Monday, 12 January 2009

The Last Month Or So

Been out here and there in the last few weeks, before the early December cold snap broke down in the middle of the the month managed to climb the excellent Inclination (VII/7) in Stob Coire Nan Lochan with Konnie and Viv, Route I with the direct start (VI/6) on the Ben with Konnie and the nails Genie (V/7) in Sneachda with Steve (along with some airtime on my part).
Ironically the very cold few weeks we've just had in Scotland weren't brilliant for winter climbing as there had been quite a major thaw previously and during the cold snap the weather was very dry. A week ago on Saturday I made the long (4hrs) slog into Braeriach with Konnie and Gaz to climb the icy Vulcan (V/4) in Garbh Coire Mor, supposedly the snowiest place in Britain. An awesome, wild and deserted place but quite a long way to go for two pitches of climbing. At the top I had to deal with a 7 metres of horrific vertical sugar above less than convincing runners and belay, it eventually succumbed to over an hour of character building tunneling after convincing myself that I was Colin Haley on a top rope.

No.4 Buttress, Coire an Lochain

Fallout Corner

Despite the warm and windy forecast, last Friday the conditions in Coire an Lochain were excellent with all the buttresses nicely hoared and the temperatures below zero even if the wind was fairly savage... Viv and climbed the classic Fallout Corner (VI/7) that provided a couple of pitches of very well protected climbing, maybe a touch overrated though and very soft for the grade. I would have no complaints if it was given V/7 and definitely easier than the Genie.

The wild (and very snowy) Garbh Coire Mor

Gaz leading pitch 1 of Vulcan

Konnie about to enjoy his hotaches

Christmas Lunch

Stobbers looking good on the way in

Look, no feet!

Viv on pitch 2

Pitch 3

Job done

A wintery Ben Nevis

Route I direct start

Kenny Grant on Route II

Konnie enjoying the rebirth chimney

Full moon

The Alt a'Mhuillin by Moonlight

Steve styling up pitch 2 of The Genie

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Winter Continues

I must have walked up the Ben path in winter at least twenty times in winter but I've never seen it quite like it was on Saturday. It was clearly going to bright and chilly day, the car thermometer read a toasty -8 at Dalwhinnie and had warmed up to a positively balmy -2 at the north face car park as we started to walk up. There was a good covering of snow to sea level and all the pine trees on the initial path were plastered in snow. It felt more like walking along a wooded track in the Alps rather than a dank forest path on the West Coast of Scotland. Luckily some kind souls had blazed a trail in already, so we were spared the purgatorial thigh deep wade that I was dreading.

Carn Dearg

The mighty north face of Carn Dearg looked absolutely plastered in snow so we decided that it would be silly not take advantage of this and we made a beeline for Route One. Unfortunately there was a team already at the start but they had decided not climb as the turf looked pretty unfrozen. We thought we'd check it out so I soloed up a bit to test a couple of lumps, all of which were resolutely soggy, bugger.

South Trident Buttress - Slab Climb is the obvious slab high up

I wasn't particularly psyched by the wade up in the Ciste but walking slowly has its advantages and Gaz and Konrad kindly improved the trail ahead of me. Plan B was to to try Slab Climb (VI/7) on South Trident Buttress. Luckily Ian Parnell and Andy Benson were making the first winter ascent of Devastation, an E1 just to the left of our route so there was a good set of tracks to the bottom of the route.

Gaz on the first pitch

Due to the amount of faffage we didn't start climbing until twelve, Gaz led off on the first pitch whilst Konnie and I played paper, scissors, stone to decide who got the meat of the route, the 40m slab that made up the second pitch. I won.

Getting Dark...

Once Gaz had a set up a slightly iffy looking belay we moved across and I stared up at the slab. It looked fairly intimidating and once I started up I realised it was pretty verglassed as well. The route climbs a crack in the slab to an overlap then transfers left to another crack and then up. I spent a while at the beginning trying to get a wire in and once I'd done this, I began to have serious commitment issues. Time was moving on rapidly, I wasn't sure I'd be able to get that many runners and the climbing looked hard and delicate. Eventually after moving up and down a few times I got so high there didn't seem much point in going down again so decided to press on.


