Monday, 15 December 2008

Sgurr nan Clach Geala - Sun 14th Dec '08

Yesterday, Andy and I had a walk in to Sgurr Nan Clach Geala (or a slog in I should say!) There was more snow than expected, with a crust on the top, which made for more difficult walking conditions higher up. And once we arrived at the gearing up boulder, the mist was well down and it took us a little bit of time to find the descent gully.
Having to down climb into the mist, not knowing whether we were in the correct gully or not or on a slope above a steep cliff, was very, very spooky! But after about 20m it was easier to see that it was indeed a safe way down. But having the mist there really added another element! After a little descent, you have to traverse along and then cross Slanting Gully, then traverse a terrace above the lower cliffs. Unfortunately, due to the mist I was unable to 'wow' at the steep and long line of Skyscraper Buttress.
It didn't take long to reach the bottom of our intended route (1st winter ascent of one of Andy's summer V.Diffs, Alpha Crest) The 1st pitch was a bit scrappy, it follows the crest just to the left of Alpha Gully and the Gully walls were short enough that it felt too easy to escape if need be. The 2nd pitch was harder (much harder!) Involved the sort of climbing I really hate! I felt out of balance a lot of the time and it was steeper than the initial slabby section. There was a step right back on to the crest proper which felt really tenuous and committing and it seemed to take me ages to figure it out.
But what a 3rd pitch! Lovely and sensational! Firstly, a long traverse (sphincter clenching stuff!) leftwards involving draping yourself over a slab, with axes into turf on the top (thankfully frozen!) and blindly feeling with your feet and praying they wouldn't dangle into nothingness below! Shuffle across, axes into more bomber turf (thank god placements!) and thin for the feet, knee on a ledge and round and up into a groove. And a bloody steep groove it was too! With a big bulge pushing you outwards, but an excellent hole in between 2 rocky bits to hook my axe over and good turf for the other axe, saw me able to lean right out, get my leg up high and heave! It was very strenuous climbing but the placements were excellent (apart from at one point on the steep groove above where it took ages to find a good enough bit of turf, my axes initially bouncing off rock and making sparks in my desperation to find something!
And above, followed grade I ground for what seemed like an age to get to the summit (knackered by this point, and a dislike of trudging upwards on grade I ground, too hot!)
I haven't got a clue about the grade, it just felt HARD! I thought it just as strenuous as the hard pitch on our route on Sgurr Ruadh, but with much better placements and not as tenuous. Andy thought the 2nd pitch to be the crux, whereas I found the 3rd pitch more strenuous, but in the end agreed that the 2nd pitch was harder as it was more tenuous and thinner. But the 3rd pitch was quite serious to lead, with one bit of gear at the start of the traverse but nothing until you were well established in the groove up and round the corner, so a big swing if you came off, for leader and for second! Once up the groove, the position was amazing! Just a wee slopey slope and the whole cliff plummeting down below you, sensational! We gave it IV4 in the end, with me having much grade discussion on the way home, finding it hard to get my head round the difference between a IV4 and an IV5. But the route was quite serious in places and IV5 would suggest better gear for the crux, which there wasn't, so I think that is how it works.
Unfortunately, neither of us bothered taking our cameras down due to the mist. A mistake in retrospect because the mist lifted after the 2nd pitch and the views were fabulous, both from the route and from the summit, which we reached at dusk. And thus began the trudge back down to the car.
Photo of Sgurr nan Clach Geala above, courtesy of Fimm from UKC.
And photo of view of Sgorr Mhor from top of cliffs, and of the cliffs themselves (our route is the crest, just to the left of the first gully on the left, on the main cliffs) courtesy of Andy's old slides.

Conditions - snow level down to about 600m, starting to consolidate on more western aspects, still soft on eastern aspects and powdery. Some minor sloughing in east facing gullies. A good bit of cleaning required for gear and placements, but turf well frozen where exposed and middling frozen else where, with some clumps of not very well frozen when super burried.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Being a 'casualty' for Ochils Mountain Rescue - 6th Dec '08

Didn't go climbing this weekend as last month I had volunteered to be a casualty for a Mountain Rescue exercise in the Ochil's just outside Stirling.
We all had to meet up at 12pm outside Wallace High School just outside Stirling and I arrived in good time, to find that so had everyone else! Grabbed all my stuff together (minus a map as I didn't have one for that area, ooops!)
The story was, there had been a Geo-Caching event on the Ochil Hills but the participants had been given wrong Grid references, thus the participants had gotten pretty lost, with most managing to get down the hill but about 15 of us still out on the hill and lost/injured.
I ended up in the party of 3 who had to be out on the hill the longest :o) We were to walk up to near the summit of Ben Buck, contour round to a given point and hang about there till around 4.30, and then start walking off the hill, over towards Ben Bengangie, where we were to phone in around 4.50pm, and then start walking towards Bengengie and off the hill down by the 2nd Inchna Burn. We were to pretend that one of our party was exhausted and suffering from hypothermia (we had supposedly been on the hill since 7am)

It was a gorgeous day to be out on the hill on Saturday, one of those beautiful, cold but clear and crisp, winter days and myself and one of the other guys in my party, Alexander were moving fast. Alexander is over from America on a study trip of sorts. He is studying Medicine, and is looking into how the Rescue Teams work over here, dealing with injuries and the like, all sounded very interesting. Alex was the one to volunteer to be the casualty and our other team member, Stuart and myself were to be cold and tired too, but not as bad as Alex. Stuart was funny, ex military and had half the kitchen sink in his rucksack, including these wee glowsticks, which when it got dark,he attached to his hat, along with his headtorch, looked rather comical!
We stopped as planned at about grid ref NN 886 013 and sat and had some food, me eager for a cup of hot soup and my ham sarnie by this point, and after a few photos and a blether, it was time to head off towards Bengangie as the light was beginning to change and the temperature to drop a little. We decided to contour round nearer to Blairdenon Hill to avoid some steep descent and ascent and were too busy concentrating on our feet on the peat haggy ground and dimming light to notice the time. I asked, and it was 4.55, ooops but only 5mins late for our call in! I got out my mobile, hoping I wasn't too short on credit (pauper that I am!) but Stuart didn't need to worry about that so he used his phone instead whilst I got our grid reference, explaining to Alexander how to do it. Dave looked up the grid ref on his GPS, as did Stuart and I was chuffed at myself for getting it pretty much bang on.

The MR HQ told us to stop moving, try and get and keep warm and that they had teams out on the hill looking for us and would be with us ASAP. So, that was us, in for the wait to be 'rescued' Alexander got into his bivi bag (complete with karrimat!) and I got out my bothy bag. I've only got a 2man one so I just used it as a cover as I wasn't really that cold, although my feet were getting a bit nippy as my boots are needing a wee bit of a waxing!

We blew on our whistles every now and again, with Stuart's whistle being the best and Alex's being rather pathetic sounding. Stuart had on his glow stick by this point and Alex had on his torch set to flashing mode. Mine had been on flashing mode but I turned it to normal as Alex's was more powerful. I had forgotten to replace my fading batteries from last week (proper numpty stylee :o) so my torch was a tad on the dim side!
After about an hour we saw torches on top of Bengangie, torches coming up the Alva Glen and torches coming up from the way we had come initially. It was time to start getting into character! We all thought the folk coming where we had come from seemed nearest, but it was Alex from the Ochils team, coming up from Alva Glen who arrived 1st. I rushed off to meet him, gushing with relief and hurrying him up, 'Help, please! My mates are up there, one is so cold, he's getting confused and I'm really worried about him.' (Have to admit, I did feel like a bit of a pleb, lol!) Alex arrived and got out a group shelter and we all huddled inside it, bunging lots of clothes on top of Alex, an extra hat on his head and extra mitts on his hand. He even got his 1st ever taste of Bovril courtesy of MR Alex, which he found utterly disgusting. Mischievously, I kept trying to force feed him wee sips, telling him he had to have a warm drink, hehe! Poor lad, he was supposed to be hypothermic, but in reality was sweltering! Stuart had a thermometer on his compass and it had read 0degrees on the hill, and when we were in the shelter, it went up to 8degrees, so just shows how effective they are.

Next arrived a couple more folk with a couple of Search and Rescue dogs and we were ploughed with juice, jelly babies, Opal Fruits and Cereal bars. I felt a bit guilty about eating all their food as I wasn't even hungry! (but the Jelly Babies did go down a treat :o) Alex kept popping his head in to make sure we were ok and to see if we were warming up, and then reported that a Landrover was coming up the Silver Glen track and if we were able we could walk down to it, and then get a ride the rest of the way. If Alex was still too knackered then they would send more folk up, and he could get stretchered to the landrover. I'm not sure if we should have acted some more and said he was too knackered to walk (get them some more training in, lol!) but we decided we were ok to walk and everyone got their stuff together and started to walk back towards the way we had come initially.
Didn't take long to reach the Landy, and I sloped off for a pee as I was thinking we might be in for a rough ride down the hill and my bladder was full! It wasn't rough at all, but my heart rate did go up a notch once we hit the steeper zig-zag part of the track as at one point it almost seemed like the track went off the edge of the hill!
We were the last ones off the hill, and Stuart drove me back to my car, where I quickly got changed whilst my windows defrosted, then we drove off to Tillicoutry for free soup and stovies!

