Monday, 28 December 2009

Clach na Beinn and Clova - 26/27th Dec '09

Firstly, a merry xmas to everyone.  Hope you have all had a wonderful past few days.   D, RB and I certainly have.
Xmas day was spent in a blur of too much food and too much TV.
Boxing day RB was at her Dad's, the weather was clear and bright, so D and I decided to go for a walk up Clach na Beinn.  The trail was broken on the way up as it's such a popular wee hill and I almost regretted not taking my axes up as some of the gullies would have been climbable.  I decided it would be a good idea to come down the hill via the Hill of Edendocher, Cairn of Finglenny and then drop down into Glen Dye.  I'd done that wee circuit a few years back and remember it being pleasant.  Not so that day!  Nobody else had walked these hills of late and we had to break trail all the way through knee deep snow and thigh deep drifts.  After the Cairn of Finglenny we decided to go off path and drop straight down to the track in Glen Dye, rather than follow the path down and round to the bothy.  Bad idea!  The snow here was awful and something I'd never experienced before.   It was sat as a layer on top of the heather and frozen over.  But it wasn't frozen enough to hold your weight and when you broke through the crust there was no snow underneath, only heather.  Lifting your foot high to get back onto the snow, the icy crust would scrape against your shin, not nice!  Think it took us 3 and half hours to get down from Clach na Beinn!

If that wasn't enough, the next day I thought that going up to Clova to check out the cliffs would be a good idea.   All was fine at first, though I was finding the going tough.  I'm convinced I get unfitter each time I go out.  The path up to Corrie Fee is barely up hill and yet I was huffing and puffing like an old man with a 50 a day fag habit!  Don't know if that bout of Bronchitis has effected my lung capacity and on top of that, not being able to do any cardiac work during the week because of this torn meniscus in my knee.   I'm just not as fit as I was last year.
Enterning the coire, the cliffs look well plastered and there were 2 teams heading up to do Look C Gully.   I had my eye set on a new route though and this took us past all the routes and more trail breaking, ugh!  I had the bit between my teeth however and nothing short of an avalanche or a thunderstorm was going to stop me today!  The going was really hard.  Thigh deep snow, falling into chest deep drifts at times.  Poor D, I don't think he realised just what he was getting himself into!  But he coped with it all (I don't think I gave him much choice)  It seemed to take forever, and the original line I had spotted got forgotten about as I simply couldn't face more wading.  Instead, I spotted a nearer, though less good looking line.  But it would do under the circumstances! 
Scrambling up to the base of the route was hard work indeed and on occasion I did think I wouldn't make it up there!  But make it I did.
The route followed an initial turfy groove and oh yes, frozen turf, happy happy!  Woohoo!  I'd forgotten just how gorgeous big clumps of frozen turf are, sexy!   This took us into a wee basin, where the groove followed up more steeply.  I decided that the rope was a good idea here and D was happy to comply, even though he normally doesn't like ropes.  This was the crux of the route, and grade II.  It was fun, though totally gearless!  Thankfully the turf was bomber so it wasn't too much of an ordeal.  I was concerned about not getting a belay at the top of the pitch and either having to bring up D with a body belay or trying to back off the route.
Thankfully, there was a stonking belay and D flew up the pitch with no problems whatsoever.  The next few pitches followed more grooves and turfy slopes.  The wind was picking up and on several occasions I was blinded by spindrift blowing into my face.  Luckily most of the belays I found were tucked into little sheltered niches.
The route was 250m long and finished up on the top crest of A Gully Buttress.  So all that followed was to follow the coire rim round and into Coire Kilbo.  I was knackered though so D broke trail and I had to stop after a while and eat something to perk up my energy levels which were severely flagging!
The path down into Kilbo was completely blown over and we were both falling about all over the shop, wind still blowing spindrift up, it was a battle of wills!
We were down eventually though, and a quick look at the map showed us how to find the path into the forest.  Head torches on, I was mighty glad I hadn't been out on my own, as those woods would have been terrifying!  D laughed that I could climb up these routes and yet be scared of the dark!  There was a loud rustle in the trees about half way down and he teased me about bears, wolves and gruffalos!
The path through the woods seemed never ending, but finally we made it back to the van.  One of the teams who were doing Look C weren't down yet, and I didn't envy them still being up there. 
They were half an hour behind us, having come down the Coire Fee path and said that Look C's top 2 pitches were pretty rotten.
Temps in the corrie were above freezing, around 1.5 degrees but it's uttely baltic today, -6.5 in Aboyne, so these wee freeze/thaws should be good for consolidation of the snow and better ice build up.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Thunderstorms in the NW - 20th Dec '09

After much deliberation and worry as to whether I'd get snowed in up North or Andy would get snowed out if he came down here, we decided that I should drive up to Andy's on Saturday to go climbing on Sunday.  All plans of another new route on my CragX, or Andy's CragX, or possibly somewhere else were out the window.
I left for Boat of Garton around 2.30, driving via Kirriemuir, Blairgowrie and Dunkeld with all these roads being perfectly fine.  The A9 only got snowy around Pitlochry/Blair Atholl and was perfectly fine for driving.
The Grantown road was a bit more snowy with some annoyingly cautious driver feeling that he/she had to drive at 20mph causing a bit of a tail back.

Forecast was for showers of snow in the NW, coastal at first but moving inland as the day progressed, 40-50mph winds with gusts of 70mph and also the risk of lightning.  Now I've never paid much heed to forecast lightning as MWIS often forecasts it and it never materialises.   I was convinced it *was* going to snow however, though Andy was more optimistic than I, but I was willing to gamble that it wouldn't be as windy as forecast.
We were off to the NW around 7ish and there was a wee bit of a white out on the A9 over the Slochd but it passed, or we drove though it and into Inverness.  The roads up Torridon way were progressivly worse and it took us around 2 and half hours to get to Fuar Tholl carpark, a journey which would normally take around 1hr to 1 and half hours!
As we approached we could see the tops shrouded in grey, heralding snow.  And right enough as we pulled in to park it was snowing.  I was highly dubious about being here.  I hadn't slept well the night before, worrying about being snowed in up there, worrying about avalanche conditions and worrying about the epics I seem to have every time I come to this part of the country.

My feelings of foreboding didn't improve as we ascended the hill.  It was cold and snowing non stop and as we approached the cliffs, it was hard to see the routes as they were shrouded in cloud.  After wading our way though knee deep snow, some bits thigh deep where we broke through drainage channels, I was feeling knackered and I hadn't even been breaking trail!
Dunno if it was lack of sleep making me tired or just general unfitness but I was finding the going really tough.  Well, wading though snow is always tough, but I found it tougher than normal!  I kept remembering how knackered I felt after my 11 hour day up here last year and how I was so much fitter last winter.  I kept thinking of the forecast high winds and the prospect of freezing my ass off on belays in the snow and grim conditions.  I feel I have been spoilt of late as I've climbed so much last year, and this year in utterly perfect winter weather, that I've become a bit of a wimp when it comes to a bit of wind and snow!  I've forgotten that this is actually what normal winter conditions are like!
Regardless, I didn't feel fit and I was worried an epic might find me lacking.   Don't think Andy was feeling that motivated either.  He's been out a fair bit recently, in fairly good conditions so didn't feel the driving need to get something done.
Eating a sandwhich, both of us quickly getting cold, we deliberated on whether to climb a nearby route on the cliffs we could see looming in and out of the cloud, or just to bail and head back to the car.  I looked up at the route.  The start looked pretty steep and hard, and the route long and committing.  I really don't think I had it in me, not today.  I told myself that when I needed to argue with myself about whether to climb or not, when I was so full of doubts and when I knew the route might be tough, long and committing and the weather pretty foul, then there was a reason not to battle on regardless.  We could have done the route, but whether I'd have enjoyed it is a different matter.  And whether my tired and unmotivated self could have coped with an epic battle, I'm not too sure I wanted to test.

