Monday, 29 December 2014

December Skiing

Kenny and Rhona enjoying first Scottish ski of the season
Ben Nevis looking great
December has continued to bring a mixture of unsettled weather.  High winds, rapid thaws and some deep freezes.  All great news for the long run, however trying to burn off the Christmas turkey is proving to be difficult.  Activities done on two wheels or in the indoor climbing walls seem to be the most productive.  I have managed to get a few days out skiing also at Nevis Range which has been nice and sociable and I have everyday lined up to get out winter climbing...I just need a weather window.  Hopefully one comes soon!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

West side boys go East

This weekend I have been working with Mike and Donald in the Cairngorms with a college group from St Paul's in London.  I worked with them last year on their first trip to Scotland where we covered winter skills as they had no experience.  This year was about doing some climbing and we headed into the Northern Corries and climbed some grade one gullies.  Jacobs Ladder and Aladdin's Couloir.  Unfortunately Sunday suffered from a turbo thaw and very high winds so we headed to Huntley's cave for some rock climbing, rope work, abseiling, tyrolean traverse and a nice picnic.  A great couple of days but unfortunately my camera stayed in the West.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Excellent ice conditons

Alas, this was not the case outside.  Freezing levels above the summits, raining all day and strong winds were forecast.  The accuracy of the forecast was spot on.  So Robin and I spent our second and final day in the comfort of the Ice Factor in Kinloch leven.  The beauty of this facility is that one can squeeze so much in to a session.  Ice climbing, ice screw placement, Abalakov threads, dry tool bouldering and bottom roping, placing trad gread on lead, rock climbing, leading, coffee and cake.  All in the comfort of being indoors.  What would we have learnt if we went up Ben Nevis....Robins Alpine soft shells aren't good for Scotland and it was very wet!  WE both knew that before leaving the car.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Curved Ridge

Robin crossing the Glencoe glacier
Living the winter dream
Freezing levels above the summits, strong westerlies and passing showers.  Its a Curved Ridge day.  It was the best option to find snow, stay sheltered and keep moving.  Robin from Sweden was super psyched for some good climbing but soon realised it was very conditions dependant so we had to drop a few grades and seek some snow.  No snow on the steep routes so a ridge delivered.  Robin did a spot of leading on the way up and enjoyed his first Scottish mountain summit.  We had the place to ourselves and enjoyed a nice rapid descent down Coire an Tulaich mostly on snow.  A great day.  Worse conditions tomorrow...options are running low for now!

It's melting over there...
Robin leading the crux
Robin trail breaking...didn't last long.
Melt, Melt, Melt...

Tuesday, 16 December 2014


Great weather and conditions
After spending every minute looking at the forecast to find a weather window, one finally came today and I was free to get out.  Earlier in the week my flatmate Blair agreed to go climbing which was great and then asked if Iain could join us.  Again, great news as I would have two rope guns.

Iain getting stuck in to the crux pitch
Then Blair pulled out which meant I had to climb with Iain.  I got a little nervous as Iain never climbs easy routes and always climbs with very strong climbers.  Oh well, what's the worst that could happen?  So we had an early start and headed into Ben Nevis and we were both keen for a route high and left on the Ciste.  It was great to see that two other climbers had woken early, walked in early and put in a great set of tracks up to our route.

However the problem was that they went onto our climb!  Gutted.  So instead we headed over to Number 3 Gully buttress to get established on a route.  This turned out to be a non starter.  The whole crag was coved in a 5 millimetre layer of ice, choking all the cracks and covering all the edges.  Iain suggested it would be hard and scary, I obviously didn't argue.
Iain on small footholds but cool as a cucumber
Instead we climbed Cornucopia (VII 9) as its a big wide crack and turned out to give two nice pitches of climbing and a mega cornice to dig through.  It was the best outcome as the team on our original plan were taking quite a while to get established into the crux as it was choked with ice.  I'm not even sure they managed to top out.  Great day non the less.  Just need more days like this.  Unfortunately its thawing tomorrow.
The other team on our intended day I might climb this.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

No Blue Skies

Coire An t-Sneachda.  We climbed on the small crag on the left.
News of a settled(ish) winter day had come in and fortunately Murdoch and I had planned about a month ago to climb this weekend.  As Scotland had been pelted by storms, we were pleased our first day out this season was a relatively chilled one.  A perfect opportunity to stretch our legs, have a good catch up and enjoy some nice climbing.  We had several objective's but fortunately we agreed that a nice 2/3 pitch route would suit and something which isn't totally nails and scary.  We wrote off Coire an Lochain and went for the closer option of Coire an t-Sneachda and onto the Mess of Pottage.  Unsurprisingly, we were accompanied by many other teams, it is the weekend after all.  
Murdoch finding some accommodating frozen turf.
Murdoch setting off on the 15m easy middle pitch.
We decided whilst walking that we would climb No Blue Skies (VI,7) which turned out to be a great climb.  Everything we wanted to get our heads back into winter climbing and keep the psyche high.  The first pitch was delicate and sustained, and the top pitch was ....well....I don't think I have hand jammed so much on a winter route before, America must still be fresh in my mind.  The top pitch led into familiar ground of Wachacha (VI,7) which I climbed last year with Blair and Murdoch.  Fortunately the cracks were clearing quite well but we both agreed that it would be very hard to protect in very ice conditions.
Faff Faff Faff

The week is looking quite changeable for the next few days and into next week, plenty of thaws and refreezes will lead to good patient.  My psyche is high this winter, hopefully get a few more routes done before work starts.
Some cha[ on The Melting Pot, looks ace!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

CMD Arete

Ian and Clare have a 5 year plan to climb the Matterhorn or Mont Blanc so today was the first leg of the process.  The summit of Ben Nevis was the first obstacle and we were accompanied by very mild weather but a strong chilly wind.  Despite completing the route mostly in the cloud and dampness we made a 7 hour round trip with some fantastic gluten-free millionaires shortbread to keep us energised (thank you Clare).  We did come across some thawing snow on the summit plateau but didnt feel like it will last very long.  Very warm for the end of November.

Ian and Clare enjoying the last of the view

Nice while the view lasted

Who said hill food is boring?

Rock hoping 

Ian's 2nd Munro and Clare's 4th time on the summit

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)