Thursday, 28 February 2013

Green Gully

Alan smiling despite his calf muscles screaming

Youth of today! Always playing on their phones!

Today in the week in Florida
I hate my new camera, no lens cover!
With amazing ice conditions on Ben Nevis at the moment, it was hard to stay away.  Today I was back out with Alan and Austin and they were both keen for some sticky ice.  We avoided all the masses heading into Observatory Gully and headed up into the Ciste and got pole position on Green Gully (IV,3).  Austin is off to work in Florida for 12 weeks so he was keen to get some cold climbing done and Alan had a cold and was keen to blow the last of it away.  I think today we managed both.  We had a team follow us up but as the ice was like toffee I don't think we knocked too much on their heads (sorry if we did).  It was very cloudy where we were climbing but cleared briefly once we were at the top of the route.  This thaw will be doing the ice routes a world of good as long as we get another good freeze in due course.  We made a quick wander down number 4 gully which is very stepped out and very easy to down climb into.  Another great day with Alan and Austin.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Hadrian's Direct and Minus 3 Gully

Murdoch leading up the 1st pitch

Murdoch approaching the belay on the crux pitch

Lou topping out on the crux pitch

Somewhere near the top, amazing ice

A walk down from Tower Gully

Murdoch questing up to the belay

Believe it or not but more ice climbing!
Today Murdoch and I were in search of yet another Cold Climbs classic to stretch our leg on and we ended up on Hadrian's Direct (V,5) with nobody above us!  It was magic! One big steep pitch followed by a reasonable amount of easy ground followed by some more steep ice.  John and Lou joined us at the first belay for a wee blether before Murdoch and I shot off to the top, down Tower Gully and to the base of Minus 3 Gully (IV,5).  Murdoch and I have both climbed Minus 1 and 2 Gully so we were well psyched to finish off the trilogy.  It was a super route, all 3 pitches were interesting and we both felt we had to use our arms on the crux 1st pitch.  We made our way back down a short section of North East Buttress before having a nice wander our.  Again many teams on Orion Direct, Point 5, Slav Route, all the Minus gullies and many more.  Again conditions are super and the psyche is high!

Orion Direct

It was either a pre dawn start or a casual start.  Fortunately I had the option and opted for a 7am meet time with Al (thats the casual start).  The plan was to climb the uber classic Orion Direct (V,5) on Ben Nevis which we did after a little humming and hawing.  I very very very rarely climb ice routes below other people because I don't want to be whacked in the face with ice.  But we agreed that we would have a nice slow day following the crowds up the route.  With 3 teams ahead of us we weren't going anywhere fast but amazingly didn't get hit by any substantial blocks of ice.   It was a great route to do, really pleased we had a chilled out day, it did go on for a while though....
Al cold because he was waiting on a belay for a while

Take what you can

Ace exit groove!

The mighty Tower Ridge
Its great to see the mountains alive with climbers.  So many routes being climbed with about 50% of all the climbers on either Point 5 Gully or Orion Direct.  Slav route had an ascent, Blair, Ian and Nona climbed Astronomy  teams on Hadrian's, Zero, Minus 2 Gully and various other amazing routes.  What a winter were having!

Monday, 25 February 2013

Royal Pardon and Stand and Deliver

First pitch of Royal Pardon

Paul making his way up to the belay

Amazing crux section complete

heading up to the crux of Stand and Deliver

Don't swing too hard

Doesn't get much better than this!