So, we turned around.  And within 2 minutes of walking back down there was a bright flash, we both stopped and stared and within a couple of seconds, BOOM, CRASH!  Thunder!  Think I squealed like a girl!  Got really spooked!  Oh my god!  Andy thought I'd been taking a photo as the flash was so nearby.  Weird though cos I've been out before in electrical activity and felt the hair on my neck prickle but saw no lightning or heard no thunder, yet today I felt no warning at all.
I was trying to imagine myself up on that cliff face.  Standing on a lonely belay ledge, cowering down underneath surrounding claps of thunder, terrified of the lightning, feeling all alone and frightened, some part of me wanted to be up there experiencing the terror and the exhilaration of it.  I'm not sure if these feelings are entirely foolish, but I'll never know now, having bailed.
Back at the car, the roads were fine, the snow falling was wet and sleety and served to melt some of the snow.  Cars were still being over cautious though and it took ages to get back, stopping off at a wee cafe for a cuppy and cake on the way.  Can't beat a chocolate muffin to soak up the feelings of dismal failure!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Sophisticats - 12th Dec '09

Andy and I had planned to climb in Sputan yesterday but as he'd been out 2 days on the trot, with an 11hr day yesterday, he was feeling it in the legs a bit.  So when Andy suggested perhaps going up to Glen Shiel instead, I was well up for it!  I've gone to climb in Shiel a couple of times in the past, but always been met with badly thawing conditions.  I was hoping this would be the exception!
Andy's mate Sandy   came along with us, and we drove up in his car at 7am.
We arrived in Glen Shiel to an utterly gorgeous morning, clear blue skies and the ground and trees crips with white frost just like a Xmas card.

We weren't long in setting off up the verglassed path, then up a wee bit of a heather slog and finally to the point at around 800m, where you can leave sacks and gear up, before descending slightly and traversing around to the West face of Druim Shionnach.
As we were gearing up Sandy noted that Andy had a bulldog and commented that Andy had his wee hooker with him, then burst out laughing.  Andy and I were slow to catch on, before realising that Sandy was suggesting that *I* was the hooker!  Ooooh, just watch yerself standing at the edge of that cliff mate, I joked!
The traverse around was easy but steep, with Sandy and Andy (they sound like a couple of TV presenters or something!) zooming off ahead to check out the line of the route I'd spied.
The route starts in a bay to the right of Capped Gully, crosses over it and then finishes up a groove to the left of it.
Conditions weren't brilliant and the turf was only just frozen enough to be bearable (weight bearable and mentally bearable!)  There was snow on the ledges and in the grooves which was a bit crusty in places but again would just take your weight.  The cliff faces themselves were bare though.  They are so steep that they don't hold snow and I was in awe of the harder stuff here, even the grade V to the left of us looked nails!

The first pitch of our route went up a series of turfy steps up the left edge of Boxer's Buttress, then the 2nd pitch crossed Capped Gully.  I deliberated on leading the 2nd pitch but was put off by the fact that I knew it was steep and the turf wasn't as helpful as I'd have liked.   My knee was giving me real grief as well!  It's really worrying me now.  Every time I tried to kick in the vibration was causing jolts of wincing pain in my knee and I could forget rocking over onto it!
Back to the route...........the 2nd pitch was utterly fantastic, I really, really enjoyed it!  It went up a really steep turfy wall, with a few perfect, bommer placements for the axes.  The turf was a bit hairy in places though and it felt just a bit precarious for the feet!  This took you to stand on a big spike, with another few pulls up to the top of the steep wall.  Then came a long and easy snowy groove which took you to this mental arete and overhang.
Andy had led this pitch and Sandy was climbing up infront of me.  Unfortunately he'd climbed the overhang before I got a chance to see how it was done.
'Errrrrrrr guys, how the feck do you do this!?'
Andy recomended climbing the arete and sidestepping the overhang and Sandy recomended taking the overhang direct.   Hmmmmmmm.
In the end I climbed onto the arete, but it felt seriously balancy and I didn't like it so I stepped back down.  The overhang was more like a large undercut chimney with a big flake and wide crack on it's left hand wall. 
I flung my right leg up and over the overlap, amazed that my leg would go that high (probably about shoulder height!)  Then I grabbed hold on the flake with one hand, slotted my hammer head into a wee gap between flake and side wall, praying that it would hold, and stepped up onto a small chockstone in the big gap underneath the overhang.  Then it was a case of heaving with all my might and getting my weight onto that high leg.  Quickly managed to hook my axe over a bigger chockstone above which promptly came pinging out again!  Luckily I was still gripping onto that flake for dear life so I didn't come piging off too!  Got my axe around that chockstone sideways instead, more heaving, get right leg right out wide so it was bridged across the chimney.  I felt quite spreadeagled at that point and burst out laughing, it felt hilarious, very unstylish and undignified!  Winter climbing is so fab!  A few more udges, some grunting and swearing saw me up and over the worst of it with a declaration from Sandy that he'd found it easy, and a declaration from me that he was gonna get a slap for his cheek soon! :oD

That was it, another new route in the bag and I felt quite chuffed that it was a line that I had spotted and that it was actually pretty damn good! It would be a wee belter of a route when completely frozen I reckon.
Sandy had thought about calling it Sophisticats as he originally thought my name was Sophie and I'm not entirely sure if that's another lewd suggestion as it would seem that Sophisticats is the name of a pole dancing club in London!  Anything to admit to there eh Sandy? ;o)
Well, now it's a name associated with ice axe dancing too!  Must be as neither of us felt particularly sophisticated whilst on the route!
Andy and Sandy went back down to the sacks but I went for a tootle up to the summit to bag munro number 108.  It was gorgeous up there with the view across to Knoydart being particularly stunning.   After being up there, I feel even more determined to do a winter traverse of the South Glen Shiel Ridge.  With snow conditions like they were today and the weather as it is, then a full traverse would present no problems at all and would be a total delight!

I hobbled off home yesterday evening, deciding not to climb today and give my knee a rest so it's fit enough for next weekend (finger's crossed!)  It is getting worse and I keep getting this sinking feeling that the meniscus might be torn enough to need surgery to repair it.  But I will keep battling on until the day comes when I simply can't.
Had a bit of an utterly doofus moment just before setting off home from Andy's.  My car had run out of screenwash and I stupidly poured more into the radiator instead of the screenwash reservoir, doh!  What an eejit!  Phoned the RAC and the man I spoke to said no way could I drive it home as it would damage the engine!  Then he phoned back saying the patrols wouldn't drain the radiator at side of road due to health and safety and nor would they relay me home as it was a driver fault and not a mechanical fault.  Boy, was I fuming! I don't pay my money to them for fecking nothing!  Fortunately, after speaking to the head patrol man, the RAC decided that it was safe for me to drive the car home as long as the radiator was drained in the next few days.  I'm not going to bother though, I'll be ditching that car in the New Year at some point and could do without the expense!