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Long Weekend - Fri 28th Nov-Mon 1st Dec '08

Friday saw the 2nd round of the winter series of bouldering competitions at Avertical World in Dundee and Bekah was climbing pretty damn well and again managed to get 2nd place in the Junior Girls section. Her climbing has just come on so well in the past year, it never fails to amaze me. She is leading the same grade as me now and can climb some featured things far, far better than I.
Andy was down for the weekend and on Saturday we went for a nosey at CragX
There are quite a few very steep lines here and we went over to have a try on one of them (with me gulping in nervousness and questioning Andy as to whether the gear would be good enough at belays etc if I was really struggling. In the end the turf wasn't good enough where it was buried and it was too risky (thank god, I thought, climbing hard stuff in not the best nick was a scary prospect)
We decided to check out other areas of the cliff for future reference and spotted a lovely looking line which looked a good bit easier than the original one we looked at and we reckoned this line would rely on the turf less, so had a go. Andy led the 1st pitch and the gear was non existent in the 1st 20metres. He was going carefully and I was worried that it was hard. There was a steepish wall to start off with, then a traverse going rightwards and then up leftwards into a groove and then Andy was out of sight. The rope was moving quickly which was reassuring but then stopped for a few moments and as I couldn't see, I was imaging some hard moves! The rope moved again, running out of length and Andy shouted for me to move up a few metres, eeeeeeeeeeeek, I really didn't want to have to start climbing without a belay! But thankfully Andy managed to get one in just as I was up against the base of the cliff.
Then it was my go and I found getting onto the cliff itself bloomin' hard! It involved a really big move and much knee action and hauling on my axes was needed. I nervously approached the traverse, shouting for some slack but it wasn't as bad as I had imagined and next came a romp, until I reached a steep and blank looking slab. Andy's footprints went off rightwards and phew, I thought he went round the slab. But no, the footsteps ended and up the slab I had to go! It involved the most wincy hook on a tiny quartz nubbin and using my hand on another wee nubbin to get higher, before hooking my axe over the lip of the wall and praying it would hold as I rocked over onto a high step. Just a couple of moves, but jeez my heart was racing!
The next pitch involved a steep looking wall and I thought I'd go have a go at leading it, but said if it looked too hard/scary then I'd come back down and let Andy do it. Approaching, it looked quite ledgy but as I got to it, I realised that all the ledges were rounded and quite free of any depressions etc that I felt I could use my crampons on. There was one small ledge to fit one foot on however so I moved up on that and thwacked my axes into a big blob of turf. The turf wasn't the best and I was dubious about committing to it so came back down, cleared some snow away to try and find something better for my feet and tried again. My axes felt more secure this time though my feet were teetering on a horrible rounded and smooth bit and as I was going to move my axes higher, one of my feet slipped and gave me a horrific fleg! By this point my heart was thundering and I'm sure there were a few choice words but my axe placements were now good enough to haul on and I managed to swing my leg up high enough and heave over the edge of the wall onto a slope above. One other longer but easier step took me up onto the top of the hill where I flung the rope round a block and brought Andy up.
We're giving the route III4 and calling it Shooglenifty (need to check the spelling on that one!) Hope to get into this crag some other time for the harder routes but it's a hell of a walk in and today (Sunday) we are both utterly knackered, aching like 80 year olds and eating a herd of horses!
Drove back to Andy's later on the Sunday and had much discussion about where to go the next day (Monday) We were thinking about somewhere in the Loch A'an Basin but some posts on UKC and a few emails later we had changed our minds and went North West instead (hurrah, I simply love it up there!) We wanted to go to Sgorr Ruadh as I'd never climbed there before but we weren't sure if it would be too low for the turf to be any good. In the end we decided to go for a look anyway, nothing ventured, nothing gained!
The walk in to Sgorr Ruadh is really easy going, longish but after a tiny easy gradient, the going is mostly flat. Until you get to the Coire itself when it's a slog uphill and we were moving up on powder over boulders so it wasn't much fun and was hard work! And all the while our chosen route was looming, looking steeper and scarier each moment! Finally, we were there though, and my usual pre route nerves surfaced and I started thinking of all the reasons why it was a bad idea to climb this route, lol! Question Andy about the conditions, question him about the likelihood of it being too hard for me and us needing to bail on crappy gear. I think Andy knows me well enough now to ignore all my wee doubts as simple nerves and humours me, whilst getting on with things.
Getting off the ground was a problem though! The ground was steep and seemed impenetrable in the conditions of powder and semi frozen turf (we hoped the turf would be bomber higher up) so we moved in from the right, going over the top of the overhangs and onto easier ground about 5metres or so above. After the 1st pitch, the 2nd pitch followed a ropes length of quite technical (4maybe) climbing and was pretty sustained and tiring on my shoulders but some of the turf was as sexy as can be (yes, I know that's sad, but frozen and bomber turf is simply delightful!) And then we came to a steepening which had me gulping in fear! We had seen from the approach that the top pitch was going to be steep and the crux of the route and part of my questioning at the bottom was if it was wise to continue as I might not be able to do it. But it looked like we could escape off the route if we had to back off from the crux so that was a bit reassuring.
Andy moved up a rocky, snow covered slab and set up a belay on a small ledge above, just below the crux and brought me up to the bottom of the slab where I tied in to an anchor to belay, Andy turning his belay into his 1st runners. I scrutinized every single move that Andy made so I could try and copy the moves, all the while the prospect of the steep wall above keeping my nerves on edge. Andy climbs so thoughtfully and quietly that I can never quite tell whether he is finding something difficult or not, but he was moving slower than normal so this was a sign to me that things were tough! There were plenty of runners in the 1st initial steepening and one in the steeping above, so that was reassuring and once Andy was up he reassured me that the belay anchors were bomber and that if I fell it wasn't a problem.
The slab approaching the steep wall was hard! And I had to use 2 axes and one foot in a groove come chimney to the side of the slab and the other foot had to teeter up the slab to keep me in balance. A hook out on a side wall to the right brought me up to the little ledge where Andy had belayed from. Then I pondered the moves above. A torque to the right and a hook to the left, arms out wide enabled me to step up onto another ledge and then there was a thin torque in a crack to the right which brought me a little higher where I could finally hook my other axe around the top of a flake. It was all pretty hairy and tenuous! The next problem to overcome was a bit of gear in said crack. I still had my axe hooked over the flake but my right axe was now torqued higher in the crack, above the nut and I couldn't see the nut. So I had to remove that axe, hook it around the flake and try to unclip the gear from the rope with my left hand. But, the gear was out to the side and the rope was tight on it. I got my right axe torqued again and tried with my left, asking for some slack in the rope. As I tried to remove it, I could feel my axe slipping out the crack, aaaaaaaaaaarg, tight rope again please! as I quickly hook my axe back round the flake. I need to really think about how I'm going to hold on and get this bit of gear out at the same time. Eventually manage it but the quickdraw is still in rope and the nut is in my teeth and in hindsight it would have been much easier just shoving the nut in a pocket or something. Spent ages trying to re clip the nut onto the quickdraw and was swearing like a trouper by this point. Then my leashes on my right axe were impossibly twisted and I don't know how it happened, but I'm presuming that my leashes froze open, but my leash slipped off my arm and my axe plummeted through space, f*ck f*ck f*ck!!! What the hell am I going to do now! I've managed the 1st section of the crux but there is still a couple of metres left and I've just really pushed myself doing the 1st bit, there is no way in hell I can climb this hard with one axe when I'm at my limit with two!! Andy throws me down a loop of rope which I clip to my harness but I refuse to be dragged willy nilly up the cliff and try to climb whilst being pulled. I was mortified, it was horrible and I really didn't like giving over complete control. But it was much quicker that way, than Andy lowering me down and me having to climb what I had done already plus the top section. Once I was over the lip of the steep wall, Andy ab'd down for my axe (it had fallen to the bottom of the slab) and prusiked back up the rope.
Time was running short and there was one pitch left up a steep groove. The route joined up with other routes on that section of cliff and the top rope length was about grade II, but we decided to traverse off the cliff at the top of our route, rather than join the other route so we could get back to our sacks in the corrie before it got dark.
The last pitch was delightful! About tech4 with amazing hooks and torques, and thin for the feet to add some spice! There was a chimney/depression type thing at the top and you had to move rightwards here to stand on a pedestal and then heave up on more hooks etc above onto the snowy slope above. And that was it, another new route in the bag (if not in the best style for me though!) I was feeling really pissed off at myself for my incompetence and feeling really insecure as a climber, telling myself I was utterly crap and would never be competent and should just give it all up, blah blah blah, haha no way! But my bad mood persisted till we got down to the sacks and wasn't helped by the steep descent, again over snow covered scree and loose bouldery stuff. It got to the point that I was falling over that often that I decided to descend on my bum. That was much quicker, though I got a bit of a sore bum a few times when I hit a rocky patch! And my trousers haven't thanked me for it, damn!
In the end, it was good to try something really hard for me to see how I got on with it. But I think I'll stick to a good few more grade IV's before trying a V again, although we didn't know it was going to be so hard. And I need to figure out a new system for my axes and the leashes and I really need to learn to keep a bit more cool in extremes instead of turning into a spitting fury of wrath and need to learn to channel that aggression and energy into my climbing instead.

