Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Seam

Fresh back from my week long course in Ambleside, I hooked up with James and Calum for a trip out. I am desperately trying to get away from the hotspots this winter, but Calum has been itching to get on the Seam for a while now so we headed into Sneachda for what feels like the 100th time. Not to say I minded.....a day out is a day out after all. The forecast was reasonable for Saturday although it became ‘clear’ that it was going to be a bit of a claggy day. We had several overhead visits from the coastguard helicopter on the walk-in, which we questioned as to whether it was a good or bad omen for the day.


Not too many pictures in this blog, although clicking the photo above will take you to the gallery with a couple more photos of the day. The claggy mist made it really difficult to keep the lens clear and even then, images were pretty dismal.
Calum pretty much owned this route. I led the initial ramps of Invernookie as I’d done them before and could recognise the route through the clag and depths of snow. I actually realised after getting back that I was suppose to lead us up right slightly earlier on to the base of the chimney. It’s probably what made the middle traverse pitch quite tricky.....sorry Calum.
Calum led a short, yet awkward pitch to the base of the chimney and then the final pitch in one rope length. Belay duty was actually a pleasure in this instance as myself and James had much amusement from Ramone and Mark, the team following us to Invernookie, trying to pass our small belay. I also explained to James the term ‘braying Geoffrey’s’ and had an impromptu cinematography lesson.

One reason I like to explore elsewhere.......
Calum did an outstanding job of the whole route, one which I certainly found quite tough and I think James would agree. I used the opportunity of being in a three to take some video footage with the hope of creating a proper edited cut. Here is my first attempt at a climbing short!! It is a little rough around the edges, but I’ve tried to make it a little more than 4 mins of continuous fiddling.

Well done Calum!

2013.02.09 - The Seam from Owen Flowers on Vimeo.

UPDATE: It is unfortunate that some university students from Leeds appear to have got caught out over the weekend, with one later confirmed as killed. Reports suggest that the 5 were recovered on Monday morning after being reported overdue on Sunday evening, so I am unsure what the large MRT presence was on Saturday. Maybe training? None the less, it is sad that the trend over the last few weekends has been folk getting into serious trouble and paying the price. Very sad.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Tower Ridge - Winter

John text me a while ago suggesting he'd make the Catterick - Dalwhinnie journey sometime soon and we could get some winter climbing in. If it was anything like last time (see: Cummingston) there would be lots of alcohol, little actual climbing and sightings of sea badgers!

Despite a comms malfunction, John managed to locate the cabin in the woods that is Station Cottages in Dalwhinnie a.k.a. Timbuktu, around 11pm. There was a brief catch up over the important events of the previous evening in London with the Men of the West, which involved some mlarring messes and a new form of club-based communication called the 'liquorice allsort nod'.

The objective for the next day was then set: Tower Ridge, a route with a history of underestimations and benightments. Let's do it!

So, less than a year since I did the summer ascent with James, we make the early start that is required for a day on the Ben, never mind it's biggest ridge.....in winter. Despite a late night and very little exercise (for me anyway!) we made good time to the CIC hut and are soon standing under the huge bulk of the Douglas Boulder.

The usual slope leading to the initial chimney pitch looked loaded so we decided to avoid it and join the ridge further up. In our haste we also tried to overtake a roped party by picking an even more 'alternative' route onto the ridge by a horrendously exposed snow traverse. Quite possibly the scariest part of the route!!

Once on the ridge we roped up and took coils to start moving together over the initial easy sections, although easy is not necessarily the right word. The ridge immediately provides good climbing, plenty of exposure and amazing views. With the conditions the way they were, sandwich between awful winter storms, it wasn't surprising to see numerous teams on the ridge. This slowed things down a bit as a fair amount of time was spend queuing. Still, we couldn't complain.

The rock mass in the picture above is the little tower, the first real obstacle of the route. We managed to race up this and move over the next level section with lots of photo stops along the way. I had real trouble selecting the best photos from a batch of many, although I slightly wish I had taken the SLR along for such an epic route.