Monday, 7 December 2009


Only I know that I leaned low and drank
A long draught from the water where she sank,
Her breath and all her tears and all her soul:
And as I leaned, I know I felt Love’s face
Pressed on my neck with moan of pity and grace,
Till both our heads were in his aureole.

From Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Willowwood, a poem about the guilt and loss he felt over his wife's suicide, and which also inspired Margaret Mackintosh to create the utterly beatiful, Oh ye, All Ye That Walk in Willowwoods.  I saw this in the Kelvinside Museum and Gallery on Saturday and was entranced by it's beauty.
Now, I'm ignorant when it comes to art and culture but there is something so evocative of the power and spirit of women in this work.

And of Ben Vane.........
Well D and I managed a sneaky hill on Sunday before the stormy weather arrived.
Forecasts for gusts of up to 85mph didn't sound too inspiring, but I was keen to at least try and get out on the hill, with the option to bail if the weather was too disgusting.
So a 6am wake up call saw us setting off up the hill at 8am.

It's been ages since I've wandered in the Southern Highlands and I do love the area and it's hills.  I feel so at home here.  For all the majesty and splendour of the North West Highlands, there is something rugged yet soft and gentle and homely about the South.  It sounds loopy, but I feel a sense of belonging here.

Vane itself didn't disappoint, looking steep from below it's SE ridge, and rugged on top, throwing wee knobbles and hanging boulders down it's crest.  The snowline sat around 700 metres, soft and slushy at first but firming up the higher we went.  All the recent thawing has started to consolidate the snow quite nicely on this aspect at least.  And there was a surprising amount of snow left on Narnain and Lomond too.
The snow was firm enough, that I had to kick a couple of steps on occasion when the footprints already there had too long a stride for me to use.  And D and I skirted off the beaten track near the top and scrambled up over the snowy boulders.
Cloud was hovering just over the tops, so the view wasn't stunning, but the wind was gentle, just a couple of little gusts of  30ish mph according to the anemometer, down in an exposed spot below the summit, but the summit itself wasn't too bad at all.
The snow was firm enough for us to want crampons on the way down.  But that annoying middle stage, where it's too slippy and steep in places to not have them on without the hassle of slipping all over the shop and trying to avoid the firmer patches, and being too soft for them in other places so you break though the snow too much and it feels more precarious with them on.

We passed quite a few folk on our way down, one slightly portly gentleman who seemed to be weezing his way up the bottom of the hill and who certainly wasn't going to escape the increasing winds, at the speed he was going at.  Still, he seemed sturdy enough (if that's not too fatist a statement!) to not be blown over!
But it felt nice to be back down to the van just in time for the heavens opening and by the time we were back in Glasgow, the wind had certainly picked up.
Think the East had the wind too on Sunday, and mild conditions reported in the Cairngorms on Saturday, with several avalanches being noted in both Coire an t-Sneachda and Coire an Lochain.
Back in the West, a team out on Ben Starav, nice!


Tuesday, 1 December 2009

WINTER IS HERE! - 28-30th Nov

Not before time!
Andy and I got out climbing for my 1st winter route of the season on Saturday, Andy's 2nd.  At long last there was the prospect of snow on the cliffs coinciding with me feeling well and it being a weekend.  Wasn't too sure if Andy would make it out at first, having come down with the flu bug that seems to be making the rounds.  But come Saturday he felt fit enough to get out.
We were originally going to go out into the Northern Corries and my heart sank a little at the prospect, crowds upon crowds upon crowds would surely be there this weekend.  I'd tried to persuade Andy to go somewhere different, Lurcher's?  Sgor Gaoith?  Sputan was even half heartedly mentioned but seemed too far under deep snow for even my liking.  So I was delighted on Fri evening when I arrived at Andy's that he was inspired enough to forget about a short day and we could go down Glen Einich.

We were off at sunrise, walking up via Meall Tionail and Buidhe to the col between Sgoran Dubh Mor and Sgor Gaoith and the pines poking through the mist of the edges of Inshriach Forest, and the early morning temperature inversions with swirling cloud down in the valleys below as we got higher, made the torture of heather bashing up to Tional more bearable.  The snow level started around 850m, surprisingly firm with a crust on top, annoyingly breaking through though, making the going tough seen as I'm a bit out of condition.  We had turns about at breaking trail and before long we were searching for the descent down to the cliffs below Sgor Gaoith.
The gully descent was easy, grade I ish, but the snow soft enough that we could face out and tromp down carefully, just one little step requiring facing inwards. 

The first pitch of the ridge line Andy had spotted was a bit hairy, with conditions not being perfect, and care was required (ie, it was terrifying!)  I led the 2nd pitch, following up the groove, over a turfy bulge, further up the groove to a knife edge arete.   Hmmmm, I'd run out a lot of rope with only one runner and was a bit dubious about getting onto the arete, so chose to belay below, digging myself into a bucket seat and braced stance to bring Andy up.  I'd worried over nothing though, the moves were no problem, although I probably wouldn't have had enough rope!  The 3rd pitch had an interesting down climb wich looked hard from above, but easy enough.  Then followed a tricky and thuggy wee groove to be wedged in between a flakey pinnacle block and a blank slab.  My pitch?  Er..........?   Hmmmm.......?   I tried to stand on the flake and lean across onto the slab to hook my picks onto nothingness, one foot on top the flake, the other moving across to a tiny edge on the slab.  No way!  That felt way too precarious for my liking!  I tried it a couple of times, but bottled it in the end, passing the lead to Andy.  I was still utterly sh*ting myself though, as Andy leaned across from the flake to the slab, I was perched underneath him, crouched down low, a sudden slip would see me getting a face full of crampons!  Not a pleasant prospect!  Teetering above, Andy made the moves and I relaxed until I realised I still had to climb the damn thing!  I did so with the aid of a VERY tight rope!  And I mean aid when I say aid, as I think I'd have fallen had the rope not been tight and kept me in balance as my crampons skited about all over the shop!  My discovery that slabs in winter are just as horrible as slabs in summer!
My pitch had a wee step, followed by troughing up through deep snow on the ridge line and an easy solo up to the top.  First new route of the season, hurrah!  And a nice route it was, Gaia III 5, tech 5 feeling quite sneaky for a first route of the year!

We were up and down the hill and route in 8 hours which felt pretty good going and on coming down I met up with D, we had a quick cuppy at Andy's and zoomed off in the van to Fersit for the night.  Thankfully we weren't up too early, and it felt all too good to be cozy and lazy in the van before finally setting off for  Stob Coire Sgriodan and Chno Dearg.  The day started off boggy and haggy and upon walking up the side of the Alt Chaorach Beag, we heard then saw a chopper hovering over Sron na Garbh-bheinne, circle round, hover again, before dropping down a winch, pulling back up and flying off in the Fort William direction.  
Slippy up on those rock perhaps, neither of us had bothered with an axe and decided to cut up an easy ramp and keep to the soft snow and up onto the ridge of Sgriodan, a single crow hovering like a dark omen, and I was reminded of that poor girl on Ben Alder last New year and wondered what became of her, if she was okay.