I've been enjoying naming our routes so far, but I'm leaving the naming of this one up to Andy cos I'll just call it something evil and nasty, lol!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Beinn Eighe - 22nd Nov '08

I wasn't going to climb this weekend. Andy and his partner John were climbing something too hard for me and I'd been so busy during the week with study and homework, that I hadn't organised another climbing partner. So, I decided to go bag some more munros and if Andy and John were going to Torridon, then I'd jump in the car too and do a traverse of Beinn Alligin or something similar.
In the end, decided to go to Beinn Eighe as I hadn't done the 2 munros there, nor had I ever walked into Coire Mhic Fhearchair and Andy reckoned that if I walked up to the col between Sail Mhor and Coinneach, then I'd get a wee scramble up near to the top of Fuselage Wall round from the West Buttress. He had never been up the hill that way so didn't know for sure exactly what it was like, but reckoned that if I stayed right, rather than left, then it shouldn't be too difficult.
We were up at 5ish, arriving at the car park about, or just before 8 and Andy and John set off up hill, whilst I set off round the back. As the view to the NW opened up, I stopped a fair bit to oooh and aaah and take photos, and sauntering onwards realised I had taken the wrong branch of the path and was now heading away from Beinn Eighe and past the Lochans Choire Dhuibh. Rats!! I could see the correct path against the hillside, so should I turn back, or just go direct, through the boggy hillock bits. The boggy hillock bits beckoned, though I'm not sure it was any quicker!
On the right path at last, it was no time at all before I entered the coire and the cliffs of Sail Mhor came into view. I stopped for a while to look at Ling, Lawson and Glover's Route before walking round the loch and heading off up to the col, keeping an ear and eye open for Andy and John on the way.
It was steep, and not the most pleasant going up to the col and I couldn't decide whether the powder over the grass or the powder over the loose rock was easier going! But eventually I made it up and could see John bringing Andy up, on what looked like pitch 2 of their route, jeez they were moving quick I thought! I got up onto the crest of the ridge, scrambling over blocks and boulders when I was stopped by a steep wall. GULP! Was this really the 'wee' scramble? From my perspective it looked a bloody terrifying prospect going up there without a rope attached! Certainly not the sort of ground I was used to soloing! I remembered Andy saying about going right, so I dropped down off the crest and moved around the difficulty. Only problem was that I couldn't see another way to get back up. The walls were steeper here and most def impassable to me without a rope, and if I was to carry on rightwards, I would be going down OFF the hill and onto steep grass and scree, gouged out by gorges where water flowed down. Hmmm, that prospect didn't seem so great either and I stopped for a wee rethink and got out my map for a look. Well, if I carried on the way I was going, I would eventually come to the Bealach Gorm and going that way seemed to defeat the purpose of what I had originally planned. I decided to go back to the ridge crest where I started and have a proper look at the steep bit, it probably wasn't as hard as it looked and it was more than likely that I was just being a bit of a wimp. The nearer I got to the crest, the harder I could hear my heart beating in my chest. I was getting pretty damn nervous! The start of the wall didn't look *too* difficult, but what if I climbed up there and it *did* get harder and I couldn't get back down? What would I do? All these thoughts of, 'oh you've got yourself into a bit off a mess here!' were going through my head, and it did cross my mind to turn about and head back the way I came, facing self humiliation and loathing. But, for sure, was this not a wee puzzle I could solve by just having a wee try to see what it felt like. Aye. There was a choice between a chimney or a slab and I looked at the slab first but it looked to be hold less (for feet) and had alot of snow on it. The chimney option looked better to me so I stood on a block and reached up to feel about. But the next foot hold was chest high and the hand holds throwing my off balance, so back down I went. I decided I'd best put my crampons on, there was no verglass but I had seen the rocks all hoared up higher up and felt it might be too slippy with just boots. I didn't bother with axes though and just put on my Dachstein mitts for grip, the lack of turf and blocky nature of the rock, feeling quite foreign to me. I tried that chimney a few times, but in the end went to look at the slab instead.
There was a good enough ledge to stand on at the bottom of it, and good hand holds at the top, but it looked blank to me in between. I brushed the snow away with my mitt, looking for anything that I could use as a foothold and eventually found a wee ledgy bit and moved up, my heart beating louder and louder and my blood pressure rising! Managed to get my foot quite high and rock over and that was me past the slab, phew! But I was committed now, not sure that I could reverse those moves if need be. Thankfully the next section was a breeze and just more like that scramble I thought it would be! And at the top was another awkward chimney which took a bit of figuring! There was a wee foothold inside the chimney and a knee was put to good use half way up, until I managed to pull over, and a few more blocky moves and I was at the top. Phew! That was exciting!!
I stopped to take loads of photos of Andy and John, and noticed another team over to the right on Fight or Flight. But I was getting too cold hanging about with my mitts off and once Andy brought John up to his stance, they only had one pitch left to climb, so I thought I'd better get my skates on and make a move! I decided that there was no way I was going to have time to do both munros so deliberated for moment on which one to go for. If I did Ruadh-stac Mor then came back and met the guys, then I'd have to go down that horrid slope back to the car, whereas if I went on further to do Spidean Coire nan Clach then I could go down the path. That was the deciding factor really.
It was simply beautiful up there, it was freezing cold but the wind had gone and there were no other walkers to be seen, just me and the hills and views for miles and miles. I stopped at the col at the bottom of Coinneach Mor, for a bit to eat and then zoomed off up to the next top, trying to stay as close to the crest as possible on the wee scramble up to the proper summit of Spidean. The light was changing now, and I thought that unless I got a move on, Andy and John would get down well before me and be waiting knackered in the car for ages. So, rather than following the nice path down, I went off down the right side of Coire nan Clach instead. It was pretty steep and horrible in places but there was a path of sorts here and there and where snow had drifted in, the going was much more soft and pleasant.
My legs were like jelly by the time I was nearing the bottom and the traverse down and across to the Allt a' Choire Dhuibh Mhoir seemed to take forever and by the time I crossed the river it was dusk and dark by the time I reached the car. Andy and John were no where to be seen however, damn all that rushing for nothing! I was thinking like a gradeIII climber, thinking that cos they were on the 2nd last pitch, they would be up in no time at all and back to the car well before me. I had no idea really how long it takes to climb harder stuff. But I didn't have to wait long, with a lass that had been part of the other team knocking on the car (where I was sat huddled in a big down bag reading Mick Fowler's Vertical Pleasure) to let me know that Andy and John weren't far behind them. It was very inspiring to see a woman climbing hard in winter, not something I see very often.
Andy and John got down about half an hour after me, John snuggled down and dozed in the back whilst a knackered Andy drove home with me gripping onto the sides of my seats in fear of my life by Andy's 'extreme' driving :o)

