Thursday, 27 November 2014

Where is winter?

This time 2 years ago it was winter.  Donald King and I on Strident Edge
I keep asking myself this.  For some reason I feel the summits should be covered in snow, the crags plastered and my evenings spent drying out my winter climbing kit.  What is different?  Nothing.  I've looked back to last year and I didn't do my first route of the season until 6th December.  The Sourcerer on Ben Nevis with Keith Ball and Kenny Grant.  Patience Guy!  Looking back further though to 2012 I did my first winter route on the 31st October!  Archangel with Kenny.  I think the reason I have found myself at the indoor climbing walls and mountain bike tracks is because usually I will be in Spain this year getting some sunshine and building some strength for the winter.  After a good trip in the USA and the Alps I thought it would be best to give it a miss this year.
A brilliant dry tooling crag

Traditionally not a busy time of the year work wise but bits and bobs have come in, some obscure, some normal and I have had plenty of opportunities to climb, walk, bike, run, gym and generally just enjoy Scotland in the Autumn...which has been really good this year.

Accommodation for a night
Coming off the back of Castle Ridge
Spent some sub optimal days on some Munro's I haven't been on, spent a night in the CIC followed by an ascent of Castle Ridge on Ben Nevis, a chilly day on North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor, dry tooling with Martin Moran at his local crag at Loch Carron, multiple sessions at the Ice Factor, I spent a day keeping an eye on 6 mast technicians carrying out repairs on the Network Rail mast on the summit of Meall a'Bhuiridh in Glencoe.  We got a ride up in an very interesting vehicle...think Norwegian Special Forces!
Transport to work!

I had very little to do this day!

I had a day with Blair Fyffe (avalanche forecaster for SAIS and my flat mate) on Ben Nevis looking at the existing snow patches as he monitors them from year to year to see how long they last.  He was sharing some very useful insights into the coming winter, he is 'Dr Snow' after all and I hope he is right!
Closest I have been to winter climbing so far this season!
 I have just been on a brilliant 2 day Outdoor First Aid course ran by BASP and held at Glenmore Lodge.  Great to refresh the skills and have the peace of mind that I will be doing the right thing if I find myself involved with an incident.

Winter is looking very busy this season and so is next Spring.  Bookings and enquiries are coming in left, right and centre.  If you are interested in any winter action then please get in touch,  I have some space around Christmas and New year, 12th-16th January, 2nd - 7th February and a couple of weeks in March are available.  Please get in touch if you are interested in brushing up your winter skills, mountaineering or climbing.  Fancy some classic routes?  I can do that too.  All tailor made to suit you and your group.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Winter training continues...

Alan on the first difficulties on North Buttress
Alan's nice new helmet showing it can loosen itself on its own!
Alan, like every year has big ambitions for the winter and knows how important it is to put the ground work in before the snow arrives.  Getting out on a day like today, short day light hours, cold temps and poor visibility will get us a few steps ahead for when the winter finally arrives.  We got some glove faffs out the way, climbed damp, slippy rock and I placed plenty of gear to get Alan back in the swing of things.  Only one nut dropped (and retrieved) so Alan was happy.  North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor was our route as it has some great climbing, plenty of scrambling and tricky route finding in the very low visibility.  Also Alan has never done this in summer but has in winter.  We had the place to far as we could see anyway (10m) except for the summit where a very friendly raven was hoping to share our lunch.  A great day, I'm glad Alan brought a flask, tea and cake on the top was great!
Over the last few days I have been ticking off some Munro's I haven't done, doing a spot of dry tooling (ice axes in the climbing wall) and generally just enjoying being back in Scotland after 2 months away.

This chap joined us for lunch on the summit

Not shy

It cleared now and again...we did get a view from the summit too!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Matterhorn North Face

The Horn
I am writing this post as Tony is scrubbing the apartment clean because we have decided to end our Alpine trip a week early due to the upcoming poor weather.  Now watching Tony do all the cleaning isn't the only reason we are finishing the trip on a high.  My highlight of the trip was climbing the Matterhorn (4478m), my highest peak to date, via its North Face, the Schmidt Route (TD+).  An iconic mountain which has called out to me ever since I had set eyes on it and it was great to climb it.

Murdoch and Tony set for 5 hours of walking
Our success on this mountain was due to a failure on the Grande Jorasses where Tony, Murdoch and I walked for 5 hours from the Montenvers train station to our bivi site.  After 40 minutes of digging to make a suitable site we scoped out the base of our objective, the Demaison/Gousseault (ED2) and then settled down for a cold, unsettled sleep.  Unfortunately everything didn't go to plan and after 3 pitches we decided to call it a day as time had disappeared before our tired and heavy eyes.  We didn't want to be pushed for time to say the least.