We met someone coming down from the hill and asked if they knew what the chopper about.  Neither of us caught what the guy said fully, but I'm sure the word stretcher was used.  The guy also commented that he had bailed from going up to the summit as the wind was strong up there.  Certainly, upon reaching around the 850m mark, and into the snow proper, the wind was biting!  I was getting weary, blood sugar dropping and had to stop for something to eat.  Amazing how you perk up instantly with that hit of food!  We braced against the wind and carried on to the top, no views apart from a thick ish mist and the cold of the wind for company.  We played about with D's Anometer for a while and I was surprised by it's low reading, thinking that the wind was surely gusting 50.  Whatever the wind speed was, we both decided to forget about Chno Dearg as we'd started late in the day and the thought of the wind, mist and having to navigate all the way round to C.D with no prospect of any views was less appealing than going back down to the warmth of the van, and a chippy for tea in Fort William.

Monday was a far finer day and after another enjoyable lazy morning, we set off for Chno Dearg.  My god that hill is a slog!  The munro books have these hills as being an easy day, and I dunno if I was just knackered after the previous 2 days, but I found it one of the toughest hills I've been up!  There was nothing but bog, heather and tussock to fight your way through, all the way up to around 800m-ish, then the snow line where the heather was shorter thankfully.  My legs were screaming at me, and after breaking through a hole and wrenching my knee again, I made a half hearted attempt at being stubborn but was trully happy for D to go first.
I quickly came to the conclusion that winter hillwalking is much, much tougher than winter climbing!  And I'm amazed at D's ability to keep going without as much of a breather, whilst I'm struggling and gritting my teeth, every step utter torture!  The summit was beatiful though, worth every painful step, with views down to Glen Coe, Etive and across to Knoydart.  I could have stayed up there with D forever, 2 icy statues embraced and frozen in time upon the hills of Glen Spean, it was so lovely.  D pointed out distant hills and lochs and some of their meaning in Gaelic, places he'd been to and high camped at and I'm astounded at his memory for all these things.  I seem to take things in and then instantly forget and I wish I could retain some information about the place names of hills and their meanings.
We decided against carrying on round to Sgriodan again, and just went down the col to the loch between 2 hills, nattering occasionaly about this and that, but both enjoying the peaceful silence that a weekday on the hill can often bring.  Well, peaceful until my curses that is, after slipping and wrenching my knee again.  It was an utterly gorgeous day on the hill and I felt sad to leave and go our seperate ways.

My knee has been awful today, swollen and painful with horrible spasms which cause my knee to lock and buckle underneath me.  Started to get irritated by it now, and worried it's going to stop me in my tracks at some point.  I'm hoping a few days rest will see it calm back down so I can enjoy another bout in the hills soon.

Monday, 23 November 2009

An extended wet Autumn - 21/22 Nov '09

There are still no great winter climbing conditions to speak of and my axes hang forlornly in my gear cupboard, almost ready to be used fully leashless if need be.
On the plus side, it's giving me ample oppurtunity to do some hillwalks in the cold wind, and to get my running back up to speed, in preperation for getting fit after feeling ill.  Unfortunately being back to climbing, running and the hills has meant my neck/shoulder/arm problem has insidiously crept back again!
Friday saw the 2nd round of the Avertical World winter bouldering series in which I did slightly better than last week and in which RB came first as usual, again beating all the Junior Boys and most definitely beating all the women in the Easy category too.
The 1st 10 problems seemed pretty easy this time round and the 2nd 10 much harder, with several of them being just far too reachy rather than being overly technical.  Very frustrating, more so for Bekah who has far more chance of actually managing something technical!  Also, there were no fun or daft problems this time round which was a bit disappointing.

D came round on Friday night (having a nosey at the wall before we left for mine) and on Saturday the forecast had been for very heavy rain and strong winds and indeed Angus had weather warnings, but upon opening the curtains we were pleasantly surprised to find a bright blue sky and frost on the roof tops.  Not to waste such a glorious morning we went for a stroll up to the Bothy at Glen Dye.  I had never realised this was a bothy, even though I'd ran past the building several times whilst out running, over the course of not summer past but the summer before.  Glen Dye is a wonderful place to run, many tracks snaking this way and that, as hard or as easy as you want to take it, over to Mount Battock, or up to Clach na Beinn, or just a gentle, undulating run up to the Water of Dye and back.  But beware of Adders on the path on a hot and dusty summer's day!

The forecast rain came later in the afternoon, and it came with a vengeance!  We were enjoying a laze after our stroll but I knew I should go out for our (earlier planned) run, regardless of the weather.  I've never seen Edzell so flooded before!  One route that I take, along the path at the side of the Esk, up to the Ganochy Bridge and back down to the village, was utterly flooded.  It was like running through a stream, and what with it being almost dark when we set off, and well into darkness by the time we reached the end of the woodland track, it was of utmost importance to lift the foot high when running lest a tree root, hidden in the depths of the long, murky path come puddle, trip us up and send us tumbling down into the river below!  Out onto the road, and that was no better, the road flooded in places from one end to the other.  It was joyous though!  How I love to run in the rain, my feet splashing through the water and the rain pouring down my already soaked body, jacket off, hat off, wet seeping through and keeping me cool.  D was being a gent and keeping my pace but straining at the bit towards the end so he pushed on ahead, me admiring his athletic form as the dark lights and rain of the village swollowed him up, wonderful!

Sunday's forecast was better, but we woke this day to rain which fortunately stopped around 9ish as we set off for the Corbett Ben Gulabin in Glenshee.  Neither of us had been up this hill so it seemed a good choice for a short day to beat the gales and rain that were forecast for later in the day.   It's a very easy hill, starting at around 350m and following a track all the way to the summit at 806m.  We didn't hang around for long as the wind was picking up, the mist had rolled in and there were no great views to speak of.  Again I think these hills would make great running ground, with their big wide tracks and easy ground and one can follow paths and tracks to the munros to the North, avoiding all the ski palaver if one so desires.  As it was, we were up and down in around an hour and half and back in the van just as the rain started to fall. 

Monday, 16 November 2009

STUCHD - 15th Nov '09

There has been nothing much to report on the climbing front of late as I've been pretty ill.  The flu knocked me out for around 4-5 days after coming back from holiday, followed by the cough from hell which turned out to be a case of acute Bronchitis.  Me being me, tried to keep on going (Wall anyone?  Bouldering comp anyone?  Benny Beg anyone?  Carn a' Mhaim anyone?  Running anyone?  Who me?)
So after a trip to the wall last week saw me feeling faint and dizzy and feeling pretty f*cking louzy I finally relented and realised this weary old body needed a rest.
God damn it though, there has been snow on the high hills and reports of Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis being done in snowy conditions, and Andy has done a route in the Cairngorms, as have several others.  That will teach me to push myself when sick though!
I don't think conditions have been *that* great however, mostly unfrozen and early season snow, so I don't feel that I've missed anything amazing.
Last weekend I had a much needed rest and went to visit a wonderful person in Glasgow
who'd been nagging at me to look after myself, (very effectively!) has taken care of me and who has completely captivated me.

This weekend we drove up to Glen Lyon in D's van and slept over, buffeted by the rain and wind, the van shaking to and fro through the night.  It was wonderful though to be cozy inside, to wake up, draw the blinds of the van and see the hills and mist outside, a hint of sunshine poking through the clouds, nature slowly awakening to a new day.
The van was parked up by the Giorra Dam at the head of Loch an Daimh, the Loch of The Stag (and there were plenty of stags around for sure!)

