Monday, 30 January 2012

A picnic at 1000m

After driving what seemed like a billion miles for my friends wedding in Stafford and a late evening at the Banff UK screening in Glasgow, I stopped at Stewart's flat for a couple of hours kip before heading up to Glencoe.

Plan A was North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor however from the Kinghouse carp park it didn't look favourable. Plus, I was quick to mention that I was absolutely shattered. Paradoxically, I did then go on to suggest we try Raeburns Route IV,4 in SCNL, with probably the stiffest walk in the Glen! Fatigue aside we packed bags and started the arduous slog uphill.

The standard approach time of 1hr45ish raced by in sweat soaked conversation. It was warm! We arrived in the coire and were treated to some dramatic views of the buttresses disappearing every few minutes into the cloud. There were lots of teams in the coire, spread all over the place. Two teams were on Raeburns and in the time taken to gear up and approach, the first team hadn't got too far along.

We decided to change plan and try a direct approach on Dorsal Arete. I'd done the route previously but with time moving on and not being prepared for ice we headed over. This, in hindsight, was a bad idea with Dorsal Arete being like Covent Garden tube station in all but the worst conditions. 

I started up the variation start which probably went around III. My eyes were glued to a 'straight up the middle' line but on reaching a verglas choked overhanging corner, my unfamiliarity with Andesite and my fear got the better of me. Instead I traversed by wading across powder filled ledges and occasionally having to bridge over a couple of wide cracks. Did I mention I hate traversing?

Stewart coming up the variation start

Climber descending Broad Gully

At the first belay on the route proper now it was clear what a mistake it was to join this route. None the less, we joined the cue and had a chat with the people in front. James got the next pitch.

"I'll just pop up and have a look" I said, before disappearing off up the next easy section. I'm told whilst I was away the tea was drunk and it was the last time it was warm....

I met up with the guys in front (Becky and casparmck) and could now behold the aforementioned tube station. They decided to walk off the side into Broad Gully rather than wait. As we'd already passed up Raeburn's I thought we'd just stick around waiting. So James and Stewart came up to join me and we had a little picnic.
The view

Whilst eating we photo'd two teams on climbs on Central Buttress, not sure of the routes but they looked steep from where we were.

When it was our turn we headed up to the well-photographed arete pitch (ironically, I don't have any photographs of this as my camera went flat!). Having seconded the route before but going around the pinnacles, I was keen to lead it going straight over the top. Over the top I did. Although, in the spirit of never learning my lesson, I started from way below the arete and placed some ridiculously short runners resulting in mega rope drag. Pulling up onto the broad part of the ridge I must of looked like one of those guys on 'World's Strongest Man' pulling the concrete lorry! Plenty of people up top taking embarrassing photographs too!

A succession of bums slides later found us back at our stash down the bottom ready to walk out, only needing head torches for the last couple of hundred metres. I like when you can halve your approach time on the descent! 

Cracking route and cracking company

Monday, 23 January 2012

ML Training

As grim as it looks

After much deliberation about whether to start down the MLTA route, I booked my ML Training for November. Having progressed through the ranks to PADI Divemaster at university and then not have been diving for nearly two years I was afraid it might be just going through the motions of getting another qualification. However, due to the consolidation time needed between courses I decided if I started now, then maybe in four or five years time I might be at the stage of progressing to MIA or further (yea right). I just didn't want to get to 30 and wish I'd done it earlier! 

So, I booked with Mountain Sense in the Lake District as i've spent least time in that area of the country. Having gone climbing in Clova on the Saturday with the course starting at 10am on the Sunday I ended driving down late that night and 'sleeping' in the car. Fortunately an early arrival at the youth hostel gave me plenty of time to shower and eat breakfast before we begun.

Chris and Chris were to be our instructors for the week. We started off with some navigation exercises and went up to some rough terrain to nav between ring contours. As someone who has previously been all too quick to pull out the compass, even in fine weather, the revelation of primarily using the shape of the ground to navigate was something i'd never been taught before. It was amazing how effective it can be.

The next day was ropework. I knew i'd feel comfortable with this, but had heard that climbers can often over think the ropework required for ML and was cautious not to rush in and start making 3 point belays with slings. I never believe that I have learnt everything and ropework day was testament to that as I learnt the Thompson Knot which is the most bizarre and uncomfortable way of making a harness that anyone has ever devised. Mixed in with the ropework (and was a recurring theme throughout the week) was negotiating steep ground. The remit of the ML precludes the planned use of the rope, however short rocky steps can be overcome with the correct choice of route and group management.

Abseil options were equally as painful as 'Thompson's Crusher Knot', but we had some cracking views!

