoda and drove back west, ready for a rest day. Before parting company we agreed that we would have to return to school soon!       

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Dare I say living the Dream?!

So, strong westerlies, rain, freezing levels frequently above summits, the end of 2011 was pretty crap. But in comes the new year and despite things not being perfect, the gods have actually allowed some great climbing.  
I'm a bit behind with the blog so here are some of my photos from the past two weeks... 
 5/1 Luke on Chimney Route VI,6 Stob Coire nan Lochain
 9/1 Luke and the Mamores from the Cairn Mor Dearg Arete

14/1 Mark on Stirling Bridge V,7 Aonach Mor
 13/1 Luke on Two Step V,5 Ben Nevis
15/1 Mark underneath Stand and Deliver V,5 (route 1 of 2 for the day), Camilla left. Aonach Beag N face

15/1 Three classic Ice lines, L to R - Royal Pardon VI,5 / Camilla V,5 / Stand and Deliver V,5 Aonach Beag N face seen on our approach to the NE Ridge III,3

16/1 Konrad on Smiths Route V,5 Ben Nevis

19/1 Liam on Va Va Voom M8, Newtyle Quarry, Dunkeld

20/1 Luke on P1 of Sioux Wall VII,8 No.3 Gully Buttress, Ben Nevis
20/1 Myself on P2 of Sioux Wall 

So there you have it, the weekly life of a winter freelancer! Please don't hire us to actually work, we're having far too much fun! 


Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Knackered Knights Raid Knoydart

Meall Buidhe

Leaving the main road after Invergarry the rain seemed to increase in ferocity as we wound our way down the 22 miles of single track which ended in the small hamlet of Kinloch Hourn. The windscreen wipers intermittently revealed the last dregs of civilisation slipping out of view; we drove deep into the heart of the glen.

It had been raining for most of the day now and this coupled with the snowmelt of warmer temperatures was causing the line between road and river to blur continuously, torrents overtook tarmac. It had been a long time since I had seen this much water pouring off the hillside and our emersion into this water world was complete where we finally parked, as the road ends and Loch Hourn begins.

Steve and I had made a last minute decision to seek a bit of adventure before I returned to work and he had to get his head down to some revision for imminent exams. With the forecast looking so bleak it was hard to imagine getting much done but the holidays were nearly at an end and we both wanted to burn ourselves out before the return. Looking for something big to do we both realised that neither of us had been into Knoydart, mainland Britain’s great wilderness. There are few ways to penetrate this vast area, roads only reach its very edge and the sea defending three of its sides, by boat or on foot are the only ways to unlock its secrets. This would be the ideal stage upon which to set an epic escapade!

We knew we were going to get the question was just how wet. Having psyched ourselves up we left the car and quickly put our waterproofs on managing to only get slightly damp in the process. So the march began, it was 10km to the bothy at Barrisdale where we planned to stay the night before attempting the three Munros the next day, this should take us 2hrs 30mins; or so we thought! Silence descended along with the darkness but the rain didn’t let up in intensity by now the water was seeping through the two pairs of waterproof trousers I was wearing and my boots were beginning to fill up. The path wound round the edge of the shore moving away from the lapping waves only to climb over impassable sections of cliff and ford the rivers. Given the state of the rivers on the drive in we knew that where the path crossed the now raging streams we may have some difficulty but little prepared us for what we found at the first crossing point. The river was only 5m wide but was moving so fast that there was only white water visible. Moving down to the shore we found a slightly better place to cross and waded thigh deep to the other side with relative safety. The question of how wet we would get was answered; soaked!!