At around 9.30 am we made our way along side the loch and then up the sodden slopes of Coire Ban and up to point .887.  The cloud then came in with a shower, whereupon I realised I'd left my waterproof jacket back at D's house.  Rats!  I shoved on an extra fleece, my hat and buff and gloves to keep the damp at bay and we carried on through the mist and drizzle up to the summit of Stuchd an Lochain.  If the weather had been fairer I might have eagerly suggested we carry on to the nearby Corbett Sron a' Choire Chnapanich but as it was, it was a tad on the dreich side and me jacketless, was getting damp and cold!  D had pointed out to me earlier that, 'oh aye, lets just carry on to the Corbett, walk the Daimh skyline, bag the other munro Meall buidhe, and heck why not another couple of Corbetts added on too!'  I was politely told to behave myself, and just as well really as I *do* know that I have to get back into things slowly after being so unwell.

So a needed short day was had and neither of us felt too pushed and I rather enjoyed sludging down the wet path.  Although the path was more like a corroded and flowing watercourse!
Back to the van for a cup of tea (how ace is that!) and a nice drive back to Glasgow, then back to bonny Dundee for me.

Reports are coming in that the cliffs of Coire an t-Sneachda are bare of snow, that someone said Ewan Buttress in Lochain was in (dubious?) and that all the cliffs in the Loch A'an Basin are bare, but MacDui was holding snow.
Mamores have a little snow, so presuming the Ben still has some snow left too.
A lot of wet and stormy weather forecast for the next few days though and temperatures above the summits but the charts show the possibility of it being cooler towards Sunday. 

Saturday, 31 October 2009

CARN A' MHAIM - 30th Oct '09

Went out for a hillwalk today, on my ownsome.   First time in absolute ages I've been out walking on my own and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I was in two minds whether to have an easy day and go an do Ben Chonzie or stay East in the better weather but have a longer day.   The reason I wanted an easy ish day is because I have Bronchitis and also cos my knee is giving me grief.
Originally, I'd thought it would be nice to get up mega early, bike in to Derry Lodge and go do Beinn Breac and Beinn a' Chaorainn, but the thought of bog slogging was a bit unappealing.  Then I thought I'd do Derry Cairngorm, but in the end decided on Carn a' Mhaim as it was nearer.

I love this part of the Cairngorms, it seems so different to the other side.   More trees, which when you look back down Glen Lui, gives the place a really prehistoric look I think.   And I'm always amazed at the scale of the place.  Once you're up high enough to start seeing across to Devil's Point and MacDui etc, I'm always blown away.  I do love the splendour and beauty of the the North West hills and mountains, but there is something so timeless and full of magic and mystery about the Cairngorm hills.  I'm always struck by how much of a lonely place it is, no matter how many folk could be about, there is something untouchable about these hills, like they stand guard over some higher mystery. 

I'd planned to get up at 6am, but after wittering away on my pc for too long, writing emails and messing about on Facebook, I didn't get my desired early night, so set the alarm for 6.30am and had left by 7.30.  Arrived at the Linn of Dee at the back of 9, after a toilet stop at the carpark you go to for Beinn a' Bhuird, the name of which escapes me!  I set off around 9.30 am, and biked up Glen Lui as far as Derry Lodge.   I'd been a bit nervous about biking and what the track would be like, but it was ace, a really good landy track the whole way.  Once at the lodge it took me a while to figure out where I was going.  My map showed 2 different paths fording or bridging the Lui Water, but there was no sign of the bridge that my map said should be there, and the river was in spate and a bit spicy looking!  There was a bridge past the Mountain Rescue hut, so I dragged my bike over there, only to get confused as that path said it was going to the Lairig Ghru, which I thought was away round by Glen Dee.  After much map consulting, I saw that I could just cross that bridge and the path seemed to be going in the direction I wanted and if not, I could meet up with my path.  Looking at the map opened up now I'm home, the Glen Luibeg path, meets up with the Lairig Ghru path if you don't turn up towards MacDui.
I padlocked the bike as there was no way I was taking it past the Lodge as it was too rough for me, and the path went a bit boggy and yucky after that for a bit, so no sense in churning it up more with bikes and it wasn't far to walk. Before long, I reached a split in the path, a higher path and a lower one through some trees.  My map showed the higher split crossing over a bridge to get to the start of the hill, so I took that branch.  But after a couple of hundred yards I realised I was too high up and could see 2 paths in the trees, where the lower path had split again.  Consulting the map again, it seemed I had missed a split on looking first time and should have gone into the trees.  So off I went.  This was rougher going now and my knee was protesting a little.
Across the bridge, and over a horrible boggy section and that was me at the bottom of the hill.  Was feeling great and so happy to be there.  But it was slow going!  As the ground got steeper, my knee protested more and my back started hurting too.  My back was the most painful it's been in a long, long time, feeling like it was crushing down into my pelvis and I was getting awful stomach cramps, gah, who'd be a female on days like these!   I normally can't survive these spasms without strong painkillers but I'd stupidly only packed 2 and I knew it wouldn't be enough for the journey up the hill, down the hill, bike ride back and car drive home.  So, decided to wait until on the way down before taking them and just putting up with the pain in the meantime.
Nearing the top, it was so painful I felt sick with agony and was starting to feel drained and a bit wheezy. 
I'd been told the day before that I had Bronchitis, and jeeze I'm such an idiot for pushing myself like this!  But I was so near the top, I didn't want to come all this way and just go back again.  I'd still have to suffer on the way out anyway, so I may as well suffer a while longer.
I know that exercising with a cold/flu/chest infection can be damaging to the heart (rarely I think though!  But you do hear stories) and I started thinking about what an idiot I am, if anything should happen to me, I'd be fecked.  I hadn't met anyone at all up here, out in the middle of nowhere.  Ho hum, onward and upwards and push away the paranoid thoughts.  
I did meet someone near the top, a couple on there way down.  The wind was picking up and I could see grey, rolling cloud over the Devil's Point, MacDui and Derry Cairngorm, but my top was clear with just the hint of rain being blown in from surrounding cloud.  I didn't want to hang about, eager to get down and get my painkillers too!  The knee didn't stop me from hobbling down the path as fast as I could, but each time I banged my toe or heel off a rock, it would send a jarring pain into my knee, searing like a hot knife, ouch not fun!   I overtook the couple I'd seen on the way down, and I do like overtaking folk.  Very egotistical, but I do get smug thinking stuff like,
'hey, I've torn something in my knee *and* have Bronchitis, but I can still move faster than you two!'
Painkillers have kicked in and my back is all good again but the codeine has no effect whatsoever on my knee.  Back at the bike, I have a quick bite to eat and then zoom off.  Tis ace!  This would have taken ages to walk and I'd have been dragging my feet a bit, but the bike makes it so easy and as it's mostly downhill it's super fast!   By the time I get back to the car though, my knee is so swollen I feel like it's going to explode and I'm getting darts of pain into my shin and to the side of my quads, ooooops, I over did it again I think.
I'm going to have to be canny with this knee from now on, cos it's going to be tough lugging a heavy sack about this winter if it's too painful to cope!