Monday, 17 November 2008

Mona Gowan and Braeriach - 15/16th Nov '08

The Scottish Mountaineering Club is going to publish a guide book to The Grahams, in the same series as their Munro's and Corbett's books and your truly might be in it (if the editor decides any of the photos of me on the hill look good enough!)
Mona Gowan is my 2nd Graham (1st was Hill of Wirral, or something along those lines) and it's a pleasant wee stroll as it starts high up on the back road that runs from past the Lecht, to Ballater.
We decided to go for a walk up there as Andy was needing photos and the weather was looking better further east and it was forecast to be really windy so we didn't want to go too high, and wanted to save our energy for Sunday, when the forecast was much better.
It was still pretty gusty up there and it was hard taking photos (hard for Andy holding the camera steady and hard for me holding myself steady!)
We walked south off the hill (having walked up from the west) and took the long way round, stopping at what looked like a newly renovated bothy on the way down.
Sunday was far more energetic! It was forecast to be one of those lovely, crisp but sunny and clear wintry days and we thought that Braeriach's cliffs might be frozen high up and the cliffs all hoared up. Seen as I'm not great on the bike, we went to the nearest of the Corries, Coire Brochain and were up at 6am, arriving at the Sugarbowl carpark at the back of 7. It was raining when we were driving up and arriving at the car park, was sleeting on a Northerly wind, a bit surprising seen as that wasn't forecast! The sleet and rain cleared shortly and we got our boots on and starting walking around 7.30ish.
Before long we arrived at the Chalamain Gap, uurrgh! Boulders! I was a wee bitty quicker than at Lochnagar the other week, but there was only a dusting on the tops of the boulders so not as bad. Then followed a bog trot and down to the Lairig Ghru where the walk in began in earnest up Sron na Lairig's NNE ridge to the top, and then down to the col between that hill and Braeriach. The clag lifted at the col and the sun came out, however it was a lot windier than forecast and a lot colder! I was contemplating just how deadly it would get up there in awful stormy weather and Andy recounted the tale of two strong and experienced climbers facing a full on blizzard and being unable to descend back down into the Corrie because of the wind, so having to crawl off the hill the long way round and back to the bothy. Thankfully it wasn't quite as windy as that and just a bit blustery!
We had wanted to do a buttress or ridge in the Eastern sector of the corrie but descending was a bit of a problem. Descending down to the east of the cliffs would have been awkward so we decided to see if one of the gullies looked OK to descend. I could see a few of the gullies and one in particular had what looked like a steep icy wall at the bottom and I was thinking, 'blimey I'll never be able to down climb that!' The gullies had snow in them, and even though I've descended a few gully type things now, I had an attack of the nerves and wasn't keen in the slightest. But it was either that or call it quits and that wasn't going to happen! Andy went down the gully for a nosy and came back up with the news that the snow was rock solid and that I could use a rope if I liked. Yes please! Turns out I was fine though, a bit slow at first but speeding up and getting into a rhythm and learning that I didn't need to kick my feet in hard to stick! The gully had a couple of steeper steps in it, and bits where the snow had collapsed and formed big holes through to the gully bed. You could hear the water running behind these bits and it was a bit tentative climbing past these.
Disappointingly so, we were faced with cliffs of bare rock once we arrived at the bottom. We had a few choices. Tool our way up a ridgy bit, climb a buttress in our boots or climb back up one of the easy gullies. There was another snowy ramp to the left but we were unsure of whether it would even be possible to get up to it, in the given conditions. And with the holes in the gully that we had descended we were unsure whether any steps in the other gullies might be impassable. Only one way to find out! We soloed up the start of Pyramus until the snow came to a steepening, then we roped up and pitched up an awkward and mixed chimney, and then moved together over easy ground until the top. The route is only a grade I but felt more like II in the lean conditions.
We nipped up to the summit (munro no 88 for me) for a bite to eat and to take some photos, but didn't hang about for ages as it was freezing and we had a long walk out to look forward to, the end bit which would be in the dark.
It seemed to take forever to get back down to the Lairig Ghru and my legs were like jelly by this point so I had to go slow or risk my knees locking and my legs giving way, on the way down. At the Chalamain Gap we decided to traverse around the side of Creag a' Chalamain rather than go through the gap as it would be much quicker in the dark and save me breaking my ankles/neck! It seemed to take a lifetime to get from the gap, back to the car park and nearing the reindeer enclosure, we could see the glare from Glenmore Lodge and it was dazzling us, and making it even harder to see! But finally, we were back at the car and even though my ankle injury flared up and was hurting like mad when I took my stiff boots off, it was surely heaven on earth to be able to sit down and to get back to Andy's for a hot cup of tea :o)

Monday, 10 November 2008

Slioch and Sneachda - 8th/9th Nov '08

Saturday I had thought a front was to be passing through bringing rain, but it came earlier on Fri eve and we were left with sunshine in the NW for Saturday. Usual decision followed of what hills to do, and we decided on Slioch as I hadn't been up it and it had been a while since Andy had done it too, and it would a nice longer day out if we didn't get out on Sunday due to the forecast high winds.
We arrived at the carpark and set off about 10.30. We seemed to get along the Kinlochewe River fairly quickly, blethering away about this and that, and Andy pointing out the Red Slabs on Meall a' Ghuibhais, Waterfall Buttress and Bonaid Dhonn on Beinn a' Mhuinidh. We soon arrived at a wooded area at the end of Loch Maree and Andy thought the path should have cut off before this. I was dubious, the map showing the path cutting off further along but decided to go along with Andy's 'short cut'
Well, we ended up not finding a bridge across the Abhainn an Fhasaigh, and the river got too gorge like, narrow and fast flowing further upsteam, so rather than walk back down the way we came, we stripped off our breeks and boots and waded across the cold water, it coming just over my knees at it's high point. The rocks underfoot were pretty slippy and it was a case of trying to balance going fast enough so my legs didn't freeze but go slow enough so I didn't slip and fall in! I was over in a couple of minutes though, and my breeks and socks felt quite nice and cozy after that! I had mentioned earlier that Loch Maree looked nice and appealing for a swim earlier and I should have kept quiet!
We stopped for lunch on the flat spot of Meall Each and then carried on to the col between Sgor Dubh and Slioch, where there were 2 wee lochans glittering in the sunlight. The sun had been blazing up to this point and my trousers were rolled up as was my top, as I was utterly boiling. The lochan looked so appealing and pretty that I decided to have another wee dip! I must be bonkers I thought! Andy sat himself down on a rock with a bar of chocolate looking bemused as I stripped off for a second time. I got in as far as my knees before it got too much and my legs started going numb! Feck me, that's cold!!!!!! I squeeled and ran out, jumping onto a big rock. Some leg rubbing later, I was cozy again and we set off for the summit.
Clear skies abound, and the views were gorgeous, over to Fisherfield in the North with An Teallach peaking over the tops of A'Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mor, the heights of Kinlochewe to the East, Beinn Eighe and Beinn Dearg to the South and the Stone Valley area and Peninsula to the West, simply wonderful!

We trotted round to Sgurr an tuill Bhain, then very steeply back down to the Coire and to the path and the long slog back to the car, stopping in Inverness for fish and chips before heading back to Andy's.
The forecast still looked pretty minging for Sunday, so we decided to wait and see what the morning brought before making any hard and fast decisions. Morning brought about a nice lie in and when I peeked through the curtains at about 8.30, there was snow lying in Andy's garden, hurrah! Didn't think it was going to come so low. It was still pretty blowie however so we didn't hurry. We decided to get our stuff together and drive up to Cairgorm ski carpark and see what the wind was like when we got there. It was pretty yucky to be honest, snow falling and the wind still gusting and we deliberated for some time whether to carry on or turn back. Aaaaaaaarg, it was hard, I was tired and the car was nice cozy, but in the end I got out the car,decided it wasn't too bad really and we set off for Coire an Sneachda.
The wind was blowing around 40mph with gusts of 50, so not too bad, but still tiresome walking against it the whole way in. It was a bit more sheltered up by Mess of Pottage and it was absolutely delightful to be the only climbers in the corrie! We just decided to go up Jacob's Left Edge for a quick day, seen as conditions wern't 100% and we were unsure if the wind was still gonna pick up.

Andy had packed a short rope and naff all gear, to go lightly, but hadn't realised just how short the rope was at 20m! No point in pitching whatsover so we just moved together the whole way, running the rope around blocks etc. And we were up the route in half an hour, the quickest I've done a route in my life! The snow was firm enough to take our weight when needed and the turf was frozen at the top only but you don't need it on this route anyway. There looked to be more snow and hoar on the cliffs up by Fiaciall, and the rocks on Pottage were bare of hoar, but there was ice forming.
The wind had settled some on the top, so just a wee bitty gusty for the walk off. Very glad we left the car in the end, and quite chuffed and smug to get a wee sneaky route in, on a day where everyone else obviously thought the weather was going to be too wild.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Winter is here - 1st and 2nd Nov '08

Last week saw the 1st big dump of snow up the hills and a good few routes were being done, the usual early season ascents of Pygmy Ridge etc in the Northern Corries and a few new routes done also in the North West.

