Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Alpine trip so far

Great Skiining conditions
The team. Jamie, Ben and Calum
I feel as I am going through a little transition with this Alpine hit.  I'm starting to look forward to reaching for crimps rather than swinging into ice, walking in trainers rather than sliding on ski's.  It does feel a little premature as there is plenty of snow and ice in the mountains but maybe 4 months on snow is enough for this season.  Since leaving Scotland the trip has been fantastic.  I drove out to the Alps with my good friend Ben Cooling, he is a bit like a strawberry blonde Duracell bunny.  He wanted to do everything in the Alps!  We had 10 days before he returns home.  From leaving my mums house in Cumbria, we drove flat out to Dover, then non stop to the start of the Grand Paradiso Ski tour.  In 25 hours from leaving Cumbria, we had skinned up to the Sella Hut to start an amazing 6 day ski tour.

Making a new plan

Ben on Frendo - Ravanel

Ben again

Me on Frendo - Ravanel

In the Sella hut we met Calum and Jamie who had the same idea so we joined forces and completed the 6 day tour together, driven on by Calums endless cheese related jokes!  I had been on this tour a couple of years ago but bailed due to bad snow conditions, this time I was keen to complete.  The tour started with some very difficult conditions, high winds and knee high sastrugi (wind erosion).  Word had got around that several teams hadn't made the summit of Gran Paradiso (4061m) so we hoped our attempt the next day would bring results.  Fortunately the wind eased, the clouds parted and the summit was there for the taking.  A brilliant day and a great ski down.  This was our high point of the tour, everything we did was slightly lower but we were blessed with fresh snow every night.  Each of the following days we had fresh tracks, Calum and I hit some sweet jumps and the final day completed the best week of ski touring I have ever done.  I can't wait to be able to do a week like this as work!
Great company, great condition's and a brilliant tour.
Uisdean on the Swiss route
Ben and I on the summit Les Courtes
View of Mont Blanc and Jorasses on the left

After our week in Italy, Ben and I headed to Chamonix to make the most of Ben's last 4 days.  We thought no need for a rest day, lets just get up high again and climb Supercoulior!  We were psyched, first in line for a lift up the Aiguille du Midi, we had ski's, climbing gear and some grub.  We also met up with Uisdean and Tim. All we needed is for the lift to open.  Guess what! didn't.  Damn it, we had to have a rest day.  New plan had to be formed!
Swiss route

Swiss route
We decided to make the most of the good weather by heading up to Argentiere Hut and having 3 days climbing from there.  We all made use of mechanical uplift and then went straight into the Frendo-Ravenell Gully (TD-) which was a brilliant 540m route with abseil descent.  Perfect for getting up to the hut in time for dinner!  The next day we all agreed on doing a 'Grande Course'.  Uisdean, Ben and Tim were keen for their first long tick and I was keen for my 7th so we opted for the 'Swiss Route' on Les Courtes.  A great day which only took up 5 hours as 2 roped teams.  When we returned back to the Argentiere hut to find that my ski boots, rope, cams and wires had been removed from the hut!  WTF!!  It turned out that my stuff had been scooped up by a film crew and taken for a helicopter ride down the valley!  I needed to get this back ASAP.  Fortunately the guardian of the hut lent me his ski boots and despite being a size too small, we still managed to ski down.  I retrieved my kit and with one day to spare before Ben fly's home, we headed up the Aiguille du Midi and climbed the Perroux-Proffit Gully (TD) before driving Ben to Geneva.  Despite a few hiccups, it all went well, we were active for 9 out of 10 days and had some fantastic days in the mountains.