Monday, 26 October 2009


Friday night saw the first in the series of the  Avertical World  bouldering competitions and a great night was had.  Jonathon was back climbing again after recovering from a finger injury and managed to get 5th place in the Men's Easy, I got 7th place in the Women's Easy, though was a bit disappointed with my score as I know I could have done better!  However, the star of the evening was RB as usual.  At first we thought she came in 2nd place behind Jaime Davidson, Scottish Youth Climber extrordinaire until we found out that Jaime had moved herself up to the Woman's Hard category which she is determined to win, and of which I have no doubt she can do!   So, RB then gets first place for the Junior Girls category and what's more, this comp she managed to beat all of the Junior Boys but we also think she may have beaten all of the women in the Easy Category, drawing with the women who came first possibly.
 There was a great set of problems this year, but I was a bit disappointed to see the amount of cheating that was going on.  The first round of the Junior's section was discounted last year due to all the cheating, and I could see that some of the kids hadn't learnt from it!  But wall owner Ian could see the cheating going on and as the folk concerned arn't in any chance of winning, then hopefully the round will still be counted.   It wasn't just kids cheating though but adults too!  And it didn't matter that both Mel and I had pointed out,
'ahem, but you're not allowed to use those holds!'
It's like folk were deaf!  And I point blank saw the woman who either came first or not far off in the Women's Easy cheat like hell on one of the harder problems.  It consisted of tiny green screw on holds and I don't know whether she's just a cheat or whether she can't f*cking read but she was using the massive green holds as well and flew across the problem like it was nothing.  Well, no bloody wonder!  And when you point out to these people that they shouldn't use the holds that they do, they just walk way ignoring you and mark up there scores as if they'd done the problems in question.  It's a farce!
And if anybody who was at that comp and who was cheating reads this blog (er not very likely haha) well, you know who you are aye!
So, enough bitching.  One of the most entertaining problems of the evening was a large swinging, wooden log suspended from the roof of the bouldering cave.  You had to climb a pillar to a certain level, launch yourself onto the log and try and get yourself sitting on top of it.   The folk who managed it used the technique of mantling or belly flopping over onto the log and then swinging their feet round.  Wee Euan King that competes with RB in the YCS was a total champion and managed to get it as did Jonathon.  Most folk were going about it the wrong way and punter after punter was left dangling upside down under the log, arms and legs wrapped around and trying desperately and unsuccessfully to get themselves over.   Was great fun to watch!  I'd heard that the wood was a bit rough on the skin so I left that problem until last.  And boy was it rough!  I didn't manage it,  and was left with my arms over the log, heaving as hard as I could and flailing with my legs trying to pull up on the damn thing.   Now I have massive purple bruises from my elbows up to my armpit from hanging on for dear life!  And when I say dear life, that's an exageration as I probably only managed to hold on for about 10-15 seconds on each attempt before the log spat me off.  Great fun, if not a little painful!

So, Saturday was spent recovering.  Every bit of my body ached like buggery and I was pretty shocked to see those bruises the next day!  I've hurt my calf again too.  It totally cramped up on one of the problems and I tried to climb through the pain, but when your leg has completely spastic from the knee down, it's a tad hard to carry on climbing regardless.  It took a good minute to release my calf, and Monday now it's still sore.  I often get night cramps in that calf too.  Think it's because that calf is the one that is extremely tight from the damage done to it when I had severe Sciatica.   Doesn't matter how much I seem to stretch it, it seems pretty trashed to me.  It's annoying!  Cos Mark my Chiropracter thinks that may contribute to my knee problem from running.  Och well, I shall battle on as always.

Andy came down on Saturday evening after being thwarted by his usual road due to flooding.  It had rained non stop on Wednesday and Thursday, with a brief respite on Friday afternoon, only to start raining again on Friday evening and Saturday.  Many roads have been flooded and are impassable.  But he finally made it down via the Stonehaven road.   The forecast for Sunday was a bit dubious, but the plan was to hopefully go to Benny Beg if it was dry enough and if not to go to Newtyle Quarry for a spot of dry tooling.  It was dry when we got up, though still damp and cloudy but we decided to risk going to Benny Beg and if it was too wet to climb then we'd go for a walk up to Dunira to check out the crag there for future climbing.
Benny Beg was pretty seepy in places but many routes still seemed climbable and we did 5 routes each, nothing about grade 5, but I climbed a few of the newer routes that have been bolted since I'd last been there.  One of which, a grade 4, was actually really, really nice and one of the nicest routes I've done there!
I was finding it a bit tough though.  Some of the routes at Benny Beg have wee crimps on them and I'd been holding onto this crimp to make a clip and ended up utterly pumped due to my arms still being tight and sore from the bouldering, and just cos they are always too tight anyway from all my neck/nervy stuff.  I had to sit on the rope to recover as I could barely move my fingers I was so pumped.  It really frustrates me when that happens!  There's nothing more humiliating that getting pumped on something as easy as a grade F5, or a V.blooming Diff!   But that's how pathetic my arms can go at times.  I really hope they are not too weak or painful for winter climbing this year.

I'm getting so psyched and excited for winter now, all we need is for those Continental Highs to bugger off and for the jet stream to move along a bit (er yes, very technical) and let some cold in!

Tis Monday morning.  I still hurt and ache, especially my knee.  I had a nasty flu bug post Ariege which laid me out for about a week and I still have a horrid cough.  But sod it, this is the first day for ages where the sun seems to be peeking out.  I'm off out for a gentle run in the fresh air.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Blazing sun, a few showers and a wee bitty of ice in the French Ariege - 4th-14th Oct '09

Andy and I took RB on her 1st climbing holiday abroad last week and she loved it, managing to do long multipitches 2 days in a trot, cope with chossy ascents and descents (with much less grumbling than mum!) and cleanly toprope a 6c+!!!
We arrived at Girona airport around 9ish and met up with Andy who had been climbing in the Spanish Pyrenees, and we then drove over some hideously bendy and high mountain pass, taking us around 4 and half hours to reach Chez Arran, our apartment for the next 10 days.

I'd happily recommend staying at the Arran's hoose to anyone going to this region of the French Pyrenees.  Both the apartment and house are lovely, clean, comfortable and well placed for all the local climbing (of which there is an abundance!)  And John and Ann themselves were a wealth of information about different areas and routes and how to get from A to B.  There was even a box of teabags in the apartment for which i was eternally grateful after Andy hadn't managed to get anything other than mint tea.  What is it with the French and Spanish and not having proper tea!?

We arrived around 2am and all collapsed into bed, awakening to blazing sunshine and a leisurely start to the day (with RB rushing off down the street after hearing the bread van peep it's horn around 10ish.  Croissants and Chocie du Pains, num num!)  We head off to Auzat, which is roughly a half hour drive from the apartment but from the word go, I have a headache which gets worse and worse and ends up a full blown migraine.  This happened on the first day of my trip last time!  I think it's something to do with dehydration and being over tired or something, though it's weird I don't get it on return journeys.  Frustrating, as it meant I couldn't climb at all!  I did try, I made 3 or 4 moves on a route that RB led, but on each move my head was pounding and I had to come down.  I took a few photos of RB and Andy, necked some strong painkillers, then went back to the car (auzat has a 5minute walk in!) and lay down and slept for a while.  RB and Andy led a few routes each