It doesn't get much better than this.  Blue skies, no wind, ace company, sticky ice and bone dry!  Paul and I got the early gondola at Aonach Mor and made the brief walk over to the col below Aonoch Beag in strong sunlight.  We had several teams in our wake, Blair and Nona heading for Kings Ransom, Rich and his client heading for Royal Pardon as well as another team who backed off it yesterday.  Fortunately we were at the base of Royal Pardon (VI,5) first and were rewarded with perfect, first time placements and sticky ice.  It truly was a dream to climb.  A tense game of rock, paper, scissors meant I got the crux pitch which was brilliant.  We were fairly swift up the route, topping out at 12.30 so after a nice lunch break in the sun and a chat with Matt Pycroft (who was filming Andy Cave on Stand and Deliver) we went back in for another route.  Stand and Deliver (V,5) looked amazing so we fired in a couple of ice screws and we were ready to go.  Paul got the crux pitch on this which was hard.  Steep and hollow sounding but the ice was still fantastic.  Paul dispatched quickly, not surprising after his long run of ice routes over the last 3 weeks.  I finding it really hard to decide which has been the best day of the season for me, they just seem to be getting better and better!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Vent, Ventilator and The Milky Way

Our last day climbing with Willie and Jason so we headed into Coire an Lochain in the Northern Corries for a change of scenery and a little more solitude.  Underfoot conditions were very favourable and saw us at the bottom of The Vent (III).  It was stonking.  Only one main pitch but an super bit of ice climbing!  Well worth a quick hit.  Great thing is that there was some fresh tat around a block which we abseiled off and found ourselves at the bottom of Ventilator (II) after a little approach pitch.  After climbing this fun little climb we abseiled back down and traversed into The Milky Way (III) which was chocked up to the max!  Gear was tricky but adequate and the belays were nicely dug out which was helpful.  Most routes seamed to have tracks up them and its great to see lots of folk out enjoying the great conditions.  It was sooo good today that I didn't even take photos....

Saturday, 23 February 2013


Today I was out for the first day of two with Willie and Jason.  A few of them meet up every year for a spot of winter climbing and this year they fancied the Cairngorm's.  The other team went out with Dave Kenyon.  Jason, Willie and I wandered into Coire an t'Sneachda to see where the masses were heading.  With folk on, or heading to some of our intended routes we scanned the guide again for more inspiration and found ourselves making our way up Wavelength (III,4).  I couldn't quite see why it only got 1 star in the definitive guidebook but in the selected guidebook it receives its worthy 2 stars.  It was a great route and no push over at the grade, gear was a wee bit tricky to find but generally ok.  Dave and his team went up the Message (IV,6) and then did The Seam (IV,5).

Friday, 22 February 2013

Winter Skills in the Cairngorms

This week I have been catching some large doses of vitamin D whilst working for Glenmore Lodge.  I have been out with a team of 6 complete newbies to the winter environment so we had plenty to get on with.  The biggest problem with the week I have just had is that all the group now think Scottish winter is always blue skies.  To be honest I'm pretty sure they have all become 'fair weather walkers'!  We had one day (Wednesday) which was cloudy, windy and cold.  The group felt this was the living be honest it was still a good day in Scottish winter standards!  We ventured throughout the Northern Corries covering a variety of terrain and found ourselves wandering near to the crags which were littered with climbers.  There were a few times I wished I was strapped to a crag this week but to be honest it was really nice to be in the sun all day rather than some shady north facing crag.  It was a fun week, digging was hard work, cramponing was easy and sun burn was severe!  Must head back to the shady crags now!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Amazing mountaineering on Skye

Great Stone Shoot with Sgurr Alasdair on the right

George and Julian enjoying one of the many snow aretes

Descending into Bomb(er) Alley

Ridge looking very snowy
After yesterdays brilliant gully we wanted to have a change of scenery and get on top of a ridge for a little more exposure.  George has his Gold DofE expedition upcoming so he took the map and compass and navigated us to specific points that I pointed out on the way in.  I think he'll do just fine on his exped.  On arrival into Coire Lagan it looked stunning.  Snow covered tops, wind swirling snow into tornado shapes and not another soul in sight.  George hadn't climbed Sgurr Mhicconnich or done an abseil in the mountains so this was our objective.  Up the An Stac (screes) snow slope, up and over Mhicconnich, abseil down Kings chimney and down Bomb Alley back into Coire Lagan.  Conditions were great on the ridge, not quiet as good as when I did the winter traverse but still great.  We encountered some fantastic mountaineering with some very exposed snow arĂȘtes and fantastic views across the Cuillin.  A great 3 days out with Julian and George.  Its really nice to get away from the honey pots and explore new areas.  On our descent just below The Great Stone shoot we heard shouting and spotted 2 guys at the top of An Stac (screes) snow slope waving an orange bivi bag.  They clearly needed help so I packed my bag with all my kit, briefed George and Julian and then shot up to see what was going on.  Fortunately neither of them were injured but they were pinned on the ridge with no axe or crampons, unable to move.  I chucked a rope round them and 9 stompers later they were lowered back onto walking terrain. They followed us out as they didn't have head torches either.  I'm sure they will always carry axes and crampons in the future and hopefully a head torch!