The following day Uisdean and I met up with Paul Swail and John Macune for a spot of relaxing sport climbing, to be honest we only did 3 routes as we were all pretty tired from the last few days.
For us all, it was back to the weather forecasts, back to the drawing board.  Our research showed that the weather looked good so John, Uisdean and I planned for an ascent on the Colton Macintyre on the Grande Jorasses.  Surely 3rd time lucky for me on this North Face?!  We took the afternoon lift up to the Aiguille du Midi and skied into the face, carrying all out climbing equipment, bivi equipment, winter boots and plenty of food.  We dug bed space below the face, away from any fall lines, brewed up and settled for the night.  I remember thinking that this time I would make it to the top!  Everything was falling into place in the morning, we started on time and we were all feeling pretty fresh.  We made good progress into daylight and found ourselves at the midway this point we hit our brick wall!  The 90 degree ice was cruddy snow.  No placements, no ice screws.  OK not to worry, lets take the harder variation...cruddy snow.  No placements, no ice screws.  I couldn't believe it!  Why does this face not let up for me!?  After several attempts we decided to call it a day, retreat back to our ski's, retreat back to Chamonix.  I knew this was going to be my last window for a big route on this trip and as I am writing this I am now on the wire...I want to climb another big route but maybe I will save it for another time, should I just go rock climbing or should I endure another big committing North Face...only time will tell!  Either way, I'm sure it will be fun. day!

Cruddy 90 degree snow!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Winter season has come to an end for me

Pink Panther
Despite climbing hard, Murdoch is such a baby!
I did my first every winter climb 10 years ago when I was 18.  10 years on I have just finished a decade of continuous winter seasons in Scotland.  Am I tired of it? chance!  Each year brings it's own dimensions and challenges and this year has been no exception.  I have so many highlights from this season, a list too long to name them all.  Both work and personal days have been very memorable as well as all the days spent with great people.  I have been very fortunate to climb with many regular clients who I have spent alot of time with which is great.  One of the best days at work was climbing the brilliant 'Nordwand' on NW face of Ben Nevis with my regular client John.  Everything about that day was brilliant.
Rose, Phil and I in Norway
Ade, Katya and I after Ledge Route
Rose, me and Phil in Norway

 Other work highlights have been spending two weeks in Norway climbing beautiful ice falls with clients, mostly climbing route's I haven't done before and in some cases new routes.  It's such a great place to work with motivated clients.

Winter skills weekend for the Austrian Alpine Club

Claire descending into Number 4 Gully
For me, what makes my winter season, is the personal climbing I do.  It is so important to me that I can get out with keen folk, not need to look after them and have a great laugh.  So a massive thanks has to go to Murdoch Jamieson who I have done quite alot of climbing with this season.  He has been patient when I have cancelled last minute and other times when I have been a wee bit tired after working for a big stink.  Thanks Murdoch, you keep me entertained on the hill.

John walking off the top of Nordwand
Coaching lead climbing with Dunc from the Torridon MRT in Norway
I have had loads of great days out with loads of other folk over the season so thank you to everyone I have had days on the hill with - Kenny and Rhona Grant, Laila Duncan, John Sutherland, Donald King, Blair Fyffe, Paul Swail, Iain Small, Uisdean Hawthawn, James McHaffie, Nadir Khan and many brilliant clients.  I think if I was to name one personal highlight of the winter season...I would have to say the 'Shield Direct'.  It came into condition, I had a day off, I climbed it with my flatmate, the climbing was really interesting and the weather was great.

A moment of contemplation on Liathach
Blair loving a wild day on Ben Nevis.  Great Chimney
Now I shall be going out to the Alps for a month of skiing and climbing.  The reason for the lengthy trip is because I am hoping to gain enough experience to apply to become an Alpine Guide.  It will be a great journey.  Also this winter I have been very fortunate that Millet have agreed to sponsor me as the brand relaunches into the UK.  It will be great working with this very successful brand and I'm really looking forward to using their equipment in the mountains.  Winter is still here in Scotland, make the most of it while it is still here!  Enjoy and safe climbing.
Murdoch showing me what can be achieved if you eat well and train wise.