Friday saw us having an early start, making the most of the brilliant weather, to take a walk up to the East Face of The Dent D'Orlu, a 2222m peak which was our main motivation for choosing the Ariege region to come too for a holiday.  I'd fancied the sound of an easy route called Les Dalles Blanches, but had heard that it was a bit scrappy looking (and it was!)  Instead we did the recommended Tapas Sans Dalles at 5b+ which was 11 pitches long and topped out on the summit.  I bagged the 1st pitch seen as I didn't get to climb yesterday and ended up messing things up by taking the wrong route, ooooops!   I just saw a line of bolts and followed them which is all too easy to do with no route description of any kind.  We did have a diagram showing the route veering left which I failed to consult.  That was fine though and I also led the 2nd pitch (too time consuming to swap individual leads between 3 people, so we were doing 2 leads each)  So, I'm running out the 2nd pitch and there hasn't been any bolts for ages!  But I finally clock one out right, after much hesitation and 'oh bugger, where the hell do I go!?'  
RB led the next pitch, and found the same problem as I did, but managed to clip a couple of bolts and find a belay.  After some discussion, we looked at our topo and realised that we should have moved left at the first pitch instead of straight up.  So, Andy did a fully run out pitch veering ever left that took us back on line and onto the meat of the route, over 2 overlaps, the first of which was really awkward and the 2nd of which was a big overlap on crimps.  I then led the next 2 pitches of slabs with smaller overlaps, then RB did another pitch which she wasn't too keen on as we were nearing the top of the cliff and it was becoming more vegetated, with a scrambly section at the top which Andy just led a rope up and we followed after. Took us just over 5hrs which wasn't too bad for an 11 pitch route, climbing as a 3, with both RB and I using a Reverso belay device for the 1st time and having a few problems with it, until we got used to the set up.  About 80% of the belays were on hanging stances and we were all tired and achy and eager to be back to the apartment.  Oh, on the way up the hill, I stopped for a pee and left my camera behind again, aaaaaaaarg!  What an idiot!  At least it wasn't as bad as the last time, and I was able to run down the hill and huff and puff my way back up to the others in about 15minutes.

Wednesday saw us climbing at Calamas, a flat topped hill not far from where we were staying.  This ended up being both RB and my favourite venue of the holiday.  Lovely, lovely limestone climbing and something for everyone.  Nice slabs (not icky, horrid frictiony ones, though there were some moves like that on some of the routes)  lovely flakes and pockets and another hot and sunny day, nice!  We did the classic F5+ of the crag, a 7 pitch route on the Pilier De Cathar which was gorgeous.  RB led the 1st pitch, but was finding the spacing of the bolts a bit hairy (she's not used to long sport routes, though the run outs she did on Orlu were much longer!  But Orlu was slabbier so she probably didn't notice it as much)  I led the 2nd pitch, which was utterly, utterly gorgeous climbing!  You would come to a blank looking section and think, hmmmm, don't like the look of that.  Then step up and holds would just appear as if by magic.  And there was lots and lots of laybacking type moves with juggy flakes and pockets.  Has to be one of the most exquisite pitches of rock I have ever climbed, just lovely!  Andy led the next couple of pitches, then I led the next 2.  The top pitches got a bit scrappy really, weaving through vegetation, trying to pick out a line which didn't really exist.  Then Andy led the final and crux pitch which was totally artificial, up a pillar at the top which could be avoided by scrambling through some bushes.  Not that you'd want to scramble up through all those prickles mind!
Andy decided to abseil down to retrieve a quickdraw he'd dropped, but both RB and I wanted to walk down.  We followed the path with yellow paint splodges which seemed to take you deep into some bushes and over the edge of a cliff!  Hmmmm.  This needed some rethinking.  I got pretty worried that descending would involve some hairy scrambling with a rope wanted, and Andy off with our only means of retreat.   But I managed to find a different path down a pretty chossy and loose gully esq thing that zigzagged down ballbearing scree and slippery slabs.  Before long though we were back on a better path and back down at the bottom a good bit before Andy.  RB and I had run out of water and were both parched, so I left RB on the lower path and scrabbled back up to the bottom of the cliff face and our sacks, to retrieve more water.  On the way down we saw an amazing lizard.  About the size of my forearm with a bright blue head.  It scuttled off into the undergrowth before I managed to get a photo.
We went for a meal in the local Thermal spa hotel and oh yum yum!  The food here was delicious!  I take back every word about French food being boring!  RB and Andy had some Pork dish and I had Salmon with a creamy watercress sauce.  We had a buffet for starters and chocolate cake for pudding, none of this crackers and cheese nonsense!  RB was going crazy for cheese over the holiday and at one point I think we had about 5 different types of cheese in our fridge at the apartment, one of which I refused to have anything to do with as it stank so much!

Thursday we were all pretty tired, so planned a day's shopping for food, postcards and gifts in Aux Les Thermes.  We followed this with an afternoons cragging at the local crag there.  Took us ages to find it though!  I don't think anyone has climbed on this crag for a long, long time.  We couldn't find the path there and went back to the car, but were informed by locals of the correct path to take.  This involved crossing over what looked like an electric fence, and scrambling up through steep and chossy woodland.  Poor RB was getting more and more knackered and for all our efforts we were rewarded by what RB and I termed the Green Slab of Doom!  It was utterly, utterly minging!  You couldn't see any of the holds due to all the lichen growing on the rock, but Andy as keen as ever and not to be put off just had to climb a few of the routes.  I seconded one of them, but it climbed just as minging as it looked, and after 3 routes I said, 'enough!'
and we went back to the apartment.

RB needed a proper rest day after that, so Andy went off hillwalking to Andorra whilst RB and I went off in search of a spot by the river where we could go swimming.  We walked right the length of the river from where we were staying towards the next village but all the spots were either too shallow, or too deep and fast or had loads of slimey, green weedy stuff growing.  We dumped our swimming stuff back at the house and went down to the hotel for lunch, which consisted of the most tender lamb flakes ever, with creamy potato puree and a heavenly gravy.  Mmmmmmmm, it makes me salivate just thinking of it!  The rest of the afternoon was spent playing crazy golf in the local parkland which took ages as we had to clean out every station of fallen leaves and twigs!  We were glad by then, that we hadn't gone swimming as it became overcast and rained just a little.   Andy had gone up to check out the Pic De Baillettes where there were some easy routes but was baffled by how steep the cliff was, and was unsure whether the route we wanted could actually follow such steep ground.

On Saturday we were supposed to do another mountain route at the Pic De Bassies.  But it had rained heavily through the night and the cloud was down to valley level, so too damp and misty for the high hills.  Boo!  Our neighbours in crime, Alison and Kenny from the Edinburgh Mountaineering Club had been to Appy previously in the week, and I liked the sound of it, steep with good holds!  But I was disappointed when I got there, to find out it was granite and not limestone, gutting!  And it was pretty green and lichenous in places, only clean higher up.   In retrospect I was being far too fussy as both RB and Andy enjoyed the routes they did.  But I just couldn't work up any inspiration for the place or motivation to climb anything.  And I felt too cold and damp.  I was quite happy to belay though and be on camera duty as Andy and RB climbed a 5c, then Andy tried to lead a route that they both really liked the look of.  We found the topo a bit confusing and found it difficult to work out which route was which, but the route they did was either a 6a or a 6c+
The both found it too hard for 6a, but Andy reckoned it couldn't be 6c+     He didn't manage to lead it though, and I've never seen him having to aid a route before, so I reckon it's harder than what he thought.
It was right up RB's alley though, and very, very suited to her with it having small but positive holds and steep like she enjoys!   She managed it cleanly second go on toprope, and now I'm home and have looked the route up properly it turns out it is the 6c+ route, so she'll be mega chuffed with that!