I was itching to get out and wake up my axes from their summery sleep and get out and play in the snow, and my wishes were fullfulled as the settled weather remained and the snow stayed put.
Both myself and Andy had a couple of places we wanted to visit with the view of doing some new routing but in the end Andy had to go get himself a new car and I was driving duty for the Sunday, so we decided to stay fairly local.
Saturday, Andy had hoped to go into Sputan Dearg and he did think later that he could have got his ski's organised, but with me never having skied in my life before, I was highly dubious! In the end we decided to go into Lurcher's Crag as Andy hadn't done one of the gradeIII ridges there and I wanted to do something easy for my 1st route of the season. It was a bit of a slog to get there, the path as far as Lochain was ok, with a trail already broken but from there onwards we were wading through knee deep snow, with me falling into a thigh deep hole at one point, hurrah for winter, I love it!
We arrived at the top of Central Gully and as I peered over and down, it looked just fine as a decent route until Andy suggested we bumslide down.'s a grade I gully, it will be too fast, it will be too dodgy/scary etc! 'It'll be fine,' says Andy, 'just brake like this if you need to,' he says as he goes zooming off. oooooooooohkay, Sit myself down, give a wee push and off I go. I'm going slowly at first, but as I carry on I'm getting more confident that I'm not gonna break my neck and I go faster, yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeehah! We're down at the bottom in seconds and begin the traverse along to the route we wanted to do. There is a smaller Rib which hasn't been climbed on, on the way to the gradeIII route, and as it's hard work in the deep snow, it doesn't take either of us much persuasion to go for doing a new route instead, even if it is shorter. Turns out it was longer than expected anyway, and we both ran out a ropes length each. We're calling it Skittles, cos at the bottom I had said that it looked short and sweet.
Andy led the 1st pitch up a thuggy groove, over some blocks and up a technical steep step above. Then I led another groove and a couple of snowy ramps above. A lot of digging in the snow was involved for gear and for some axe placements too! It was a braw wee route, with tools being used torqued in cracks quite alot, rather than in turf and I thoroughly enjoyed it and was bouncing about in happiness at the top, hurrah!
Sunday I woke up with a goddamn awful headache and was worried it wouldn't go that day and I wouldn't be able to climb, but thankfully when I took some painkillers and went back to bed it settled back down again. We went in my car down to Lochnagar and we were both feeling quite tired from yesterday so just trundled up the hill on autopilot. When we got to the Col, Andy suggested traversing around, rather than dropping into the Coire and then having to go back up. We had to cross through a big boulder field on a slope and Andy was fine with his sturdy and confident hill legs but I was wibbling and wobbling all over the place and not enjoying it one little bit. I detest boulder fields! I seem to lose all sense of balance and proprioception and am simply not sturdy footed at all! And to make matters worse, my bad arm was beginning to ache like mad, making me even grumpier. Think Andy was feeling the effects of yesterday's long wade and todays walk in (on top of a day in the Cairngorms on Tues, followed by a wall session on Wed, followed by a days new routing up NW, phew!) and was getting grumpy too at the pace of things, but once through the boulders I speeded up, Andy's keen eye spotted a good route and we were both happy again.
We got to the bottom of Triangle Buttress and spotted 2 ramps which either could have been the route Triangle Buttress, which follows a left trending ramp across the main face and onto the crest of the ridge. It said it started from the foot of the Red Spout, but we thought a route further down than that was a much more natural line and followed the ridge/buttress much more directly. We decided to do both routes and that way, one of them would be the correct route in the guide and the other would be a possible new route. The first one we did, followed a ramp directly upwards and then cut across rightwards. It was very reachy but the turf was good enough, so it wasn't too difficult. The step right was a bitty awkward but ok and then it was just steps to the top. I was utterly, utterly boiling though! I had put my Montane on, as per usual in winter, but it was a still, warm winter's day and just far too hot for thermals, fleeces and massive, furry pile and pertex smocks! I had to get Andy to lead it all, as the heat was really getting to me and once I got the top, I stripped of my jkt and hat and we went down the Red Spout to do the other route, me just climbing in my windstopper this time.
The other route, went up a more slabby ramp and there was quite a thin wee step on it, but again the turf was good. Then followed a few more ramps to a belay and I led off easily to the top. Both routes were easy grade II's, the 2nd one being just a tiny wee bitty harder than the 1st I found, but perhaps just more different in style really.
Other than arm pain and achiness during the walk in, my arm really behaved itself. Have been really worried that I wouldn't be able to climb as swinging my axe always seemed to hurt. But swinging it into turf as opposed to thin air seems to make a difference and not affect my arm at all. It did feel quite weak on the 1st route at Lochnagar but I'm not sure if that was more the heat effecting me than anything else. If I have to take painkillers to cope with the climbing, then that's fine, just as long as it doesn't get worse then I'm eagerly looking forward to many more quality days on the hill, oh yes!

Bouldering comp and Bynack More - 24th/26th Oct '08

Friday night was Dundee's local wall's, Avertical World, 1st round of the winter series of friendly bouldering competitions and RB had been waiting eagerly for it for some time. I was committed to taking her, though really wanting to zoom off up to Aviemore to see Andy and play in the hills.
The comp started later than expected with Iain the manager waffling on about rules and safety, blah blah, and I impatiently watched the clock ticking on. Finally though! RB rushed through the 1st easier problems as per usual and got as far as no9 (out of 20) before coming unstuck at the Dyno problem (urgh!) Dyno problem was set as no9 this year instead of the usual no 10 and RB's fingers were brushing the bottom of the hold, which is an improvement on her usual dyno's!
Time was pushing on and I was just about to drag her off to her Dad's as I'd planned to leave at 8 and it was now 8.15, but she wanted to try one more problem that she'd tried earlier which involved having to get established on a big round blob with out using any foot holds. Determination saw her through and up she got, 2nd try, and much tension later managed the final stretch over to the finishing hold, was sure she was coming off at one point, but she held it together really well! And she managed to get 2nd place in the Junior Females section, well done wee girl!
That was it, off to her Dad's, me quickly nipping into my Mum's for some new CD's she'd ordered for me, Laura Marling's 'Alas I cannot Swim,' and Rodrigo y Gabriella. Both I'd heard from John's MP3 player/Ipod thingymabober on the way down to Northumbria the other week.
2hrs later and I'm pulling up in BofG.
Saturday, Andy and I had a lazy morning and then drove across to Cummingston as the Morray coast looked driest. There were a couple of showers and the rock was a little greasy but still ok to climb. Not for me though, tried a Severe on 2nd but arm just too sore to like it. Did a Diff, and my arm wasn't too fussed about that one, but just belayed Andy on a few routes nonetheless and urged him to climb each route 3x! So that was 3x VS, 3x HVS and 3x E2's, lol!
A cozy evening of wine and Belgian Choccies and many discussions of routes, hills, cliffs, followed by decisions about what to do on Sunday. I'd brought up all my winter climbing stuff in the hope of climbing but we decided that with all the rain in the hills that day, and because it wasn't due to snow till later on that even though something might be climbable it would be pretty minging. So, we thought about a hill walk. Andy only has 30 munros to do for his 4th round but they were all pretty far for a day trip so we eventually decided on Bynack More which I hadn't done but which he'd done a billion times! But was happy to do again.
We left the car (in rain) around 9.30 but the shower soon passed and we were well on our way past the Green Loch and turning off before Ryvoan Bothy to head up the Lairig an Laoigh, cutting off the path to head across and up to Bynack More. There was sleet lower down, turning to snow at around 800m and the wind was more ferocious than forecast. We had bumped into a couple making there way to the Shelterstone for the night and didn't envy them, they looked like they were struggling with their heavy sacks a little in the strong wind. It had been forecast for 30mph with gusts of 50, but was more like gusts of 60mph, and we decided to head off the path and around the East side of the North ridge to avoid the gusts. We had overtaken a group of walkers on the path up to the ridge and decided that if we still beat them onto the summit after traipsing up steep heather then we'd made the right choice and if they beat us then we should have stuck to the path. Of course, we were faster and arrived first. The wind was gusting and blowing spindrift into our faces, rather nippy and it was hard getting summit photos!
We didn't hang about for long and passed the group on the way down, some of whom looked rather miserable! We sheltered in a wee chimney on one of the wee tors down from the ridge and ate our sarnie's. I felt quite content and cozy tucked up in the granite chimney, apart from boshing my elbow on the rock when I first got in! But it was time to head down and the walk down seemed to take longer than the walk up! And did it not start pouring with horrid frosty rain when we were just 5mins from the car and couldn't be bothered to stop and put on waterproofs again!

Munro no 86 done, 100 here we come.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Oct Hols - Sat 11th-Thurs 16th Oct '08

Chris and I had organised this week away for some time with the inclusion of another of his partners, John, when I thought I was unable to make it because of the Tennis Elbow. So, with 3 of us climbing it was a perfect oppurtunity to (try) and get some more interesting climbing photos. We had no firm destinations in mind, more of a follow the sunshine kind of plan which is always the best kind of plan (unless it's winter of course!)
Forecast looked better East for the first few days and as we were leaving Aberdeen at the late hour of 1pm we decided to stop of at Limekilns for a few routes on the way down to Northumbria. Hurrah, been wanting to climb at Limekilns for the past couple of months now to bag a couple of the VS's there. It was now or never time for my next VS!
Chris's wife is studying Hypnotherapy at the moment and I eagerly offered to be a guinea pig in my quest to get a better head for pushing myself on lead. It was wonderful and the imagery that Sue helped me to create was very powerful and had me feeling confident and keen to get these VS's I wanted to do. Limekilns is a very steep Limestone outcrop in Fife, next to the Forth Road Bridge but it's very out of the way and sheltered in some woods and is quite lovely. It's also quite hard with nothing apart from one chossy Severe, that goes under VS. John started the holiday with a good lead of DT's and Chris followed by an equally good lead of White Ensign. Both these routes utterly killed my weak arm and I was hesitant to try my VS after that, in the fear it was going to be too pumpy. But Chris reassured me that Red Flag wasn't as strenuous as the other VS's and you could see by looking up that there were more rest points than the other routes. Took me a good few tries to get it cracked though. I was up and down like a yoyo at first, just quite unable to suss the starting moves! Chris told me to jam my foot in the crack but that seemed to send me off balance. After several attempts and lots of cursing, I took out my bit of gear and climbed down in disgust! Chris then showed me how he meant to do it, and I realised that I had been trying to jam the wrong foot in! One more go then, and holey moley I got it! YES! Up to what I thought was going to be a rest point but is really a quite awkward position and faffed with getting a semi blind placement before moving on and the rest of the route was straight forward enough.

