Saturday, 3 January 2009

Ben Alder - 29th-31st Dec '08

After much deliberating whether to go into Beinn a'Bhuird, to go NW or to slog into Ben Alder for a couple of days, we decided on the latter option. I drove up to Andy's on Sunday evening, so we had a wee bitty of a lie in on Monday morning, followed by a mad dash to get sacks, gear, food etc organised for a couple of days in Culra Bothy, with me hoping it wouldn't be too busy.
Getting boots on at the Level Crossing at the start of the bike ride alongside Loch Ericht, a wee Robin took some shelter under Andy's car, feathers puffed up, looking at us mournfully, hopeful for a scrap to eat. Poor wee blighter, I didn't pity him in the freezing frost.
The cycle ride up was horrid! I hate biking with a heavy sack and there felt like far too much up hill for my liking, and the bike I had borrowed from Andy had brakes which were rather on the faulty side, making the downhills a tad on the hairy side! Still we got there eventually, left our bikes at Ben Alder Lodge and walked in the rest of the way, my back just can't handle the rougher tracks with a heavy sack too (nor my legs!)
The walk was quick though, and we were only minutes behind a few guys who had cycled in the whole way and overtaken us at the Lodge. It was just us and above 3guys and a lone climber at the bothy, and we nabbed a room to ourselves, cold but good to have space. And the stove was going in the main room so we ate there and were sociable.
We slept through the alarm next morning and were an hour later setting off than intended, but the going was good on a decent track up to Garbh choire Beag. We had wanted to climb on the NW facing cliffs but the rock there was as black as night, with next to no snow and just tiny, incomplete ice smears. But there was a good deal of snow in the gullys and groove lines in the NE corrie, so that's where we went.

I had my usual nervous moment at the belay, thinking, 'gawd, I hate this, why I am here, what am I doing below this cliff when there is a perfectly decent path to admire the hills from!' But all fears and worries are forgotten when the climbing starts. 1st pitch went up a delightful wee turfy groove/chimney and onto and into a steep, snowy groove. Following the groove, then traversing a turfy band and onto a turfy, rock section at the crux which felt really balancey and thin for the feet. I went a different way to Andy, followed the same awkward step onto the steep slab, torquing across but where he went up, I went down a step and up a groove instead of the steep slab, which seemed holdless for my less experienced feet!
The top pitch was utterly fab, a steep wall of perfect neve (only marred by bits of brittle and crusty ice) went up to a pretty sustained and bulging ice pitch. I've never climbed ice so steep and had to bridge widely over the bulge, praying my points would stick to the ice, which they did of course. Then followed even steeper neve to a rock solid and manageable, small cornice exit. Another 1st ascent in the bag :o) Kryptonite IV4
Dusk was fast approaching so we scooted up to the summit of Ben Alder to be greeted with a gorgeous sunset and temperature inversion, the tops of the mountains in the distance poking through the cloud. We decided to carry on in the dark down and across the Bhealaich Bheithe and up onto Beinn Bheoil, the descent of which was interesting in the pitch black. We finally got back to the bothy though, to pasta, wine and cake, mmm mmm mmm.
We decided on an easy day the next day and just went for a nosy at the other cliffs which weren't in condition. There were a few guys camping up the glen from the bothy, whom we chatted to for a while who said they had spotted some ice smears by Lancet edge and were going up for a wee play. The sounded surprised to hear that we had managed a route on Ben Alder, but totally different aspect to the NW cliffs and to the Lancet cliffs which seemed in very poor condition. But there were some easy angled bits of ice lower down. We strolled as far up the glen as the Bealach Dubh and then turned back to the bothy, meeting 3 folk on the way up who had wanted to go up the Long Leachas but were on the wrong side of the river, which was extremely icy and very hard to cross. We said they would need crampons and an axe etc, and they said they had them and seemed happy enough so we left them to it.
Back at the bothy we had a bite to eat then got all our stuff together for the long slog out. The walk seemed to take forever this time, but the bike ride was really quick in comparison, although I did have to get off and push the bike on the steeper downhills due to having no brakes and also on the steeper uphills.
Back at Andy's, John had phoned saying the MR had a call out for a female that had fallen on Ben Alder and had head injuries and was just checking to make sure it wasn't me. I really don't know if it was the girl in the party we had met earlier in the day, and I've been thinking of her since then and praying to any powers that may be that she is okay.
We cozied up, after tanning a bottle of red to wait for the bells to ring in the New year and then promptly fell fast asleep. Next day we went NW up to John McK's to climb on Beinn Dearg.

