Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Wild Wild West

View over East from the plateau

My alarm woke at 5.30 after a poor night’s sleep, every ounce of me just wanted to stay in bed. After a short argument with myself I forced breakfast down and dragged myself into the car. 1hr of Swedish House Mafia later and I was ready to either blast up some Munros or go to an all-night rave. With the rave scene in the North West highlands being somewhat limited I started the long walk in to Seana Bhraigh, one of the most remote Munros in the country. The recent thaw had stripped the lower slopes of snow making progress quick up to the patchy snow line.
The 13km walk in took me into some very wild feeling terrain and from the summit I couldn’t see any sign of man’s influence on the land.

Seana Bhraigh summit

Choire Ghranda

Satisfied that Scotland can still evoke this feeling of isolation and wilderness I left Seana Bhraigh behind and headed over toward the Beinn Dearg chain of 4 munros.
The hard snow made for quick progress and my speed was only hampered by a strong fresh wind bringing in hail showers, stinging my exposed skin. Barely stopping for a break on Eididh nan Clach Geala the plateau took me up to the summit of Meal nan Ceapraichean. Feeling like I was motoring now I just kept walking and bagged Cona Mheall in half an hour. Now the final summit of Beinn Dearg loomed and the clouds had built up to the West. The wind picked up as I ascended the ridge and a quick turnaround at the top saw me descending into a blizzard and ferocious spin drift storm! I was forced to wear my goggles at this point and had I not had them I would have been in serious trouble!
Staggering into the wind for the last 10km saw me back at the car after 11hrs on the hill covering 33km and 5 more precious Munros. Although the really satisfying thing about the day was not seeing another soul and the feeling so far from the rest of the world only 15km from the nearest road. Time too eat my weight in Christmas dinner!!

Beinn Dearg range from Seana Bhraigh

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Glorious Grovelling in the Grey Corries

The realisation that I may be a closet Munro bagger is dawning on me! No sooner was I back from the Fannichs I was planning the next outing eager to bag as many summits as possible in the last day of ok weather for a while. While pouring over the maps my Dad offered a lift down to the Ben Nevis car park and a pick up at the end of the day. Quickly altering my plans I decided to start up Carn Mor Dearg and then head from here over the Grey Corries finishing on Stob Bhan. This would mean 6 more ticks on my list and a journey through some very wild and remote terrain. I couldn’t wait!!

A 5am start delivered me to the start of the hike at 7.00am, I was quick out of the starting gates and on top of Carn Mor Dearg at 9.00am feeling elated watching the twinkling lights of Fort William below. Taking a moment to put crampons on I could see the North face of the Ben was plastered in snow and unusually devoid of climbers! Although the cloud was swirling above I got some views of the awaiting summits of Aonach Beag and the first of the Grey Corries in the distance. From here a narrow ridge was taken down to the col between Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Mor. The ridge had a large amount of snow accumulation and these soft meringues made progress along the crest a toil and avalanche a worry. I calmed my fears by doing a few tentative avalanche tests then waded on down to the col. The climb back up to Aonach Beag was particularly gruelling as there was a hard crust to the snow which had to be broken through before I could make each step, strength sapping at such an early stage!
The mist was really closing in as I approached the summit and white out conditions became a problem on the flat featureless top of Aonach Beag. Steering clear of the ever present cornice on the North East face I gingerly made my way down to the next small top before plunging down again to the next low col. Now I could get my teeth into the Grey Corries!

Sgurr Coinnich Mor was my first summit on this ridge and to my relief this ridge was blown free of soft snow. Finally feeling like progress was being made I powered round the next section to Stob Coire an Laoigh feeling like I had a second wind. Being alone and making my own track for 5hrs now I was surprised to see three figures on the summit, they had just done a route on the grey corries and were descending on the long walk out. Unfortunately they had not left any useful tracks to the next Munro which proved to be the toughest of the day.