Sunday we'd planned to do a long route at Sinsat but Andy woke up in the early hours and seen as I was also awake we discussed not doing it, and doing something else instead.  Andy reckoned it was too much for us, but I had been so sure we could do it.  It was 8 or 9 pitches long, and the hardest pitch was 6b, but you could aid it at 5c+
But Andy them mentioned that the guide had estimated 5-6hours for the route and that made me rethink things, realising that we'd climb it much slower as a 3, and Andy was getting tired of having to do the crux pitches on stuff, having not had a rest day for nearly 3 weeks!
So, we decided to go back to Calamas instead.  And that was fab!  We all had a great time and both RB and I were enjoying the limestone.  Andy got pretty stroppy though when he tried to switch leads and I made sure that I got my lead in turn, then got even more stroppy as he seemed to think that just because I was leading a route, it meant he had to do it also, and would then mean that he couldn't lead a different harder route. I didn't get it, and was getting fed up of not being listend too and got stroppy right back!  It put a bit of a dampner on things, but we still did another few routes.  One of which was Andy's harder one.  I thought this route was really sketchy!  Too reachy and really thin holds, and I had to do a few committing moves, high enough above the bolts where I would take a fall.  Then on the next hard section I had to sit on one of the bolts before I could figure things out and by that point when I got to the next reachy section I ended up using a bolt as a foot hold as I struggled to reach anything and was fed up of the route by that point.   RB wanted the quickdraws left in and I tried to disuade her from trying it.  I felt a bit crap, as she climbs far better than I do and is much more confident but I really knew she'd struggle with it and I didn't want her to fall!  But she was insistent and I knew she wouldn't fall far if she did come off.   She did it better than I did, as expected, but she did have to sit on a bolt, too reachy just as I thought.  Andy then led a 5c+ and I finished off on something easier, so as not to end the day on a negative note.

Monday it had rained through the night again.  We had wanted to go to Roche Rhonde to check out the 4 pitch routes there but driving up that valley it was too wet.  So we stopped off in Tarascon for a look around the village and found an amazing French style Healthfood shop were RB and I bought lovely soaps scented with oils, some ginger sweeties and lots of nice, organic chocolate.  We then found a curiosity shop and I bought myself a cow eggcup and RB bought herself an Ariege plaque.

We then drove back up to our valley and payed Sinsat a visit.  Sector Les Pubis was supposed to have some easy 3 pitch routes on it.  It showered on the way up and I had to tell Andy off for dashing into the only shelter and hogging it so RB couldn't get in!  The rain finally stopped, but then we took the wrong path up to the crag and boy was it hideous!  Gave a whole new meaning to steep, loose and chossy!  And I decided there and then, that if the descent down from the routes was going to be minging, that I wasn't going to climb and we would just have to do the 1st pitches of all the routes there then ab off from the belay.  Neither RB or I wanted to lead the routes, all looked a bit damp and vegetated.  I tried the first one but climbed down after the first few moves, with RB continuing.  Then we all did the 2nd one, which was okay to start with, but soon turned into reachy, slabby, yuckiness!  RB wasn't keen either, so Andy led the last one, then ab'd down for the quickdraws and we headed back.  The light on the way down was reflecting off the cliffs and it looked simply stunning, really beautiful!                                                                  
The forecast for the next day was finally looking clear again so we decided to go check out the routes that Andy had found when he went for his walk.  We got some info from John about French descriptions and prayed that the forecast would hold true.

It turned out that the forecast was clear.  But it was bloody freezing!  The outside temperature was 2 degrees in the morning and when we pulled up at the Col du Puymorens, it wasn't much warmer and there was ice on the paths!  It was thermal time, wooly hats and gloves!  This route was 9 pitches long and I could see walking up that it was in shade, being North facing and I just knew it was going to be cold up there all day.  RB had come to France with a slight cough and it had gotten slowly worse over the course of the week.   She was determined she wanted to do something, but there was no way I could drag her up there and have a big, long day.  I felt torn between making sure she was okay, wanting to do the route myself and not wanting Andy to be disappointed, and not wanting RB to feel she was letting anybody down!  So as usual I make it as easy for her as possible to back out gracefully without her feeling badly about it.  She feels happy, I feel happy cos I know she doesn't feel pressurised and she's not going to feel pushed when she isn't feeling too good, and is tired.  And Andy seemed seemed okay with just going for a walk.  So we were all good!
Both RB and Andy were puffing a little with the altitude and I knew that even walking up to the high peak, Baillettes, up a steep Coulour, around the ridge and doing a horseshoe was going to be too much for RB, so I suggested we just go up to the 1st peak and no further.  I could sense RB's relief and she's got grit to even made it as far as she did, as she was very tired.  But, at times it is like pulling nails trying to make her do something less, when I can tell she really doesn't want to carry on.
So, we just walked up to the Pic De La Mine at 2683m.  I was feeling great and steaming on ahead, then waiting for the others to catch up.  I felt really good and didn't seem to feel the altitude at all.  I was a little slower once we got to the steeper top and was puffing more than usual, but it didn't feel hard going and I really enjoyed it.   The views from the top were amazing, right into the east and west basins and mountains as far as you could see.  We could even see a small glacier far, far in the distance.  We ate at the summit and took some pics, but didn't hang round for ages as it was pretty cold.  The sun would beam down from the South and would feel warm but your back would feel icy cold!
We got back to the apartment around 3ish and wanting to make the most of the finer weather in the valley and my last day, Andy and I went back to Auzat, leaving RB to rest and read and laze in the house.  We spent a couple of hours climbing at the Far West Sector where Andy led a 5c, a 5c+ and a 6a.  I only did the 5c, and just on toprope, the granite slabby bit looking hard!  Turned out that was the easy bit and I rested on the rope going through an overlap, but I just got my feet muddled.  It was a really nice route!  The other two routes looked nails for the grade though!

Our last day was spent driving back to the airport at Girona.  We took a different road this time, via Perpignan, driving through the Cathar region of France.  This took us through some stunning scenery!  Trees and trees and trees, valleys and deep gorges, rounded hills with limestone cliffs and towers, castles sitting a top.  It was a long and winding drive (though not hairy!) and we stopped off on the way for lunch, experiencing the French version of a roadside Diner.  It was disgusting!
We were given bread with olive oil.  The oil was cheap and seemed a bit pale and rancid and the bottle was all dirty and sticky.  The buffet consisted of limp lettuce, with black bits, dirt and flies encrusted on it!  Andy had chips and chicken which he seemed to like and RB and I had a bowl of greasy pasta carbonara, with half a raw egg sat on top.  There was no way in hell I was mixing their raw egg into it, and risking food poisoning!  As it was neither of us ate much of the pasta, I declined pudding and RB tried some Fromage thing, which she reckoned was off.  Andy ate his pudding, seemingly oblivious to how disgusting the place was!  The toilet was utterly gross and had a shower next door which was a rank shade of brown.  The hand dryer consisted of a cloth towel that you pull round and round.  Only it seemed that each piece of cloth had been used again and again, and it was impossible to find a clean section, each bit you pulled through being grey and grotty and stained with dirt.  When the owners dusty dogs came into the cafe, that was the final straw, ugh!
Although, I have to admitt, the dogs were lovely!   And I couldn't resist stroking them, all 3 of them and giving Dad dog a cuddle he was such a sook!  Of course, this left my hands with a coating of dusty, dog stoor on them which I couldn't wash off and had to spit out water onto my hands from my platupus which was in the car.

A journey of over 12 hours (after getting lost just before Stirling!  Took the road to Falkirk and don't know how I managed it!) saw me dropping off RB in her Dad's in Dundee.  Home, sweet home now.  Sick of rock!  Roll on winter!