River wading

Staggering on the wind had now picked up and this only confounded problems as we were met with our final hurdle just 2km from the comfort of the bothy. There seemed no obvious place to cross this one. A bridge marked on the map must have been washed away and it looked as though you would be immediately swept away as soon as you stepped into the water. I was feeling particularly fool hardy and indestructible for some reason and seeing only 7m between us and the bothy I decided to go for it at the narrowest section. This was a massive mistake as I was soon up to my waist and my legs were taken from under me. Just getting back to shore by the skin of my teeth I avoided the watery grave that awaited me as I was swept into the loch wearing full waterproofs and carrying a 13kg bag, what an idiot!! Taking stock of the situation Steve reminded me of one of the many reasons I go into the hills with him. Taking the logical approach he got the map out and we soon realised we would have to climb up the river bank to where we could cross safely at its source. This involved 500m of height gain and a detour of 4km. The rain and wind did not allow us any respite and after an hour and a half we reached the great bog where the river split into many streams allowing us to pass more safely. Right on cue Steve’s head torch began to flicker and die; just what we needed! Luckily mine was quite powerful and we pushed onwards above the snow line to a col where we could just make out our final destination. Slipping and sliding back down the 500m to sea level we arrived at the bothy, 5hrs after leaving the car. The lack of a fire meant that it would be an almost impossible task to dry our clothes but we hung them up and got some food on. The luxury of having shelter from the rain was incredible and we sat steaming in our wet clothes, eating and sipping whisky before bed.

Waking at 6am from my waterlogged nightmares I could hear the wind howling outside still. Tea seemed to be the best option and we sat in our bags brewing up. Moral was at an all-time low, the last thing we wanted to do was get into wet clothes and face the maelstrom again. One hour turned into two as we sat at stalemate with the wind, finally as it grew light and we could drink no more tea the weather eased. A frantic rush of activity followed as we shoved wet clothes on, Steve chanting “Hardcore do you want more?” to get himself in the right frame of mind to force on his dripping trousers!

Coming off Luinne Bheinn

Strong Winds

Morale took a u-turn as we left the bothy in high spirits and soon were half way up the first summit of Luinne Bheinn. The weather seemed stable and we powered up to about 800m before a sudden rise in the wind speed forced a crawl to the summit. Being unable to dry out our boots made for very cold feet above the snow line, stopping for more than 10 minutes meant my feet started to freeze so perpetual motion was necessary. Meall Buidhe fell quickly but the wind tried its best to beat us back. By this point our late start meant it was three o’clock and we were stood at the col staring up at our final hurdle Ladhar Bheinn, the decision was made almost immediately to go for it; we hadn’t walked all this way to not get the three done! Estimating 2hrs 30 to the summit we set off at a ferocious pace soon to realise that our legs were tiring. A steep climb to the ridge brought us into view of the impressive corrie as dusk fell. Pushing on up the ridge the snow became thicker and progress ever slower and more laboured, thighs were starting to fade as we realised that the 300m of ascent was going to take a lot longer than expected. Our head torch beams probed the darkness looking for the relief of the summit which was seeming impossibly far away, starting to stagger and stumble I was getting to the point of exhaustion. Luckily I could see Steve was feeling the same so no pride was lost in stopping for a much needed glucose injection and rehydration station. The cloud was down as we dragged ourselves up the last 100m climbing to the summit arriving at 6pm to see the lights of Armadale which seemed a world away from our isolated island of snow in a sea of darkness.

The Final Summit!