Appearing out of the cloud ahead I could see that Stob Choire Claurigh was absolutely plastered in snow, the ridge was loaded with Mr Whippy ice cream like snow formations. My legs winced at the sight but being only two summits from completion descent wasn’t an option. Luckily time was on my side as I began the 1.5km wade.
Normally trail breaking in deep snow feels good for the soul, everything else fades out and your left counting steps and keeping rhythm, trying to stay just on right side of exhaustion. However in this case it started to feel tortuous, I could tell my body was starting to loose energy and my pace dropped from 40 paces and then a rest to 10 paces then a collapse. To make matters worse as I approached the final ridge the white out prevailed and I had no finish line to aim for. I made painfully slow progress uphill and just as I thought I couldn’t go any further a faint outline was made against the flat white backdrop; the summit cairn! Greedily stuffing down the last of my food in celebration I realised that I was in a pretty serious state of exhaustion and vowed to take more fuel with me next time.

With warm clothes on and some tea in my belly I felt a lot happier and managed to get a third wind as I raced towards Stob Ban. Luckily the snow here was hardened and I was standing on top at 3.30pm. From this point the walk out to Spean Bridge is 15km and with no food left I had to get going. Night fell as I passed the Lairig Leacach bothy, my legs didn’t feel my own and I floated down to my awaiting lift satisfied with one of the best Scottish mountaineering days I have had in a long time!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Thigh Deep in the Fannichs

Being out of action for climbing at the moment has meant looking for some winter suffering down different avenues. After very little deliberation I decided there was no better way to expend some energy than snow plodding up some Munros! With the fresh snow down so low a choice of venue allowing easier walking was difficult to find but a round of the Fannichs, in the North West of Scotland, seemed a good option as the ridge may have been blown free of the worst.
A partner in crime was needed for such a trail breaking mission, and keen to help was Sheffield based, engineering student and Uber Alpinist: Malcolm Scott. An early start was decided upon so after a long, hard night in the library Malc made the 8hr drive Northwards arriving at Altguish Inn at 2am, getting his head down for three hours before I arrived.
Our initial plan was to complete all 9 of the Fannich Munros from A’Chailleach to An Coileachan. This was ambitious given the snow conditions but if we set the bar high then maybe we would come away with some sore thighs and a few Munros.
Spirits were high despite lack of sleep as we left the car and headed out along the 4X4 track along the side of Loch a’ Bhraoin. We glibly remarked on how the snow wasn’t too deep and doing the nine would be “No problem!”. Our initial optimism was dashed as we begun the first climb up onto the Drum Reidh ridge. Deep drifts and steep terrain made progress hard, despite this though we had a fantastic sunrise to keep us occupied.

The realisation that this might be a harder task than anticipated continued as we reached the summit of A’ Chaileach. The snow was soft and varied from knee to thigh deep, the weather had closed in and 3hrs sleep in his car was catching up with Malc! Not to be defeated that easily we pushed on over Sgurr Breac and began the long descent down to the col between it and Sgurr nan Each. Here 400m is lost and then must be gained immediately. This proved to be the toughest section requiring all of our leg power to blaze a trail in the deep snow. On reaching the tops it we were both tired and Malc was feeling the effects of being desk bound for the past few months with only the Peak Districts rolling dales and boulder problems to keep his legs tuned up.

With the prize of the nine Munros slipping away we battled over Sgurr nan Clach Geala with some tough white out conditions drawing us into the jaws of the cornice. Once we had relocated we decided that it was time to call it a day and a descent was planned taking in Meall a’ Chrasgaidh on our way back. With another 2km trail breaking under our belt we finally reached the path out and arrived back at the car tired but having completed only half of our original target. This didn’t matter however as the main aim had been achieved which was to kick start the winter fitness and enjoy the Scottish hills!

Sun 18th, Brown Cove

I met up with a friend and potential winter convert in Ambelside on Sunday morning for a day in Brown Cove, Helvellyn.  We jostled with the crowds for a route to our selves and headed up the ridge to the left of the route "two grooves" taking in short steps of technical difficulty.  We traversed over to the two grooves route and due to the growing ques we made our own way up to it's right.  We took our time and headed for Hellvellyns summit afterwards, spectacular views:)     

Sunset over the Central Fells
 Bustling Brown Cove 

Sat 17th, Fun and Games on Scafell...

I'd been ridiculously psyched all week limited to taking my frustrations out on moving cardboard boxes at the factory I've been temping at, Neil was also keen having been collecting charity bags in Liverpool.Oh the leaner times of the outdoor instructor!  Arrangements we're made, forecast looked good, game on!