The climbing was absolutely stellar, really absorbing and technical but never pumpy. Alot of the small edges were covered in ice so I had to do a fair bit of chipping for footholds but once established the gear was great. The highlight was moving around the overlap. It felt a bit like the GBH window traverse, sidepulling of a big edge, then shuffling along a narrow foot ledge before grasping the sidepull on the other side. From here I reached the edge of the slab and had to make a tenuous move off a very small torque (just using the tip of the pick) to regain the crack. Once the halfway ledge was reached the climbing eased and I was soon on the small belay ledge.

Enjoying the Offwidth

It was now quarter to four and darkness was rapidly approaching, Gaz decided he was going to abb off and go down, but there was no way I was going to go down after the effort I'd just put in. Luckily Konnie was still keen and began to second the pitch with the headtorch coming into play half way up. The top pitch was a heinous looking overhanging chimney/offwidth disappearing into the night. It succumbed to alot of grunting from Konnie. It wasn't much fun to second with a pack in the dark but the rest of the pitch was good and we were soon on our way back to the car. None of the snow had melted and the car park was looking just as alpine as in the morning. We all decided that spending the night in a house in Aviemore was preferable to the car so back to Gaz's it was. Needless to say our psyche levels were low in the morning so after dropping the keen Kiwi and other Sam in the Coire Cas carpark we made a big fry up.

The midweek plan was to head to Lochnagar on Tuesday with Mike then possibly head somewhere else on Wednesday if motivation was high. After a frosty bivvy in the car which iced up on the inside, the day dawned frosty and clear as we trudged up the dreary road to the coire. There wasn't much snow around and we were slightly worried about the possibility of black cliffs but were pleasantly surprised by the view of a frosty crag, although there was minimal snow on the coire floor. We climbed Shadowlands (VI/7), a 'modern classic' that tackles the steep lower section of Shadow Buttress A. Not too sustained and a good, well protected crux pitch. By the time we topped out the weather had changed and it was almost dark, after a slight faff finding the Meikle Pap col and a walk out in heavy snow, psyche levels for a second day were low.

Shadowlands takes the right-left slanting corner that rises from the large cave on the central buttress

Mike Seconding the Crux Pitch

Mike on Pitch 4

Friday, 28 November 2008

Kendal and Bust

The last month has definitely been the best start to a winter season since I've been climbing. It's still only November and we're already onto our third cold spell, no doubt we'll pay for it come January...
In the spirit of peversity I decided not to go climbing at the weekend but instead went to the Kendal Mountain Film Festival, except I didn't see any films. It was a bit of lost couple of days, mainly spent in the pub. To make up for it, Duncan and I got up bleary eyed on Monday morning and went for a wander in the Southern Highlands. after deciding that Arrochar wasn't in we ended up at the old faithful Beinn an Dothaidh. The main buttress was looking a bit black so wed did a IV/5 on the lower cliff - Circean. A bit of one pitch pitch wonder but a good one at that. A steep corner on excellent turf, then a pull through a burly undercut wall. Back off to play in the snow in the morning...

Monday, 6 October 2008

There Goes The Summer

The Blog kind of went into hibernation over the summer, mainly due to the loss of my digital camera (somewhere below Scafell East Buttress) and the lack of a computer for July, August and September. However with the first snows have roused me from my estivation and with the winter horn rapidly hardening I thought I'd bore you all (if anyone is still out there) with a selection of summer photos. From Gogarth to Colombia via the Alps, Scotland and elsewhere.

Ogmore Scariness

Minus One Direct

Only Another 15 Hours To Go Viv

Most Beautiful Place to Climb in Scotland?

Happy Campers After an Awesome Day on Carnmore

Main Cliff


Frendo Spur

Snow Arete


Dru North Face

Aiguille De La Vanoise - Demaison Route

Near the Summit of a Very Cold Aiguille Verte, Having Climbed The Nant Blanc Face

On the Top of the Verte

A Broken Man

South Ridge of the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey, A Long Way

Pointe Ottoz

Freney and Brouillard Faces of Mont Blanc

Bivvy on Descent

Walk in to the Brenta Dolomites 

Sella Massif

Don Quixote - South Face of the Marmolada

Looking Down Most of Face (It's Pretty Big...)

Chair Ladder


Hackers Cricket


Climbing at Suesca, Colombia

Plaza de Armas, Villa de Leyva

Your Average Colombian Man at 10am



Parque Tayrona


Taking it Easy in Tolu

Crossing the Street in Santa Marta

Carribbean Sunset