That was it, tea time and time to go. A couple of hours saw us down at a braw campsite called The Beachcomber, just South of Berwick. Was a pretty nippy night and we were up early to check out Kyloe (Out) What a superb wee crag! We all fell in love with the place immediately, even me who got the traditional Northumbrian sandbagging on a slabby V.Diff (had chosen this for the reason it was a slab because my arm was still really sore from the day before) Hah! The gear is awful, apart from one nut placement in the crack and the top of the slab is run out on a couple of 4b ish type moves, not what I wanted for a warm up! John did a route called Wilfred Pickles and Chris did the 2nd best HS ever (the best one being Cave Route at Huntlys of course) called Deception Crack, a real *** classic, awkward and udgy HS. This killed my elbow on second and I had to give up climbing for the rest of the day and went of photo duty instead. John led Slab and Groove and Chris led Slab and Wall, both VS's and both going up a totally run out slab and up to a steep, pumpy wall above. John then led an HVS called Gargarin's Groove and Chris led Chris's Arete (well he had too) and got a sandbagging! I finished off on a delightful wee Diff with a pretty steep and holdless jamming crack to finish off the day and we headed back to camp for muchos wine and ale.

Next day we checked out Bowden Doors and WOW! What an intimidating wee crag! The routes are steep as get oot! I was ahead of John and Chris and was noseying at a crack line thinking hmmm that's probs around HS/VS when they came up with the guide and turns out it was a V.Diff!!!!!! 'Kin hell! Chris started off on this one and right enough it wasn't as hard as it looked with lovely positive holds the whole way. Still just steep enough to hurt my arm though and I dejectedly decided no more climbing for me for the rest of the trip. I felt half gutted, half determined to rest my arm so it was fit for winter and I continued to feel this way to varying degrees in each direction for the rest of the holiday. It was very hard watching Chris and John climb and enjoy their routes and some routes they did looked just fab and I was in mental turmoil a lot of the time. I didn't really want to hang about getting down about it, so went for a long run instead.

Northumbria is a lovely part of the countryside, with rolling hills, bridal paths, rights of way all bounded together by ambling, hedgerowed, country roads. And along these rights of way, and paths I ran until I found myself at Cuthbert's Cave. The story behind this cave is that St Cuthbert, the Bishop of Lindisfarne who was associated with the Celtic Christian Lindisfarne Gospels and in the conversion of Lindisfarne from Celtic Christianity to Roman Christianity, seeked solitude as a Hermit in this same cave.
After running for around 5k I came across the cave and had a wee nosy. Folk have obviously made some kind of pilgrimage here and there are crosses made from tree branches, twigs and vine adorning the cave ledges. There is also alot of graffiti which is a shame but sign of the times I guess. I was wondering more about the bouldering potential of the cave than any spiritual matters, lol! Maybe I should have left an offering and prayed for healing for my arm, oh well hindsight and all that.
Back at Bowden, John was preparing for a lead of Tiger Wall, a scary VS when this older dude came over wondering if we were anyone from Aberdeen that he knew. He seemed to know some Aberdonian 'names' and I'm sure he said he was Simon Richardson, though I might have just made that up, certainly John thought he wouldn't be as old as this guy. Anyway, we named him Doctor Gloom as he was happily chatting away about folk falling and breaking their ankles at the crag, just as John was in earshot and going for the crux moves! Cheeky auld deil, sure he did that purposely!

The evening saw Chris drive us down to the North Lees campsite under Stanage. I swear I will never camp here again, it's an awful campsite! Muddy, on a hill and filled with billions upon billions of outdoor groups (yes, I'm an unsociable cow at times, but I like company when I choose it and not when it's forced on me) but guess that's campsites for you. Next day we took a walk up to High Neb area and Stanage End area and Chris started off the day on a Severe called......................, which I seconded with twinges. I was in a foul mood at the start of the day, stressing about my arm. I'm getting numbness in my good hand and twinges in the forearm too and thinking it must be coming from my neck, rather than being Tennis Elbow, yet the pain in my elbow and the movements that bring it on are classic Epicondylitis signs! Electric shock tingles down the back of my hand too and shoulders and neck achy. I'm stressing that it's getting worse and what that might mean, I'm worried that if I apply to Uni with neck problems ontop of my iffy back, that I will get refused a place. To compound things, my water bottle took the oppurtunity that morning to empty itself in my rucksack and soak my climbing shoes, harness and jacket and then my harness got all twisted and my arms ached trying to undo the mess. I threw the harness down in disgust and had to slope off for a private moment of dispair before pulling myself together. I decided to wander off along the crag in search of a suitable line that avoided Grit thuggery, laybacking and chimneying, not an easy thing at lowely grades! All the lines that appealed to me seemed to be VS and harder and my arm cringed at the thought. Eventually I found one called Kelly's Crack that seemed to fit the bill. A ** V.Diff up a corner where I could bridge my way up and use bucket handholds and ledgy footholds. It was a lovely wee Diff and my arm coped just fine with it, infact belaying at the top was more painful! And I climbed it just as it started to rain, so the timing was not the best, but ok.

The rain didn't stop all evening and Chris and I retired for tea and cake in the Outdoor shop in Hathersage whilst John went for a run. It rained and rained all evening and we went to the pub later on, the Fox Inn I think it was? I had a glass of red, John had 3 pints and Chris was driving so had the non alcoholic option. By the time we left the rain had stopped to a wee drizzle but still the next morning dawned grey and dank. This is not my idea of nice rock climbing weather but the boys are determined to get some more grit action in. Chris is loving the Grit and ecstatically said if he weren't already married he would marry this rock! Later on he wanted a divorce after getting a good sandbagging on a HS, lol! I think he even swore which was unlike him as he is usually very polite. I missed his foul language however as I had decided to go for another run from Stanage Popular where we were that day, right along the top edge, to High Neb area and up to the Trig point. Dunno how long a run it was but it was nice going and Chris had redeemed himself on another HS and John had led an HVS.
Much deliberation ensued later that afternoon and several plans were formed, with a final forecast making us decide to head back up to Northumbria and Kyloe. I was glad to escape North Lees and determined that no matter how painful my arm was the next day, that a full dose of painkillers was in order as I just needed to climb something! That evening I was having foolish fantasies of a VS called Trinity, whose guide description states, 'the top layback over the bulge spits of many an aspiring leader!' Probably not the best idea when even V.Diffs are hurting and getting you pumped! One can dream though, it is a lovely looking line and when I'm better it will be mine, oh yes!
Chris started off our last day on a Severe called Twin Cracks and had a bit of a 'mare on it, but took it well. Then John led something hard, I'd lost count of what he was doing as it was all too hard for my arm to second. Chris led a VS called The Glade which was nice and one I'd feel comfy leading. The bottom moves going over the overhang are ace, though the slab above feels a bit sketchy! And this is followed by good use of an oak tree to get up the final wall. I wanted to lead something and had chosen a V.Diff called Fakir's Crack and it was a right Fakir!! I ended up backing off as the gear placement was awkward, the holds were pinch grips and my arm was seriously hurting. Did a much more pleasant V.Diff called Meeny instead and did it with a different finish. Chris led the VS Direct Finish to the Diff called Xmas Tree Arete which meant we had all had a go at leading the steep Diff (aye) jamming crack at the bottom, John when he did the HVS next door. The VS variation is fab and takes you laybacking on stupendous jugs up and over an overhang, amazing and one I'll defo lead next time. John cruised up an E1, and then did another E1 which pumped him out a bit and that was us for the day.

Kyloe is a gorgeous crag, lovely rock, lovely lines, lovely situation, just lovely (can you tell I like it :o) And thus began the long drive home.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Luath's Stones - Sunday 5th Oct '08

Decisions, decisions! RB's dad and stepmum's wedding anniversary this weekend, so RB was at home with me which meant no trips away for the weekend and being dragged out ice skating on Saturday. Enjoyable spending a weekend with her for a change, but gutting to miss out on the 1st winter routes done in the hills on Saturday.
Sunday, I was craving the hills and snow but RB preferred to go rock climbing, and then mentioned she'd like to go bouldering. Aaarrrrrrg, bouldering when I could be out in the snowy hills, what is the world coming too! Actually, bouldering sounded quite nice and chilled and the forecast for Sunday was milder anyway, and A had mentioned conditions disappearing (as quickly as they had appeared) anyway, so decided to take RB up to Luath's stones to boulder as it's a lovely, friendly venue with billions of easy problems to play about on.
Chris was quite happy with a chilled day of bouldering too so we drove up to his and then jumped in his car and off we went. Was pretty damn windy out, and not as warm as I had thought it would be and I was bundled up in buff, down jacket and woolly hat to keep cozy!