Neil arrived up at my folks home -where I've been sponging for the past month, from the midlands just before 7am on Sat morning.  Over a rushed brew our choices we're narrowed down to Scafell or Scrubby Crag, I wanted hard and we wanted somewhere reliable.  Scrubby is at ~750m alt SE facing and there was a chance that unfrozen turf could turn us around so we opted for the longer drive round to Wasdale Head to the N facing ~790m alt Scafell.  Arriving at the crag latish -11am we headed for Deep Ghyll, easy to find in the poor vis we we're faced with and from there we would be able to locate a decent mixed route.  Age Concern VI** or Jones route Direct VII** on the cards.  
Uncharacteristic faffage landed us above the 1st chockstone in Deep Ghyll around half 12. A quick look at the impressive looking first slab pitch of Jones Route, deal!  The description in Brian Davidson's mentions that it's rarely in Condition, yep this protection-less thin slabby looking first pitch looks like it needs lot's of good snow ice, only powder and rime was on offer.  -So I headed further left to something that looked climbable and Neil came over to help look about for another option.  Visibility was 10-20m and we wanted to get climbing so we decided on a vague groove line with a promising looking crack higher up.
Our first Pitch 
 Looking down the crux of the second pitch towards Lord's rake
 Neil's expression, proof that we'd had an adventure however short
Yup it was steep in places! 2nd pitch...
I was on point and started up slowly relaxing into focusing on what could be protracted effort.  Some great climbing and some poor-ish pro landed be at the top of the pitch, the crack took cams but the rime was densely attached to the precious volcanic rock so dubious security offered.  Neil generously gave me the lead again for the next pitch and I headed up, another great pitch followed this time with some steeper climbing and a short technical crux higher up.  By now it was getting late, Neil landed in the dark around five at my belay.  The next pitch looked easier but we we're only half way up this massive crag and as we we're still within reach of the base of our route we decided to head down.  Disappointing not to finish but we'd had some great climbing... Commitment another time, we're hoping to get back in the new year.  
We came away thinking a new hard mixed route for Scafell!  Must be grade VII, 1st pitch tech 6, 2nd pitch tech 8!  But sadly after looking hard at some route descriptions and topos in the summer Wasdale guide we've probably just been schooled on Hopkinson's gully (grade VI).  Respect to the first winter ascensionists and a little for ourselves why not.  

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Lakes Botterill's Slab

Jake and I headed up to Scafell was the west side early on Saturday morning and came away with a brilliant route that was satisfyingly in nick. This weekend's forecast looks promising too!
Jake on the crux pitch of Botterill's Slab V,6 

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Snatch from Sneachda, 'Damnation'

First winter route!  With the self imposed pressure of a 2pm deadline back at the car (I was trying to make the closing time of the Kennels down near Greyrigg, Cumbria where I'd abandoned my parents Collie for 36hrs) Mike and I headed into Corrie an t'Sneachda just after first light.  I needed to be back in time otherwise I'd be labeled an irresponsible dog sitter!

Anyway this was all forgotten when we landed in the snowy Corrie, we had a brief look at the guide and our watches and headed for Aladdins Buttress to go for Damnation, it was condition dependent according to the book, it's main corner easier if iced but harder to protect.

I set off for the first pitch which for us started from the bottom of Patey's route, great to be back on points and holding big bits of metal.  But I was being extra careful as I'd just two nights ago attended the Lakes Winter Ethics meet where we we're duly informed that when climbing a rocky mixed route -even when in condition (what ever that means) you will still be doing damage.  Oh well, the northern corries have been earmarked for destruction we're my thoughts...  I made reasonably speedy stop start progress up to belay below the main corner, Mikes turn.  Smooth, steady, careful, he should be he's a trainee guide, come on Mike get a move on!  Meticulous excavation of good wires, a loose flake used gently, lot's of careful footwork and he was up.  I followed, arriving with hot aches of course (full experience, pain with a smile...still horrible), once up and pain free I led off for a short elegant fun pitch with great hooks and a balancey finish to the abseil point at the top of Magic Crack.
Well it was about half and half, there was definitely some useful ice and also good gear, the third way, result!

Once we'd landed back at the car and said our 'bye for nows' I headed down the A9.  Half an hour late back, Ellie had to have another night at her hotel, though she looked like she actually enjoyed herself when I picked her up so the extra nights fee was the only damage done.

 Mike on the Crux pitch of Damnation VI, 6