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!