Monday, 11 February 2013

South Buttress Gully Blabheinn

Another nice morning on Skye

George (16) and Julian (slightly older) racing up snow

A great atmospheric gully

Julian and George climbing into the sunshine

The Cuillin looking snowy, unfortunately couldn't fit the whole ridge in

Happy father and son team 

Another fantastic view out to sea

Down climbing on perfect neve
After yesterdays skills day Julian and George were keen to push their limits and get involved in some gully climbing.  This was George's first time on graded terrain and remarkably climbed very well.  He was quick and efficient and everything was 'not bad' for him which is great.  We climbed South Buttress Gully (II) which produced 2 tricky pitches of ice climbing pitches (top end grade II, if not udging into III) with plenty of helpful snow in between.  The conditions were great on the route, brilliant ice for axes but it didn't take screws very well.  We topped out into the sunshine and proceeded onto the Summit for an amazing view of the Cuillin ridge which looked plastered with snow. Ice was forming in various places and Mike was out with his client on Escape from Colditz (III) and said the ice was stonking after a wee bit of front and back footing on rock.  We saw one other couple out heading up Great Gully (I) to gain quick access to the summits who were accompanied by a tiny little dog who made a solo ascent of the gully.  Very impressive.  We made our descent down Great Gully which is very banked out was an easy option under the conditions of today.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Glen Shiel essential skills

Today was the 1st of 3 for father and son team Julian and George (16).  The aim of the day was to practice those all important skills before embarking onto graded terrain.  Plan A was a quick up lift to Aonach Mor but with high winds we drove into Glen Shiel and picked a coire which looked suitable.  We ended up in Coire a' Chuil Droma Bhig which was very secluded and impressive.  We navigated our way into a great snow patch for some ice axe arresting, cramponing, mixed mountaineering before climbing steeply out of the coire rim.  from here we hand railed up to Maol Chinn-dearg before George did some more navigation back to the car via  Druim Coire nan Eirecheanach.  One of the best parts of my job is exploring new areas, climbing new Munros and making things work in an unfamiliar environment, bringing together all the essential skills to have enjoyable and safe days out in winter.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Beinn Alligin Traverse

Final day for the winter mountaineers James, Simon and Eric and we wanted to finish off with a ridge traverse.  With the Forcan Ridge out of the question (Simon had done it last year), we opted for the tricky horns on Beinn Alligin.  I wanted the guys to take a lead into the day so they were navigating  route finding, leading and breaking trail throughout the day.  The tricky sections they were route finding, helping each other and looking after the team whilst I secured them with a rope.  It is a fantastic ridge traverse, topping out on two Munros and we had fantastic views of Liathach and the surrounding mountains.  A truly stunning experience.  This week I have been working for Moran Mountain.  I back off to Fort William for a wee while but back up in the North West soon.....with a new camera!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Six track Mono Blues

Today we opted for a shorter day as the team was exhausted from our wee mini break so Meall Gorm was the sensible option.  We took the 7 minute traverse to the base of Six Track Mono Blue (II) which is a brilliant 200+m route cutting through the cliffs.  I led the team up in short pitches where we were focussing on technique on steeper ground and introducing the concepts of belays, their uses and limitations.  Unfortunately we came across a fatality on the route, a small mouse was partially buried in the gully so we excavated it out and sent it down to the bottom.  A real eye opener for the guys that winter climbing can be dangerous without the correct equipment!  After topping out we navigated over the plateau before looking at descent techniques down the descent gully.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Bothy Trip