Team shot at 8.30 at the Hornli Hut (Photo:Tony's camera)
So another failure on the Grande Jorasses for me.  It seems when I fail on this mountain, I have success elsewhere.  Last time I failed here on the Croz Spur I ended up climbing the Eiger North Face.  This time success on the the Matterhorn.
Murdoch (right) and I somewhere on the route (Photo: Tony)
On arriving in Zermatt we took the ski lifts up and made the 3 hour walk to the Hornli Hut from Trockener Steg station.  On arrival to the Hornli Hut we realised that we would not have the face or the summit to ourselves, it was the weekend after all.  Infact there were about 12 other teams, that's over 24 climbers!  Not a pleasant number to be involved with.  So we decided to just get going after a rest and some food.  We left in darkness just before 20.30.  Conditions were perfect, not a breath of wind and not another climber out of bed.  We initially soloed until we got too the first tricky bit.  From there Tony led the first section, I led the middle section and Murdoch took us to the Zmutt Ridge.
Murdoch climbing to my belay before he takes over to the Zmutt Ridge
We each only belayed once, when we ran out of gear, just moving together on our single rope, placing gear now and again.  After 7 hours of climbing we found ourselves at the top in darkness with only the surrounding glow from the street lights 2km away.
Happy on the summit (my camera, 8th attempt)
It was perfect, we didn't get clogged up in other peoples ropes, we didn't get hit by ice and we had all the time in the world.  We did want sunrise on the summit but unfortunately we were 3 hours early so we decided to make our way down.  A friend had said 'don't underestimate the descent'.  He was right.  It was long, very long,  Especially after climbing the 1100m route after no sleep and in the dark.
Murdoch and Tony happy to be at the Solvay Hut

Murdoch not quite keeping his eyelides open in the Solvay hut
We ate and drank and then off we went.  The descent was a bit off a blur for all of us, lack of sleep made for a slow and careful descent to the Solvay Hut at 4003m.  We arrived at the hut at sunrise and squeezed inside and made a well needed brew.
Tony and I just about staying awake
Forcing our eyelids open, we knew we couldn't wait around, so after burning our lips and tongues on the boiling tea, we looked as lively as we could and continued down to the Hornli Hut where we had stashed our sleeping kit and some water.  With a spring in our stride, or maybe a fatigue limp, we made our way down to the lift and onto Zermatt for a milkshake and back to our apartment for pizza and beers.  Over all its been a great trip, a usual Alpine trip for me, some failures, some successes, some good weather and some bad, good partners, good food and needing a rest when I get home.  Bring on winter (not in the next couple of days though)!

Murdoch and I descending the Hornli Ridge (Photo: Tony)
Packing up after a successful ascent (not our tents) (Photo: Tony)

Monday, 27 October 2014

Some longer winter preperation

Easy climbing done, warm jackets on.
Me passing the large chockstone on amazing ice
Tony on the last climbing pitch before more easy romping
Today we opted for a half day for some reason.  We topped out on the 1000m Eugster Couloir Direct  route at 10.30 am.  No we didn't get the lift up, we just set off super early.  We opted for a bivi near the Midi Plan station, we settled in our sleeping bags at 6.30pm trying to get some sleep.  This didn't happen for me but I did count 25 shooting stars and wished for Tony's snoring to stop.  At 3am my wish came true.  So Murdoch, Tony and I brewed up at 3am and wandered over to the route.  From the start we made swift progress up the initial snow slopes to the main section of climbing.  4 or 5 pitches of Scottish 5/6.  6 hours after starting the route we arrived at the Aguille du Midi lift station and headed down for lunch.  It was a brilliant route, Murdoch's first Grande Course, just a shame the difficulties were for only a few pitches.  Now we rest for a day and seek out a route of a more sustained nature...
Murdoch and I with chamonix in the background
Murdoch and his extra long arm

 If you want to climb in Scotland or climb winter routes then click here.

Sorry Murdoch.  I couldn't resist
Tony and I not paying attention to Murdoch

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Winter preperation

Non walking approach
Not stellar weather but still very good
So I'm currently out in the Alps doing a little bit of winter preparation as conditions are very good out here at the moment.  We arrived yesterday so we opted for a short 'Scottish Style' route on Aguille Du Midi.  Now, given this is a very short approach (A lift then 4 abseils off the lift station) and it was the weekend, we were not the only one's with this idea.  So choice 1 was out of the question but we found space on the brilliant Vent Du Dragon (TD-).  I had done this route in the past but in terrible conditions.  Today was bliss compared to when I last did it.  The ice was great and fat, there wasn't waist deep snow and the mixed sections were very accommodating.  Felt like Scottish 6 which is about right.  It felt like Scottish 7 last time.  We topped out onto the Cosmiques Arete and up to the lift for a leisurely afternoon.  Time to plan next route.

Lots of teams seeking out good conditions
Murdoch remembering how to ice climb
Tony, Murdoch and I on the Cosmiques Arete
Murdoch running up the crux of the CA
Great alpine visions
Wedding bells were ringing at 3800m

Click here to check out options for your winter

Friday, 24 October 2014

Winter is around the corner

Blizzards still mean fun in Glencoe.
Solitude in the Cuillins, Isle of Skye

Having come back from America's rock climbing road trip, I am feeling the urge to swing ice axes, dig for cracks, shiver on belays and see the mountains come alive with snow.  Infact, I believe there has been a small amounts of snow on the tops already.
Mountaineering the North West Highlands

Blizzards on Beinn Eighe
So I'm hoping for a great winter of lots of walking, mountaineering and climbing.  I'm looking forward to climbing new routes, classic repeats and hard mixed lines.  I love visiting new areas and crag and summits I haven't been on so the next while will be spent looking through guidebooks and scanning some maps and making sure partners are psyched.
Mixed climbing, Murdoch on Great Overhanging Buttress VI,7 on Beinn Bhan

Learning to lead in Glencoe
I believe pre planning helps to have a successful winter, make time to enjoy the mountains as you'll miss out if you don't.  Make tick lists and be open to changeable conditions, try not to be too obsessed with one particular route.  Any day in the winter mountains will be a good one.
Happy team on top of North East Buttress IV,4, Ben Nevis
New routing in Norway

Click here to check out the Winter Page to get the ideas.

Mountaineering on the Forcan Ridge

Perfect weather on An Teallach

Does it get much better than this?