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.