Monday, 23 February 2009

Climbing with royalty - 22nd Feb '09

Where to go, where to go, where to go! The forecast high winds made a new route Andy had his eye on, out of the question and the thought of crowds upon crowds of folk on The Ben, all rushing up for the same routes wasn't inspiring. Lochnagar was a possibility but again lots of folk heading for the same routes and would involve an early start I insisted as no way was I climbing a gully with folk above me chopping ice down and being too slow. Andy grumped a little at the thought of one of my early starts and then I felt guilty at being so pernickity as to what I will and won't do! In the end we decided that we'd go to Aonach Mor as even though it was likely to be busy, conditions were likely to be very good and with heaps to choose from that we could more than likely avoid the crowds.
God, I've forgotten was a slog it is up to the top of Easy Gully! The going was actually ok, bare of the sheet ice that I remember from my last visit up there but it's a steep slog and the top chair lift wasn't running so we had to walk a whole hour and a half, shock horror!
Wasn't long before we were gearing up though and ready to go. Peering over the top of Easy Gully, hmmmm, tis steeper than I remember it! Yes, I'll have the rope on option please! Over the edge I went, and it's not actually that bad at all. The only problem I was having was my blasted arms and shoulder. After down climbing just 10m my arms were going weak and my shoulder was hurting. Pissed off! How long have I had this stupid injury and how long have I had useless Physio which isn't making any difference in the slightest. I'm annoyed, but trying my hardest to resign myself to the fact that I won't be trying to lead any steep ice today. Frustrated but not going to let it spoil my day.
At the bottom of the gully we veer off away from the voices and clank of gear drifting in and out of the mist, for we have unclimbed ice to hunt out away from the popular routes. I am curious about the classics of course, but the thought of other people climbing and the lure of a new route is far too much to resist. And here we are at the bottom of the cliff, I'm anchored on and Andy starts off up a bulgy step of ice, looks nice, looks steep, are my arms going to cope with it? I start having my usual mental turmoil and chit chat, 'what if my arms are *too* sore to climb this? Is Andy going to be disappointed or annoyed if I'm in too much pain to continue? Is the belay going to be good enough to hold me if I fall off because of the pain?'
Andy is off like a shot though! Meaning the going is easy enough, so I stop fretting as much.
Funnily enough, my arms were fine, not a whiff of pain! My calf's however, aaaaaarg gaaaaawwwwwwwd they're screaming and burning! Because I'm so used to mixed and not ice climbing, and none of this front pointing business, my calf's just aren't up to it and I have memories of similar pain a few years back after doing The Web. Keep pushing on up though, battle through the pain. A wee brief respite on a more stepped bit and Andy whips out the camera, 'c'mon, hurry up, need to keep moving!' Then I'm there, aaaahhhhhh pure relief!
2nd pitch isn't so steep, but oh my, look up above..................Cornice of Doom! It's big, it's overhanging and it looks mean! But thankfully I'm stood in relative comfort and I can let Andy deal with it (I can offer moral support from below if need be :oD
My first big cornice. There's no digging through this Momma, it's over the top we go! Axes in to the body of it, step up, axes in again, haha I'm climbing overhanging snow! Axes over the top, thwack thwack, throw a leg up and over and heeeeeeeeeeeeeave! Wooooohooooooo!
Off to the hut for some light refreshment in 40mph wind and it's back down easy gully we go. My arms hurt again going down and I figure it's the repetitive motion of easy ground that does it, just like my arms hurt when plunging my axes on easy ground and the reason they don't hurt on steeper ground as the movement isn't so fast and consistent.
Below another unclimbed icy step. 'I'll lead this one,' I say, the words out my mouth before I can feel nervous about stepping into the unknown. We swap the rack over and I'm ready to go. I know after the ice step it's not going to be steep and I'll have run out of rope before I reach the steep rock I can see poking up above. It's nice going, the ice is lovely and chewy and my axes sink in with pleasure, ever upwards. And up and up and up and there's no gear, nothing anywhere! The higher I go the more conscious I am of the big run of rope hanging below me (I remember this from last time too!) I veer of leftwards to a small rock section but there's no gear to be had there.
'How much rope left?'
'About 20m.'
Right, I can reach the steep rock above in 20m I reckon, so off I set. '10m shouts Andy!' Eeeeeeek, am I going to make it, yes, just! And looky at that, 2 perfect cracks to take a bomber nut and a wee block to fling a sling round. Sorted. And then the agony in my arms as I take in the rope.
I can't see where Andy goes next as it's up and to the left round a wee corner. The rope is moving slower, hmmmm, harder then? And it's just as well I couldn't see what was coming next or I'd be bricking it!
A very steep groove, with just a thin and melting smear of ice. Have to be very careful and thoughtful here. There's a wee rounded edge I can use for my left foot to keep off the ice, and 2 good ledges of the right to bridge out on a little. Grrrrrrr, this is steep! I'm groaning from the exertion of it, praying my axes will purchase on the ice enough to hold otherwise I'm going to ping off with a bit of force as I'm having to lean right out to see my feet as it's so steep! And what is there at the top of the steep wall, but the sexiest bit of turf ever poking it's wee green tufts out through the ice, TWHACK, solid! Nae matter about dodgy ice for my feet now, that beauty will hold anything!
And I'm up, 'but what the hell is Andy doing?!'
He's perched up on a rocky tower, like a wee pixie, 'just you use that block down there to belay from,' he says, 'it's a bit awkward up here!' I'm wondering why he just didn't use the block himself but don't question it (he questioned himself later!' I wish I'd taken my camera, as he looked rather comical up there!
And again, it was the cornice of doom! Andy tried up and left first, but then we decided that up and right looked smaller. A long traverse through the top of a very steep gully ensued and the he was over, hurrah!
'Try and do this quickly Sonya, it's 20 past 4!'
Oh bollocks! 40 mins to climb this, back to sacks and back to gondola for 5, aye right!
The traverse is scary! I'm not thinking much about the rope above me, though I am conscious of Andy giving it a few wheeechs so it's sitting above me. The snow has a tiny soft surface but is rock solid underneath and you really have to boot your feet in to get purchase. But I'm across, and the cornice isn't as bad as the first one and I can wack my axes over the top first time off. Getting my leg up is harder though and knees come into action and much heaving. But I'm over, no time for chat, we're off in shot! Half past, no way in hell we're getting that gondola!
Half of me can't be bothered with the rush, pessimism, convinced we'll not make it, the other half of me is screaming inwardly at myself, 'c'mon, run run, you can make it, think of the pleasure when you do sit down on that rocking seat!'
It's so bloody hot! No time to get the Montane off, no time to get balaclava or helmet off. Just a brief moment to unclip crampons when the snow gets softer and we're going so fast it's like skiing downhill on your feet! There, what's that light just down there, poking through the mist? Oh yes, it's the top station, 9 mins to go, we're going to make it!
And make it we do! Sweet relief, the effort worth it and I'm buzzing from the run! Took us 1 and half hours to walk up to the top from the gondola and just 20mins to get down 550m,not bad!
Conditions were pretty damn good early in the day. Traversing along the bottom of the cliff, there was good bluey ice all along the bottom of the area where the Web is. The steeper buttresses looked a lot leaner and it was much too misty to see much else. The ice was fantastic, axe just sinking in and even when the pick was only going in a little, it was enough to hold. Turf was solid in most places also. Temps were milder than forecast however (and wind was lighter too!), just hovering at around zero we reckoned at summit level and milder than zero later in the day as the ice was starting to thaw and drip and the summit snow which was hard in the morning, was slush by later in the day.
2 new routes near where The Three Kings is, one gradeIII yet to be named, the other Lord's Groove IV4