We all had a lovely afternoon, starting off on the Wee Wall which has loads of 4a and 4b problems and one 5a, we did them all, and Chris managed to do a 6a traverse. I tried it but found it too hard. Next, we went up to the Arch Boulder where I've previously done problems on but found them mostly too hard now. Managed the 4b (which is tough for that grade!) but fingers just not strong enough for the 5a, annoying cos I used to be able to do that one no problem. On the Sherman, slabby boulder we did the 2 5a slabby problems and I was quite chuffed with that as I tried and couldn't do them when I had injured my back and not climbed for a while. Poor RB couldn't get up one of them, though she gave it a damn fine effort! On the edge of the slab there is an undercut lip with a mantelshelf problem where you're not allowed to use any hold for your feet, other than to mantle. I've never been able to do this before, but managed it this time and we all had fun trying the sitting start up the right hand arete.
Up to the Prow next where we did all the easy stuff and I got nervous spotting RB on Jo's arete as it's quite high and above a bouldery landing. Finally, up to my favourite boulder there, the Mouse Boulder where there is a offwidth crack, complete with chockstone, breaking the boulder in two. The offwidth goes at 4a and is a fun wee problem, and I managed to do the 5a problem to the right of it, using the right-edge of the offwidth. Goes at 5c without, and is nails! Had a look at Rungs 5b, but I always look at that and think, 'how the hell can that be 5b, tis steep and nothing positive to hold! Round the corner for a 5a, which is one of my favourite problems on the hill and that's us for the day.

Have a wee dander over to Luath's Stone itself. It's a standing stone, said to be where Cuchullin tied up his huge dog (Celtic Mythology), enjoyed the views around Don and Deeside and the peaceful nature of the place.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Sneaking in another Mountain Route - 27th/28th Sept '08

A phone call from Andy midweek, asking if I wanted to climb up Torridon had me madly trying to shuffle prior commitments around so I was free, only to be followed by a change in the forecast showing it to be raining on the West Coast on Saturday, aaaaarg, was utterly dying to fit it another mountain route and was gutted to miss out on what would have been a fitting end to a wonderful summer! Drove up to Andy's anyway and we would decide what to do in the morning having looked out the window. Forecast was for a band of rain to pass over pretty much everywhere but just to be showery and Andy had filled me with intrigue with a vague description of the cave pitch on the classic Hard Severe at Huntly's Cave called Cave Route and I was keen to try and lead it (well in my normal nervous, thinking about it too much kind of way!) Huntly's Cave has steep, overhanging walls with huge roofs running up the wall on some of the routes and this means the rock is kept dry from showers. So, off we went. Andy mentioned he usually ab'd down to stop his rock boots getting wet and dirty on the muddy path down but he failed to mention that the ab was a free hanging one from a tree on the very edge of the cliff!!! Aaaaaarg, noooooooo! The ab we did at Beinn Eighe was a stroll in the park (ish) compared to this and my legs felt like jelly and I had the butterflies in my gut so badly that I felt quite sick. As usual, it wasn't as bad as I thought, though it took until my feet were firmly on the ground for the butterflies to calm down!

No time for faff, Andy is straight up the initial slab before I can get him on belay (he's soloed this route loads!) He's on belay for the crux though and he's through it quick as a shot and then it's my turn. The slab at the start is nice and easy and the crux is pretty damn awkward but moves you into a fabulous position! The belay is in a wee cave underneath this huge roof and immediately I can see just how the roof has to be tackled. I'm not going to go into detail and ruin it for anyone who hasn't done this route, but the climbing over the roof and the position is out of this world, simply wonderful and one of the nicest routes I've done (if only all Hard Severes were like this!) Well worth every one of it's 3 stars! The route was made all the more exciting due to the rain which soaked the crucial hold and once I'd committed to the crux the heavens had opened and it was abs chucking it down! By the time I'd set up a belay and brought Andy up I was soaked right through! Back to Andy's to chill for a bit and wait for the rain to pass. And wait........and wait.............until we decided in the end to drive down to Creag Dubh for a walk up the hill. It's not what I expected, I had thought the lowly Graham would just be a wee heathery lump but I was mistaken and we wound our way under the crags and up and it was bloomin steep! It's a very shapely hill with a conical section just before the top and the views are very picturesque. A tad chilly though and we zoomed off down to miss the next incoming shower of rain!

Back at Andy's there was much discussion of what to do the next day. Either climb at Creag Dubh which would def be dry or chance the hill forecast of scattered, heavy showers, wintry on the highest tops, with freezing level at 1100m. We did contemplate walking in to Sputan Dearg but decided it was too far to risk the weather but I was still desperate for the mountains and Andy didn't take any persuasion! We decided on Stag Rocks in the end and next morning were zooming off up the ski road and up to point 1141 at the top of Fiacail Coire Cas. The wind was up (but not too bad) just pretty cold and as we walked over to the descent down to the Loch Avon Basin the wind blew the cloud up and it started to snow. Just a wee flurry but enough to put a big massive grin on my face. I love those first snowflakes of the year, something so magical about them and makes me feel like a wee kid!

We descended down Diagonal Gully which was steep, chossy and wet but do-able with just one steep, scrambly bit where I had to face in to get down. Soon enough we were at the bottom of the cliff, me abs boiling as I'd put my buff and my thick belay jacket on! There was a bit of discussion as to exactly where the route went as the route description was a bit weird and Andy thought the right hand side of a fault line looked like a nicer place to start than the left side which looked a bit more broken. Next I had a heart sinking moment when I realised I had stupidly forgotten my belay plate, numpty! Andy gave me his and said he would belay me with a hitch. So off he went, only to discover he could only get in 2 runners in the whole pitch! And it wasn't an easy pitch either, but certainly easier than what was to come! We traversed over to the left and below the crux 5a pitch, described as a steep wall with jugs. Unfortunately that was pretty wet so we took the easier option to the left. Easier? I found it pretty desperate! There was a point where you had to move up to a huge roof and them move right to get around the roof and I really struggled with this, so sure I was going to fall off and swing off! And it wasn't a lot easier after that either and I got myself into a bit of a mess when I should have laybacked up a crack but I stayed too far to the right and got myself all unbalanced. Last pitch was up a chimney and that was a bit puzzling but easier than below once I figured it out. There was meant to be a couple of scrambley pitches above to the top of the hill but Andy suggested traversing over to the left, crossing a gully and climbing a 2 pitch HS that one of his mates did the 1st winter ascent of. Amphitheatre Wall is graded HS but we found it to be more VS. The 1st pitch is quite awkward and finicky and there is a steep wall above where I got myself into another mess! There was a steep, grassy section and to get back on to the rock you had to take a wide step to the right and onto a wall and up and onto a ledge. I managed to get onto the wall, get my foot over into a groove and grab a side pull on the ledge. Then my foot slipped and I did a spectacular belly flop onto the ledge and then it took some time to figure out how to get back onto my feet by which point I was feeling a tad trembly! Andy was stood on the wide end of the ledge, quite comfortable with his cheeky wee grin, laughing at me with those sparkly eyes!

Next, a bit of a breather and Andy is off again. The next pitch is steep, very steep! There is a big triangular block that he stands on and manages to get a runner in to the right, then a huge step into a groove on the left, leaves me wondering, 'how the hell am I going to manage that wide step!?' Andy must have read my thoughts though as he mentioned that I probably wouldn't have to do it that way. Hmmmm. There seems to be a bit of hollow rock about and Andy is taking no chances, checking to see if things will hold or whether best left alone. Soon enough it's my turn and Andy was right, I didn't need to do that stretch across the way he did. I went across a bit lower with just a dainty step in comparison! Moved up and then, 'blimey this is hard!' I'm trying to get a cam out but I'm on a tight rope and it won't budge! Taaaaaaaaaaaake! Arse! Gah! I shout up to Andy to give me some slack on pink and he gives me slack on both ropes and I go lower and then can't reach the cam. Andy shouts down that he has me on a waist belay and it's hurting his back, 'oh sh*te!' This scares me! I pull myself back onto the rock and try and get at this cam and Andy gets himself into a better, seated position where he can hold me better if need be. But once my weight is off the rope, the cam comes out freely and I scrabble frantically over to the right for something better to hold on too. And wouldn't you know it, there is a huge jug!!! For god's sake, if I had noticed that earlier, it would have things a lot easier! I move up faster after that and without any more problem until the top. There is a chimney, maybe 15foot high, tiny rounded edges on the outside and not much on the inside. Andy tells me that he back and footed it. Uhuh, I can't back and foot, can I? Oh well, no time like the present to learn how to do it and I wedge myself right into the tightest bit of the chimney and feel quite secure. No back and footing at first though, it's too narrow. It's more of a wormy squirm! Then it gets wider and I have my back against one wall, and my feet pushed against the other on a tiny wee crack in the wall. Oh I can do this! A wee hmmm moment when Andy tells me he was facing the other way when he did it, but I manage to move up some more, get myself bridged across, move up a little more, grab the top of the chimney on a ledge on the outside, swing my foot up and hey presto! That was my favourite bit of both the routes and I'm grinning happily. Climbing is so multifaceted, tis ace! And I think we both felt quite cheeky, managing to fit in a couple of routes on a day where it was windy and snowing on the tops!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Injuries! 25th Sept '08

