Saturday, 31 January 2015

Norway with Torridon Mountain Rescue Team

Spot of footwork training to get started
Initial thoughts when I was flying out to Norway were that we would probably get more ice climbing done in Scotland than Norway as conditions out there haven't been great.  Fortunately, around Aurland, we did find ice to climb and had a great week training members of the team.  With 11 members out with me, we spent a couple of days at crags where I could keep an eye on everyone, answer questions they had and show them things they didn't know.  Then we all broke off and did our own thing.  We had to stay high to find the best ice which was always a battle with the vast amounts of snow out there but we felt we won most of the time.
Mark getting tuck in up at Vetlebotn
Easy top-roping at Vetlebotn
Team sessions at Vetlebotn
 Our first day was spent driving around looking for ice to climb.  The usual suspects were looking a little bare.  We ended up using our rest day on the first day of the trip as a recce around as many places we could.  Many of the large ice falls were incomplete and anything low was running with water.  Around Stondallen was good and above was also climbable ice.  The amounts of snow made it hard to move around to the crags but with a large team we put good tracks in.
Evening entertainment

Duncan doing his first winter lead.  2 pitches of WI3 (Eiger Ron Belaying)

Dunc having it

Dunc leading the second pitch.  Jenny and Eiger Ron belaying

Charlie enjoying steep ice

Mark doing laps

Mark leading, Greg abseiling
 Last year I made the first ascent of this great gully, which my clients Kitty and Suzanne called '2 bangs and a slap WI4.  We had 4 teams on the route over two days and had great climbing all the way up.  We had multiple teams in Stondallen and a team on a WI4 at Grimsete (just below the Stondallen tunnel) which had great ice.  As we left the weather went super cold so the next few weeks will be shaping up very well.  One of the team has stayed out for another week and I shall be back out at the end of Feb.
Greg and Arjan following me up on the 3rd ascent of '2 bangs and a slap'

Great gully climbing

Arjan abseiling

Scottish conditions in Stondallen

Greg doing more leading.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Another brilliant week in the North West

Ice axe arrest practice
I always look forward to winter and when it arrives I always look forward to working and climbing in the North West.  Why, because of its vast variety, lack of people and sheer beauty of the mountains.  I have been blessed with two healthy clients, one is an iron man competitor and the other is just young so a pretty good combination.  I have also had Mike shadowing for 4 days as he prepares for his Winter Mountain Leader award.  Day one was our skills day where we headed up to Fuar Tholl and did much slipping and sliding, digging and assessing, burying and tieing and then finished the day by climbing a grade II gully called Access Gully.
Martin's team heading up Access Gully ahead of us.
Windy but nice day
Wild topping out of Access Gully
Our second day was the nicest of the week so we thought we would get up high, put some of the skills into practice and grab some great views.  We headed up on to the Liathach Ridge with our high point of the day being Spidean.  A great Munro with stunning views.  We didnt traverse the ridge as this was the teams second day in crampons but it gave them a few things to aim for in the future.

A front coming in from the West.  Beinn Alligan looking great.
Team on the summit of Spidean
The day
Heading down, we turned left here and went the long way down as it was such a nice day.

 Day 3 turned out a wee bit poor so as a wee rest day we went to a local training crag for some more skills before getting back to plan and pack for a overnight snow hole expedition.  The weather was ideal.  Super cold and with plenty of snow there were sure to be some good snow hole sites.  We climbed the Forcan Ridge, which was in stellar conditions.  We summited at 3ish and started digging just after.  We had a palace by 6pm and ate and drank all evening.  It was a great night, snow holing conditions were great.  Digging was easy so we made a comfy hole and made a nice large cold sump for the cold air to sit in whilst the warm air stayed tight.  The second day we exited early to get onto a nearby Munro at sunrise.  It would have been spectacular but unfortunately the clouds were rolling in but was still stunning non the less.