The bit we'd all been waiting for (or dreading) was the overnight exped. Now before coming I thought i'd been super clever, but oh how I was wrong. I'd borrowed a friends lightweight one-man MSR Hubba thinking 'light and fast' (or light and mediocre pace when you're unfit!). I'd ditched the bivi, packed the lightweight down bag, and skimped on the creature comforts which got personal and group kit plus rope into my Crux 47 litre pack.

The initial steep trek up behind Honister mine in the clag set the scene for the two days. As is typical for any activity, the weather knows when you are most vunerable. Not below the contrast between day one of the overnight and the previous day doing group management:

t-shirt weather


None the less, we cracked on taking navigational legs heading for Chris and Chris's secret wild camp spot. Battling the wind was quite something and rucksack covers were all over the place. But nothing as bad as what was to come. A slight respite in the weather saw us around the lake and to the secret spot just as it started raining again. For some strange reason Steve had carried the inner, flysheet and poles of his tent but given the pegs to someone else in the other group. So with his tent erected and standing there holding it, I said "put your bag in there, it won't fly away". 30 seconds later I look around to see Chris sprinting up the hill after Steve's tent. Whoops.

Karma eventually found me when the constantly flattening by the wind was too much for the Hubba and the pole snapped and tore right through the flysheet. With what was now amounting to a wet pile of torn nylon I decided to pack it up and beg to share. With another tent broken, space was becoming limited and my only option of shelter was with Beth in her single skin, one-man racer tent. Oh dear! It just got worse and worse. Dinner was inedible because pasta doesn't cook just sat in boiled water. Getting outside to do night nav was a welcome change.

Paradise compared to the tent

What followed was the worst night i've ever endured. What I was lying on was, in this order; groundsheet; puddle; thermarest; more puddle; saturated down bag; soaked fleece. Oh, and every time the wind blew (every 10 secs) I got a free shower. I spent the last 2 hours of the night sat upright huddled in a ball shivering. 

To say that this sums up my feelings about the ML training would be incorrect. Admittedly I felt horrible walking back down, but I was pleased to know that I had relatively safely tested the limits of my resolve and come back with a smile on my face, ready to go again. In addition, I learnt more than I thought I would and feel better prepared to be responsible for groups in the hills. A course worthwhile doing just for that if nothing else! 

Sunday, 22 January 2012

A mixed bag indeed

Apologies for the random order of previous posts. I'm all caught up with recent events and will try to keep up to date from here on.

This weekend we were back at Glenmore Lodge for an avalanche course courtesy of MCofS. A smaller bunch of people this time, I was happy to book the YHA again for another weekend trip. Driving Perth-Dundee-Aviemore-Dundee-Perth is really tiring so it is nice to be able to rest Saturday evening.

Windy as buggery would be my description of Saturday. A morning of avalanche theory with Roger of MCofS and Tom of Craig Meagaidh SAIS then into the ferocious winds.

Tom lead us straight to the only deep snow in the coire on the east wall, and deep it was. Here we practised hand block tests, assessing layers, shovel tests and rutschblock tests.

I love the sense of misery in this photo
 After an hour or two getting caked in wet snow and digging about I think we were all happy to about face and head back to the car. All, that was, until I realised i'd left my goggles in the boot. Trying to walk with your eyes closed doesn't work. Another lesson learnt. Oh, and that path gets icy, as my arse knows all too well! Crags were being stripped all day and Sundays climbing plans looked dire, as was evidenced by the hoards leaving as we were walking in.

A nice evening chillaxing in the hostel with more Spag Bol than should humanly be consumed, we deliberated on our options for the next day. We were convinced a drop in temperature with the moisture in the air could bring the crags into condition over night. So we opted for an early walk-in to inspect and judge from there. We also had a very nice discussion in the evening with Adam Hughes who was out and about with some clients. 

The early start proved a good idea! Lots of teams had a similar plan, so racing ahead we got to the foot of Mess of Pottage which looked as good as any. First port of call: get gear on! I wasn't making that mistake again. After a bit of mincing about myself and Calum initially headed for Hybrid, a IV,4 which mixes pitches of The Message and The Melting Pot. Problems finding a belay led me to backtrack towards either Haston Line or Hidden Chimney Direct. Being busy with Nik and Steve on HC Direct IV,5 I retraced to Hybrid. A call of "OWEN" made me look around to see Ruiry and James who'd also turned up for the day and went to do Hidden Chimney aswell (5 teams on the route apparently!)