The last two days I took Simon, James and Eric on their first over night stay in winter.  Snow holing was out of the question so we went and stayed in Bearnais Bothy which gave us access to the remote Munro of Bidein a'Coire Sheasgaich (945m).  The first day the team navigated us in through windy, dry and very cold conditions, hauling fuel for the stove and food for the night.  On arrival, as expected, the bothy was empty so we lit the fire, cracked open the whiskey and route planned for our second day.
After an early start we carried light rucksacks up Bidein a Coire Sheasgaich weaving our way up its steep face finding tricky sections and steep snow to negotiate, touching on the odd bit of grade I ground but generally quite exposed terrain.  Once joining the summit ridge we ascended for handshake and a quick descent as we had a monster walk out after picking up our kit from the bothy.  A nice wee expedition with the rain coming in only for the last few hours.  Still no camera yet.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Winter Mountaineering

Back to work today after two days of great climbing.  Today I took Simon, James and Eric up into Fuar Tholl for a skills day.  This easily accessible coire didn't not give us shelter from the rain, to be honest there wasn't many places that would have.  Despite the dampness we were able to make good use of axes and crampons as well as digging around in the snow to learn a little more about the winter environment.  To finish the day we ascended a short gully and descended a short ridge to get the team into the zone on technical terrain.  Despite the winds and rain the team soaked up some good knowledge which will set them up for the rest of the week.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Central Buttress Beinn Eighe

A day off was what I really needed but with last weeks forecast and next weeks forecast there was no way I was going to stay indoors on this prime day.  So a 5.15am departure from Beinn Eighe car park saw Murdoch and I walking the round to the Triple Buttresses.  I cant even remember my last day off so to say I was tired was an underestimate.  I barely said a word on the walk in, I was floating in and out of a dream world all the way in.  At the base of Central Buttress (VI,7) I looked up and saw what we had in hand, for a couple of seconds I had hoped I had forgotten my crampons.  As I had climbed the crux yesterday (and I was shattered) I was happy for Murdoch to have all the harder pitches but it turned out for the first 2 3rds of the route I had all the trickier pitches and Murdoch got the ledge shuffelling pitches.  I had to dig deep.  Fortunately we knew what the crux was so I ran out a small pitch and handed the rack over....and I was glad of it.  Watching Murdoch wedged in a body width crack was both funny and cringe worthy.  I was not looking forward to the effort that I was going to have to put in.  Standing at the next belay was a relief but to be honest I wanted to be back in bed.  The route didn't let up much or maybe I was just very tired on easy ground, I'm not sure but it felt hard.  We topped out onto a white plateau and made the steep descent back down to the comfort of the car where I had a quick drink and shot off to meet my clients for the coming week.  So another 5 days at work then I think I better take a day off!  All great fun though and really pleased I didn't pretend to forget my crampons!  Still not got round to picking up a camera so no pics unfortunately.  The mountain was in great condition, by the looks of things any mixed route would go.  We had a team behind us on the route and a couple of other teams enjoying the great conditions.

Friday, 1 February 2013


Me getting involved in the crux (photo John Orr)

Me still involved (photo The Orr-icle)
After a week of wild weather at work I was keen for a shorter day out climbing.  Murdoch and John were well psyched and we walked into Coire an Lochain in the Northern Corries.  We made swift time into the corrie despite being in very limited visibility and opted for number 1 buttress.  Because it was the closest.  None of us had done Auricle (VI,7) so Murdoch racked up for the 1st pitch and despatched it quickly whilst John and I shivered.  Still recovering from a knee injury, Murdoch didn't fancy the crux pitch so that fell to me with John cleaning up the route with the top.  Super cold conditions with plenty of snow on the routes which made it a dream to climb.  Not too much clearing to be done and fortunately the cracks we clean.  A super day out and just what I needed.