BEINN DEARG - Fri 2nd Jan '09

Ist new route of the new year, and 1st munro bagged too (no 92) We met up with Matt, one of my climbing partners from down south and partner in crime on our new route on Ben Lair last winter. John had the key for the forestry gates so we were able to cut off a few miles of the walk in, which as much as I love the more isolated cliffs, is always a good thing, especially at the end of a long day. Conditions were a bit on the marginal side, with none of the main gullys with fat ice. The steeper rock was black, but the lower angled rock was coated with a thin layer of frost and the turf was rock solid, and there were bits of ice formed also on the easier angled ground. Andy and John decided to do a rib on the West buttress but from the angle we were looking at it, it looked pretty steep and hard for Matt and I, so we decided to go further up the cliff and see if anything else was climbable. Unfortunately it wasn't, Penguin gully was far too lean for our liking and everything else too hard or not in good enough condition. In the end we decided that Andy and John knew what they were talking about (they thought the rib looked about II/III) and Andy said if it was that grade, they would probably just solo up it. We saw them solo the start so knew it looked easier than we had thought, so decided to follow them up.
Getting to the foot of ramp you had to follow to get to the start of the rib, we decided that although that looked easy enough with ice and frozen turf, we would rope up as we didn't know how hard the ground would be above. And foolishly we ended up pitching the whole route!!! We kept thinking it was going to get harder, so best to keep the rope on, but it never did get harder than gradeII! So, we should have been moving together, and just pitching the wee steps that we came across if we felt the need. As it was, we were half way up the cliff when I'm sure I spotted Andy and John on the path below the cliffs. And having spotted them, I should have realised that there was no hard ground above, so no need to pitch, but we kept on pitching, convinced that we were going to come across hard ground. Dusk was approaching fast and I was half scared, half excited that I was going to do my 1st bit of winter climbing in the dark as a reward for being too slow. But it never happened, and after a few steep steps and a snow arete,followed by another step, we were at the top of the cliff. The West face of Beinn Dearg is a big, big cliff and we had just foolishly done 9 pitches of grade I and II climbing. A dash up to the summit, then a horrible, bouldery slog down to the bealach between Beinn Dearg and Meall nan Ceapraichean where there were a few hard snow patches in between the boulders. I stupidly decided to bum slide down one of them, not a wise idea in the dark when your axes are on your sack and you can't break. Hitting the bottom of the slope at full pelt, I slammed the top of my thigh muscle into a rather pointy boulder and screamed out in pain. It took a good few moments to compose myself and stop tears from streaming and I have a nice lump and rather large bruise to show for my troubles. The path was treacherous at the top and there were loads of ice patches to avoid and it was slow going with my crappy head torch and Matt's fading batteries. I was worried that Andy and John would be worried about us, they had passed the bottom of the cliffs about 2 o'clock and it was now around 5 o'clock. Part of me hoped they had gone back to John's and part of me prayed that they had waited so we didn't have to slog through the forest too. They did both in the end. They waited for a while but spoke to some walkers who had seen us on the lower cliff and said we would be ages yet, about midnight they said! Hah, we wern'y quite *that* slow! So, they went back to Johns for a while and Andy drove back up around 6ish and had an hours wait before he saw our head torches bobbing down the icy path. Matt drove back to Kintail were he was staying with some friends and Andy and I went back to John's for some tea and Cider :o)

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