Plenty of Navigation
Plenty of mountaineering

A spot of abseiling

Alot of eating and drinking
Lovely morning views
The the cloud came in

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Great Chimney

Blair enjoying the finest Scottish conditions
These storms seem to be taking over the Scottish mountains like a cold virus in an old people's home.  If we didn't go out in the foul weather we wouldn't get any climbing done.  Last week my client and I braved some wild weather and today I had a day off so I thought I should practice what I preach.  Swail and Blair were both up for a day out climbing and we all agreed we would do something easy and seek out as much shelter as possible.  The Great Chimney (IV,5) fitted the criteria well.  With its East aspect we thought we would get some shelter from the strong Westerlies.
Blair's attempt to be a snowman
With only two pitches available, a quick game of rock, paper, scissors set Swail up with the first entry pitch and myself with the main pitch.  We all climbed with some fantastic spindrift avalanches coming down on our heads.  There were times when we couldn't see or breath due to the amounts of snow in our faces.  The forecast was grim and the reality was just the same.  As we are approaching mid January I have realised I have only climbed 4 routes on my days off (including today) which isn't very many so I have been building up the psyche to get out in poor weather.  Easier said then done.  With storms looking to continue into the second half of January I might well have more days like today.

Swaily emerging over the chockstone
Heading down Tower Ridge
 Pauls write up from the day HERE
Blairs write up from the day HERE

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Green Gully

Nick on the first pitch
Nick on the second pitch

Day 4 with Nick and we knew Ben Nevis would be a reliable option.  What exactly we would do was anyone's guess but I had a few ideas up my sleeve and we just needed to get into the mountain to have a look.  We wandered up into the Ciste as I felt there were lots of options to go for.  Word on the street was that Mike had climbed The Cascade 2 days ago, Al and Jamie reported bad conditions on Green Gully and Adam had success on Number 3 Gully Buttress.  Yesterdays thaw was nasty but today's cold temps were great.  I believed Green would be climbable, it had to be.  It was.  The first pitch was a little thin but had a succession of bomber blobs which aloud us to pick our way up.  From the top of the first pitch I could see it looked good.  I shouted to Nick "We're on!".  "Sweet!" he yelled back.  And it was sweet!  The ice was lovely all the way up.  Screws were saved for higher up the route as the ice got even better and various options were available at the top.  Despite getting a good flow of spindrift all day, the plateau didn't feel too windy.  Despite this, I fancied a look down Number 3 Gully and too seek out more shelter.  It looked ok, we could pick our way down avoiding any wind slab accumulations.  I belayed Nick down 50m into the gully before climbing down and we had a nice soft walk down spotting climbers on Thompson's Route and evidence of folk on Number 3 Gully Buttress.  A wild day but great fun and great conditions.  Tomorrow however.....??
Nick in the top basin

White out whilst descending from Number 3 Gully

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Indoor ice

With a very poor forecast Nick and I agreed we would get more out of the day if we started with a coffee and a cake at the Ice Factor.  This led on to us spending the whole day indoors watching the rain and wind beat of the windows of the old aluminium smelting building.  Powered by coffee, we launched onto the rock walls looking at how Nick could up his game and move away from 6a's and move into the realms of 6b and above.  From here, still buzzing from our strong latte's, we navigated our way into the ice wall where we looked at a wide range of techniques that would get us pumped but more importantly, avoid the pump.  The ice wall is great for ice technique, there are lots of ways to make it very inventive.  From here we took a baring over to the cafe for some chicken and chips and more importantly another latte.  Fed and wired we picked up where we left up on the rock walls and Nick proved that what I had said had been sinking in.  With arms starting to fatigue we headed for the bolts, built multiple belays, all skills nick wanted to get even slicker at, the one handed clove hitch is child's play for Nick now.  From the bolts we finished ourselves off with some dry tooling coaching in the bouldering wall before getting so pumped we could hardly remember our own names.  A great productive day indoors and legs are rested for tomorrow.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Two routes in Glencoe

Right, we were having it today.  Cold spell forecast today.  Horrendous tomorrow.  We nipped up to Stob Coire Nan Lochain in Glencoe to see what we could climb.  Oh, who made the path up even longer this year!?  We arrived at the coire to find we had the place to ourselves so we geared up and headed for plan B.  (plan A looked far less wintery).
2nd pitch on Twisting