Great day skiing with Rhona and Kenny.  Love these days!
 When I get back from the Alps I shall be straight up to Skye for a stint on the Cuillin Ridge.  Im almost fully booked in May and most of June so get in touch if you want some adventures in the mountains.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Two Step Corner

Great light on Carn Dearg
The task in hand
As I sense this Scottish winter drawing to an end, I'm definitely feeling some mixed emotions.  Part of me is really looking forward to sunny rock climbing, summer mountaineering, t-shirts, trainers and a light rucksack.  Lazying in the sun, taking time to eat my lunch and spending long days in the mountains.  With that all around the corner I was keen to finish my season on a good route.  So today I was back out with Alan today and he was keen for his first every grade 5.  At 68, this was going to be no easy feat so we decided not to do one of the longer classics, Point 5, Hadrian s, Orion etc but opted for a shorter route which wasn't too sustained.  It was a little bit of a gamble on my part as I had never done the route before but it paid off so well.  It was perfect for us both.  I was able to break the first part into mini pitches so I could see Alan all the way up.  I made the belay on the top pitch so I could see Alan all the way up and so I could tell him to slow down and enjoy it rather than his usual attempt at 'Ueli Stecking' up the route.  A brilliant day finished with a nice descent down Number 4 gully.  A great finish to the season.  Thank you Alan.

Alan arriving after the lower steep pitch

Alan in the crux pitch

Alan cruising

Alan below the cornice

Great views as we walked out

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Good Friday Climb

Alan with Tower Scoop behind

Alan heading up Observatory Gully
Alan loves a belay
The first and last time I climbed this route was back in 2012 when I was being assessed for my MIC.  Alot has changed in the past few years but Good Friday Climb has stayed the same as a brilliant route.  As we left the car we knew it is a looong walk but to finish a route on the summit is worth it.  I was back out with Alan who has been very eager to get out this winter and finally he was able to unleash.  Before we left the car I did something I have wanted to do for quite a while.  I emptied Alan's rucksack and re-packed it with the essentials.  I far too many spare shoe laces, a book called hill walkers survival guide, too much water, too much clothing, several first aid kits and all sort of unnecessary equipment.  We ditched it.  Alan was reluctant to leave it behind but after 1 hour of walking I think he warmed to the idea.  Good Friday Climb (III) was in great condition and lived up to its 'Cold Climbs' classic status.  We saw several teams enjoying Orion Direct, Zero, Minus 2, Point, Smiths and Ledge Route.  A great day despite a wee bit of cloud.
All the walking was worth it
Still got it at 68!

Add caption

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

A Ben Nevis link up

Amazing climbing
With a day off today and the weather and conditions perfect, we stormed back into Ben Nevis (again) for some fantastic ice.  It was a bit of a tricky day to decide what to do as between Murdoch, Uisdean and I, we had done quite alot.  SO inevitably we would have to climb a route we have already done.  So we headed up into the Ciste and made our way to the Cascade (IV,5), Uisdean and I had already done this so Murdoch got to lead.  Then we climbed La Panthere Rose (VI,6), Murdoch won this as Uisdean had done this before and I was to lead Kellets as both Murdoch and Uisdean had done it.  Le Panthere Rose is probably on of the best ice pitches I have done this year, worth more than it's one star for sure!  Then after a little sun bathe we dropped down Tower Gully and climbed the Brilliant Kellet's Route (VI,6) which had two fantastic pitches.  A great day off and I'll be back on Ben Nevis tomorrow.
Murdoch sunbathing

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Photo shoot on Ben Nevis

Murdoch and Nadir on Hadrians
Nadir and Murdoch

My start to the week has been pretty straight forward and I climbed only 4 pitches in two days and set up 3 abseils.  Oh I also held a flash a couple of times.  I was working with Nadir Khan who had been tasked with taking some shots of RAB athletes in their new range of clothing.  The aim wasnt to climb anything super hard but to get a variety of shots with many different combinations of clothing.  So some of the time was spent taking 'lifestyle' shots, such as sharpening axes, reading guidebooks and having a chat.  It was great fun because I had to lead every pitch and then give Nadir a tight rope so he could shoot Murdoch Jamieson and James McHaffie as they did their thing.  It was a great laugh as we all know each other very well and have all climbed together in the past.  It's great when work feels like personal time.  We climbed Hadrian's Direct and Boomers Requiem, giving some good opportunities for Nadir to get the shots he wanted.  A night in the CIC hut meant we had rested legs and plenty of food.    Thanks to RAB for the work.

Caff posing for the 'bursting for a wee' shot

Murdoch being a massive softie, cant handle the cold

Caff being the legend that he is.