Now for the descent! The map showed a narrow ridge which would afford us a safe passage down to the corrie. However the way down was unclear and cliffs surrounded us as we inched down the bullet hard 50° neve. Usually this kind of slope would not be too big a problem but I had decided to bring along a pair of slip on crampons with no front points, more suited to granny’s grocery trip on an iced pavement. Inching down Steve did his best to kick me steps but it all felt very unstable and the safety of the ridge was not forthcoming. Quick decision making was needed and we chose to descend the ridge we had come up to avoid me falling 400m to the corrie floor cursing my choice of crampons the whole way down! Retracing our steps was a good call as we were soon down in the corrie with not too much extra effort. Driving some more food into our stomachs we marched the 5km to the bothy on the last of our reserves. We were walking out that night no matter what so as we cooked we packed our bags for the return journey and Steve tended to huge blisters round both of his ankles. It was 11km out to the car if the streams allowed us passage. Feeling a bit more alive we started the walk with Steve hobbling like he had a red hot poker up his ass and was walking on hot coals! The pain was clearly horrific but being the hard man that he is no complaint was made and he set an intense pace for the car. As we approached the river which had caused us so much problem on our way in we discovered a small stream running under a bridge, obviously totally covered by the raging torrent on our way in. Ignoring the slap in the face that this caused we finally arrived back at the car 16hrs after leaving the bothy with Steve’s feet in tatters and our legs feeling the burn, but we had escaped the forgotten peninsula with the three jewels in its crown. Driving through the night our beds were reached at 5am after a 34hr epic car to car covering 46km and over 4000m of climbing.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Time Travelling on Ben Lawers

With my 25th birthday fast approaching I felt that some sort of celebration was in order. I had two options either a massive drink or spending some time in the hills with good friends. I decided on the latter, secretly knowing the former would follow! Finding partners was easy, back from Spain and spending Christmas with his family near Edinburgh was a dreadlocked man with thighs of steel; Michael Coppock, and ever keen to get out on the hill in the run up to her Winter Mountain Leader award (WML), kayaker extraordinaire Georgina Maxwell completed a Munro bagging team to be reckoned with!

Due to Mike having no transport we decided to try and tick some of the southern Munros. The Ben Lawers chain seemed the most logical being close to Mike’s house and having a possible 8 Munro ticks in a day. Staying at Mike’s house the night before, we would meet George and her border collie Jackson at the car park in the morning. Loaded up with leftover turkey sandwiches Mike and I left at 5.30am arriving to wake George from her comfy, car slumber at 7.00am. Starting in the dark we made fairly good time up to the first summit of Meall Greigh but despite my enthusiasm for the day I couldn’t shake the feeling I had a very serious case of man flu building! This was soon forgotten however when our resident WML trainee announced that she had forgotten her gloves! With the wind chill being pretty severe Mike kindly provided some so as George could guide us round without her hands falling off.

Looking towards Ben Lawers

All went pretty smoothly until the third top of An Stuc, here a steep climb must be undertaken to reach the summit. A scramble on a summers day but with a layer of hard neve covering the hillside it would be quite a challenge for the 4 legged member of the team Jackson. We valiantly cut steps for him up the grade I ground for 100m which he duly ignored using his built in crampons to race to the top. An impressive effort indeed putting us in our place!

Step cutting for the dog.

Pushing on now, towards Ben Lawers, we came across a few people out enjoying the mountain. At first I was mildly annoyed at our solitude being disturbed but I reminded myself that these were popular hills much more accessible than the remote mountains I had visited in the past week. They were probably more annoyed to see us scrambling all over the summit trig point and joking loudly about Mike’s 1950’s mountaineering attire. He had managed to dress almost entirely in wool and was carrying a large alpenstock style axe; quite the pioneer!

Port and Cheese at the top my man?

Still having 3 summits to climb before we dropped down to the car and would have to make the decision about the 8th Munro we sped onwards to the summit of Meall Corranaich and Meall a’ Choire Leith. Jackson was showing some signs of flagging but that was to be expected when you suddenly take him on a 20km walkie! The nice weather we had enjoyed in the morning also decided it had had enough and we were now in thick cloud with snow threatening. Reaching the final top we started a long descent down to the Lochan na Lairige dam. From here to get the 8th top of Meall nan Tarmachan would mean another 2hrs and with rain driving in my face and my man flu worsening I put heroics to one side. Finally the four bedraggled adventurers emerging out of the dark to the car, and just in the nick of time as Mike’s wet woollen layers had long ago stopped insulating him and were now in fact performing the opposite function! Time to retreat, dry out and have a drink or two after a very satisfying day.