Nice view from the office
Twisting Gully (III,4) provided 4 great pitches of mixed and icy climbing with some wet snow thrown in for good measure.  The belays are great on this route, nice stances and brilliant views.  It was a little thin in terms of consolidated snow but the damp snow provided enough purchase.  We topped out to find that it was only 12.15.  So I suggested we nip down Broard Gully (I) and climbed the classic Dorsal Arete (II).  I love this route, as I'm sure so many other do.
Nick on Doersal
We found two teams on the ridge who were enjoying this short weather window.  We topped out for the second time and made our way to the bag and skipped back down to the car.  We cashed in on today's weather as tomorrow looks like an indoor day at the Ice Factor!  I will not eat cake, I will not eat cake, I will not eat cake, I will eat cake, I eat cake.....
Nick on the Arete

Monday, 5 January 2015

Tower Ridge

Look ice!
And snow!
Hardrians and Point 5 looking sad! :(
Back to work today and quite a difference from yesterdays conditions.  I am out with Nick for the next 5 days so he can enjoy the delights of Scottish winter climbing.  This weeks weather is going to provide some obstacles.  Today however went with no hassle.  We shared a great day on Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis.  Ascending the ridge was quite delightful.  The old thawing snow was becoming compact and the old ice was becoming soft.  Great for an efficient ascent.  The wind was blowing over the top from the south so we didn't feel a breath until we pulled onto the summit plateau.  Perfect day.  OK, it was above freezing on the summit, so it wasn't amazing winter conditions but it was still great climbing, crampons all the way, rock, ice, snow, no rain, no wind and no sweat!  Cold tomorrow!
Nick on the Eastern Traverse
Summit team!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The Gathering

After what has felt like a good while away from winter climbing I finally managed to get back out today with Murdoch.  Sickness, skiing and gluttony had dammed my flow.  East coast again had a slightly more reliable forecast so the blurry eyed drive across started at 5.30am.  We booted and suited and quested off with the shimmer of light from our torches with a cold crisp underfoot.  We acquired a 4 legged canine on the walk in, this energetic spaniel was clearly in the belief that we were its owners, fortunately we managed to loose it before we started climbing.

We walked into Coire an Lochain to find that The Pillar was looking super white where other sections of the coire were quite marginal.  The decision was made that we, or Murdoch, would do the Gathering and I would do what I can to get up this grade VIII,9.  I was running through my head what I could improvise as a rope ascender...prussik....check....ropeman....check.  Right lets have it!

Murdoch dispatched the first crux pitch well, as he always does.  However this time was different.  As I sat shivering on the belay, I noticed he was shaking out quite alot.  "OH NO!" I thought.  This is going to be nails!  After a close call, Murdoch pulled onto the belay ledge and clipped himself in and I'm sure he swore and smiled at the same time.  Happy boy!

My turn was up, cold hands, negative thoughts running through my head, ropeman handy, I set off, putting bets with myself at how far I would get.  Perfect, Iain Small is on a belay behind me watching every move as I struggle up this pitch.  I tried extra hard, inching further and further up the wall, the belay seemed so far away yet the climbing was so absorbing.  Hooks and foothold kept appearing as the steepness increased.  Murdoch delivered some useful information and encouragement about upcoming placement which were vital.  I couldn't hold on much longer, I fought but unfortunately not enough.  I was off.  Hanging on the rope like a wreaking ball on a chain.  Only a couple of moves from the belay.  I glanced to Murdoch who was clearly suppressing a smile, he loves to watch me struggle.  After a wee breather, I pulled up and ungracefully shuffled over onto the belay ledge.  The stance was small but I didn't mind as the anchors were so good.  I could fall asleep.

Murdoch led the second pitch which was no pushover.  I'm glad I offered it to him as if I hadn't I would still be there right now.  I was to drained.  Brilliant climbing, great day, great company and maybe next year I will learn not to eat and drink so much over the festive period (and then get really ill).