Next on the cards was the infamous Eastern Traverse. Looming above you is an impenetrable wall which would make anyone thing they've let themselves in more than they wanted, the Great Tower is a milestone of the route. Winding it's way around the east (huh, really) side is the traverse and to be honest makes you consider finding a way up the wall! Fortunately with plenty of beta under the belt I dispatched the traverse and managed to protect John's journey around it just as well.

The climbing after here is exceptional and the outlook over Observatory Gully is outstanding, definitely my favourite part of the route! We could see a trio finishing up Tower Scoop and Gardyloo Gully which had some point eaten the stoner we saw earlier on. Over the other side, Robbie was on the Tower Face of the Comb which looks a little stiff.

We got up on top of the Great Tower and joined the queue for Tower Gap. At this point it was getting Harry Gleanpigs (cold) so the duvets went on and we chatted to some guys who were partaking in the SMC Winter Meet, which explained why there were so many people in the coire.

Tower Gap has to be witnessed to really understand its complexity. It has exposure, sure, but the down climb forces you to look straight down into the abyss as you manoeuvre your feet to get down into the gap. Then there is the climb back out!! Lots of noises were made.

The Gap in profile
Words and photos just don't quite capture the scale and grandeur of this route, it really is one that has to be experienced. Our trip was 11.5 hrs car to car, with only 7.5hrs on the route. We worked out nearly 2hrs of which was queuing, so we managed the route in less time than my summer ascent. Not bad really!

I can only advise to anyone thinking of doing the route to try and get it in good (snow) condition and with good weather, if not just for the views.

Cheers John for making the journey up, first on the list of many!

Click any of the photos above to view the gallery in a new window

Sron na Lairig

It's been a long time since the last blog post. Work has really taken over my life, but I am hoping to back on track with reporting my adventures! After all, I have the trip to Chamonix that needs putting up! 

My winter season started before Christmas with a little trip up the Haston Line in t'Sneachda. I'm not sure if I've even got photos from that one....

Desperate to branch out of the northern corries this winter I joined Calum, Alasdair and Stephen for a go at Sron na Lairig in Glencoe. Looking to be a good option given the conditions we made a fairly relaxed start up the valley.

Soft snow made for relatively hard going but the ~4km walk in was over before we knew it. Having a view of the route early on helped to get us excited. We'd taken rope and gear but I was already beginning to think it might be a nice route to solo and not faff too much on. A couple of other people were ahead of us an looked to be moving quickly on the initial pitches, so we kitted up and started up the initially broad ridge. At the base there are plenty of variants to make it harder if you wish.

We all felt comfortable moving over the easy ground and the few 'tricky' sections just added that little bit of interest. This allowed us to move quickly but still had time for a bit of chat with the other party we passed.

The upper reaches started to become a bit more of a defined ridge....exactly what you want from a ridge climb. As I was leading the way I kept an eye out for some sections that would add interest. One such part was a short but quite exposed wall which had really solid hooks. It felt good to be moving confidently over this sort of ground, which I think was really helped by the calm and clear conditions.

After this it just got better and better, with the ridge becoming knife edge style.

Having made such a quick ascent we decided to carry on to the summit of Stob Coire Sgreamhach for a true 'mountaineering style' day. From here we headed down the huge ridge of Beinn Fhada, which included a small abseil. This section is noted as a grade I/II down climb, however I think we must have gone wrong as it definitely needed an abseil!!

We diverted down the east slopes of Beinn Fhada as the light was beginning to fade which was a painful experience. Very soft snow combined with loose rocks just below the surface made for very sore ankles. We utilised many forms of descent within the repertoire, including front crawl!

The headtorches came out towards the end and my phone started bleating as the signal came back. We weren't to know at the time but during our day out 4 people had been buried and killed in an avalanche in central gully of Bidean nam Bian, just over the hill. Suffice to say, my folks were very worried as I'd only told them I was going to Glencoe!

Overall; a fine route and a fun day with the guys. Condolences to the families who lost loved ones on this day. 

Click any of the photos above to view the gallery in a new window