Well, I'm back climbing, hurrah! I don't have Tennis Elbow but the pain in my arm and the numbness in my fingers has been coming from the C5/6 disc in my neck. Me and my blasted spine!! I've felt reassured though by both my GP and Mark, my Chiro, that it won't be anything like when my lumbar L5/S1 ruptured. Mark thinks I possibily injured my neck in a whiplash type way (???) and my GP thinks it's age and wear and tear. I don't recall any injury and my lower disc is 100% dessicated and the one above on it's way so I can see similar issues with the neck ones. Anyhoo, I'm stretching my neck religiously, still trying to remember to do the arm stretches too and doing some weights also. My neck gets horribly stiff and sore when sitting for too long and my shoulders start burning sometimes too. But GP was right in saying it's nothing like as painful as when my lower back gave me grief. I'm finding the belaying ok as long as I keep stretching my neck out and don't hold it in the same position for too long and I can manage to climb but my arm seems to tire and sore pretty quickly and it seems a bit weaker than normal (least I can have a real excuse for being a feeble weakling now, lol!)

Couple of weeks back I took my Mum up the Glen Shee road and we took a walk down Glen Callater to the Loch and back. Mum suffers from Fibromyalgia and did fantastically to manage a 7mile walk, the best she has done in a good few years :o)

Sat past, Henning and I were supposed to climb at Limekilns where there are a couple of VS's I want to try but the weather wasn't playing ball and we ended up at Dunkeld Upper Cave Crag. The V.Diff there was sopping wet and the Severe was seeping at the bottom and though it seemed dry higher up I wasn't convinced as there were what looked like jamming cracks and the prospect of them being wet inside didn't appeal! Henning led the Severe to warm up on and right enough it was fine higher up and you only needed one move of jamming and after having a good look about, there were good holds a plenty. Next, Henning wanted to try his 1st E3, Marjorie Razorblade, reputedly one of the most failed on E3's! He managed the bottom crack with just a little grunt and was quickly up on the ledge before the crux crack. A steep S shaped crack with blank and smooth side walls. This was going to be interesting and I was prepared for a fall at any moment! It never came though as Henning dogged his way up the crux and onto the next ledge and the upper crack. Had a few problems here too as he was knackered by this point and eventually bailed out on the Severe. Down below I had been thinking that I could give the lower crack a good go, but there was no hope in hell of me getting off the ledge on the crux without aiding and I couldn't be bothered with that and it was much quicker for Henning just to ab down for the gear. It was an interested ab for him with me keeping some tension in the rope below so he didn't swing too far, but he got there in the end. That was it for the day route wise. All that seemed left dry was an E1 but AllyF from UKC had turned up and him and his partner were doing that route. That was a weird one. I'd been in touch with Ally via email about our back/neck injuries but never met him before and I didn't actually realise it was him until Henning mentioned it later on the way home. Small world!

We did a little bouldering after that which involved traversing the lower routes and the sport routes (or me trying to! The sport routes there are bloody steep!) Then Henning suggested a run. Aye, sounded good to me, so we finished the day off with a 7mile run through the woods, around the lochs and up and down the hill.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Climbing over for the summer? Sat 6th Sept '08

It has been a mixed couple of weeks on the climbing front. Bad weather has meant I haven't been able to get outdoors midweek and last weekend saw Chris and I climbing at Clova. Would you believe it, forecast hadn't been too bad but the morning dawned a tad grey and there had obviously been rain. Clova+Me=rain!! Thankfully the rock was dry though (just) as Clova is quite unpleasant when wet. Chris started off on Central Crack and was going quite slowly at the low down crux. It was one of those problems that looked easy from below (don't a lot of them!) and it's so easy to dish out advice when your stood belaying and not on the sharp end. He sussed it though and climbed the rest easily enough and then it was my turn. I quickly found out what the struggle had been about. It's not the nicest of routes (IMO) in fact it's the sort of route I hate where the holds and the rock keeps pushing you out of balance, gggrrr!
Next it was my turn and I decided to try the severe next door, Flake Route. What a faff! Firstly Chris forgot something down at the sacks so had to go back down, then I couldn't get my head into gear for leading whatsoever! I'd get up to the chimney but the chimney kept trying to push me out and again, it's that sort of move I hate and I couldn't commit to doing it. So stupid as I had 2 hexes in I tell you! I kept trying it though and each time the move pushed me out and I would step down. Chris seemed to lose patience with me and pulled on the rope telling me to come down. I snapped! Don't f*cking pull on the rope!! I was annoyed. Sometimes I don't think I'm cut out for climbing. I just wish I could have some consistency. I try not to let it get me down though. I find it really difficult to lead routes that have moves like that in them and seem to be more drawn to climb only the routes that truly inspire me.
Moving on, Chris led Beanstalk. Now there is a route to inspire! The line looks far, far nicer to me than the severe and the HS. Up a lovely flake, and then taking the variation on the arete above. The flake is lovely climbing and here is a VS that inspires me to lead. The move off the top of the flake and onto the ledge above and to the left of it is simply sensational. Only problem is that to get to the arete you have to get into this corner first and I just couldn't seem to suss this bit out. It involves a mantleshelf (at near enough chest height for me!) and there are no holds on the wall above (that I could see/use anyway) I fell off here about 3 or 4 times before finally sussing it. Damned if I can remember how I did it though! And glad I didn't lead it as falling off that move on lead would have meant hitting the ledge below. Once up into the corner, you then move round onto the arete. And what a move!!! Utterly amazing! Totally blind, exposed and committing, fantastic :o) I simply have to get that move into the corner sussed and do this route on lead!
That was us for the day, and it was good timing as the rain came on again!

I'd been at the wall during the week previously and when I'd been trying a corner route, and was palming back (or trying to) I couldn't seem to do it as my wrist was too painful. I've been getting aches/little darts of twingeyness in my forearms for some time but just been ignoring it really. I'd been given stretches to do as Mark, my Chiro reckoned that my Ulnar nerve was a bitty trapped. I'd been doing the stretches when I remembered and any time I'd been getting any numbness in my fingers. Anyhoo, at the start of this week I woke up with a sharp, stabbing pain in my elbow. Oh shite! My first thoughts are of Tennis Elbow or Lateral Epicondylitis as the pain is on the outside. It hurts to pick things up with my palm down and it hurts to try and twist things open. It's now a week later and I have been diligent with stretching, using a Metolious Gripsaver (a squidgy ball, with hoops for your fingers. You squeeze the ball, stretch the fingers and extend the wrist) and using a dumbell (with no weight) for wrist extension exercises. I've been out running and out on the bike for Cardio (improves blood flow to the poorly supplied tendons) No anti-inflammatories as I'm not a believer in them really. I'm sure just a week of doing this, has given some improvement already :o) and it's making me hope that it isn't Tennis Elbow that I have, but just a strain of my Brachioradialis muscle as that will heal alot quicker!

So, I'm laying off the climbing till it's better anyway as there is no way on heaven and earth that I am risking not being able to swing my axes this winter! So, weekends (for the next few weeks anyway) will see me out shamelessly Munro bagging :o) Started off today by driving up to Drumochter Pass and bagging Geal Charn, A'Mharconaich, Beinn Udlamain and Sgairneach Mhor. The forecast was for gusty NE winds, possible shower or two but with cloud lifting. Phah! The cloud lifted for all of a few seconds once in the day to allow a brief glimpse down to Loch Ericht and then it was dreich and gusty for the rest of the day. Good training though :o) And I had to get the old compass out a couple of times. Made a navigational blip just before the 1st top though. Took a bearing from the top of the munro when I wasn't at the top! That was a bit dim! But I quickly realised my error when the lay of the ground wasn't as it should have been and was able to contour round to where I wanted to be. There was 3 other parties out on the hill but I left them behind after the second munro and one party after the 3rd. It was blowing a hoolie on the last top and I had to brace myself walking off. Had wet gloves (reminder not to use those gloves again if there is going to be wind chill factor) and a wet arse from sitting on my wet rucksack. 6hrs to car and back. I had parked my car in a laybye where I was going to come off the hill and walked down the road at the start of the day, to save myself an hour(ish) slog back to car at end of the day and was quite thankfull to get back quickly. Knackered though and it was a struggle keeping awake on the drive home, after a good walk, but with only 5hrs sleep! I really need to get my sleeping habit sorted out, as 5-6hrs each night just isn't proving enough!
No photos this week, dimwit that I am, I forgot my camera. Not that I could have taken any nice photos today anyway.