Desperate to get started I solo'd to a decent belay which was the crux of the day for me. Shortly after we were joined in the area by Steve and Sam from Manchester who were excellent company on the shared belays. We both climbed the first pitch of the Message before they moved of left to Mariella VI, 7

Steve making short work of P1 the Message
Partner in crime
Calum was doing great seconding the route. His photography skills are a little left to be desired, but I can't complain to much :)

A date with Mariella for those boys (steeper than it looks!!)

Me heading left around of the Tech 6 pitch of the Message
Each pitch revealed a few nasty surprises, mostly little footholds with powder on ledges for the axes. This was nicely supported by some frozen turf and good hooks on rock were you needed them. Plenty of gear so it felt safe as houses. I offered Calum a pitch but he was right to back off as a minor fall on second spooked him a little.

Nice climbing all round until below the last pitch of the Message, at Calum's request I traversed right onto "easier ground". My God, I hate traversing! Using some interested torquing manoeuvres in a waist-level horizontal crack I managed to get across without penduluming to my death (it was pretty exposed!). I managed to protect it for Calum with a slung block and a sinker bulldog (which I nearly left at home that day).

At some point along our travels, I saw Sam seconding Mariella and after a playful 'hello, hows it going' about 30 seconds later I heard a shout of "f**king take, f**king TAKE". Sounds like they were having fun :)

Topping out was lovely and very well timed. We could see Steve and Nik having just finished HC Direct! Also, just before I could get the camera out the RAF yellow bird came whomping up the coire and flew straight over my head within 30 metres or so and went to pick up someone on Fiaciall a' Choire Chais. Awesome sound!

Fantastic day out in decent conditions, especially considering the prognosis on Saturday. Really fun route with just enough spice and was testing to lead all four pitches, all with technical climbing. Interesting, UKC gives this IV,5 and i'd be inclined to agree, especially under the powder seen today. Either way, well done Calum for seconding at a pretty decent rate. Shame about the frozen screwgate, eh? ;)

Alpine Scotland: a photo essay

Myself and Stephi have been meaning to climb together for a while. A high pressure system on the horizon and some big plans led to a weekends fun in the Northern Corries. Through the Dundee Rucksack Club, a large group of us were doing an MCofS winter climbers workshop. I had the stirling idea of booking a YHA for the night so we could have two days in Aviemore and it would be grand. It was grand in the end, but organising certainly isn't my fortay!

A 5.30am start from Perth should see us into the Loch Avon basin pretty early right? Well, yes it would if we hadn't chatted too much and gone 25 miles north of Aviemore before realising. With the early start wasted we raced up Fiaciall a' Choire Chais in perfect sunshine. I decided to take my SLR with me on this day and was so glad I did. I feel the quality of photos is so much better over my compact. So, apologies in advance if this is a little 'photo heavy'.

 We were treated to an inversion on the way up. The shadow of the plateau cast over the clouds was awe inspiring. It was tempting to strip down to baselayer only it was so warm...this was not a great sign.

Making good time we were optimistic about the route planned for the day. Deep Cut Chimney IV,4 looked from recent blogs as a potentially 'in' mixed route on the only crag retaining much winterness. 

Everything went wrong, starting with decision to reach the base of the route with just ski poles and crampons - no harness on yet (?!). The apron just got steeper and without realising we found ourselves on ground we didn't really fancy gearing up on. Cue Stephi guiding my legs loops over my crampon spikes on a pretty small ledge with no belay options. Lesson learnt - gear up early!

At least I know my gear is good!

I did the first pitch which was a little unconsolidated but otherwise okay, then Stephi did the next which from the noises she was either enjoying or getting gripped! I wasn't too sure until I reached her. After quite a long time I seconded up to find a 7 point spiders web, I mean belay. "I wanted it to be good" she said. Well, it was bomber no doubt about that!

Perfect place to spend time standing around.

Generally being a little disappointed with the condition of the route we made a decision at the next belay. I inspected a little further up, but not far enough that I couldn't reverse the moves, however it just looked like a summer route further up. We were having such a lovely day in the sunshine, we didn't see the need to scratch up the bare rock that appeared to be ahead of us. Plus we were a little behind time. So, we did some sketchy abseils back down to the basin and started walking out. (Note to self: don't be afraid to leave more gear!)

Perfect end to the day

The following day we had an excellent winter climbers workshop with Kevin and Carl. We went right through all the prior research if you like; conditions; weather; avalanche hazard. We then went up into coire an t-sneachda to talk about where to gear up (a day too late!!) and practised making snow bollards and buried axe belays, amongst other little tidbits from the instructors. Overall a really helpful day.

Climbing Ninja strikes again

This is how you sit....

Note: this was a pre-dug anchor and Kevin requested me to say this was not his, as it was 'piss poor'....or words to that effect.

The penguin brigade