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Quinag - 13th Feb '09

Woke up at my folks house on Thursday morning to be greeted by tons and tons of snow and snow still falling! Hmmmmmm, bollox, was I going to manage the drive up North now? Spent the morning listening to the radio and keeping an eye on the Traffic Scotland webcams and deciding that the roads looked just fine.
Arrived up at Andy's around 3ish to a driveway full of new, fresh snow and had to spend the better part of an hour digging so I could get my car in. Then spend the rest of the day baking flapjack, a rather hot chilli and trying to do some maths study, until Andy and Ed got back from the North West.
We spent some of the evening eyeing up one another's axes (Ed has a ridiculously luminous handled pair or leashless Black Diamond jobbees which got us onto the discussion of leashless and clipper leashes) So, I ended up borrowing a pair of Ed's clipper leashes from his Grivel Alp Wings and fitting them on to my Tech Wings for a shotty to see how I liked trying out clipper leashes. Sad as it is, I was quite excited at the prospect of trying out a new toy!
Andy and I were up at 5.30am for the long drive up to Assynt (3rd day in a row for Andy!) The forecast looked like the very North West might catch the best of the weather, with cloud not coming in until later in the day. Certainly, the trail that they had broken in from the previous day was filled with icy footprints which bode very well indeed for conditions above.

The drive up was fantastic as I'd never been this far North in winter before, and seeing my favourite part of Scotland garbed in all it's winter glory was a sight for sore eyes. I only wish I'd thought to stop the car and get out and take photos of Ben Mor Coigach and the Fhidhlear Nose as that's one impressive piece of cliff! Makes my heart skip a beat every time I see it in summer, so seeing it plastered in snow was a dream!
But a dream it shall remain, as we had our sights on other things. It didn't take long at all to walk into the Western cliffs of Quinag and before long we were gearing up at the bottom of what Andy had thought might be a gradeIII gully. From afar it had looked simple enough, a wee steep step at the bottom, followed by an easy section, then another steep step at the top. Hah! Well, the steep steps were steep alright! And my neck and shoulder problems chose today to play up again, making my arms as weak as a kitten! The initial steep step would have been a little easier but the ice at the back of the gully looked a bitty dubious so it had to go mixed at tech5. Andy had said it was tricky and I was nervous as hell! It involved a really thin hook over a tiny chockstone in a crack, balancing up on this and then backstepping onto a small sloping foothold to reach up for a better chockstone above. And then being spreadeagled above and udging across a traverse. Andy had placed a big hex down in the bottom of the corner before the hard moves and said it might need a wack to come out. So, I gave it an almighty bosh upwards with my axe hammer and the whole thing came flying out the crack and winged up to hit me square on the nose! Aaaaaaaaaarg, my eyes were streaming and it took a good bit of self control not to burst into tears and say, 'waaaaaaah, I've had enough, let's bail!'
I led the easy middle pitch which was a doddle and then Andy led on to the next steepening. Only there was no belay to be found and I had to undo my belay and move up so Andy could find a belay higher, moving up steep ground with just one bit of iffy gear between us! I do so hate these moments! Oh there was ice and snow raining down as Andy tried to unbury a decent belay from somewhere, so much so that I had to climb up some more and find shelter in a wee corner lest I get knocked down by flying debris! But finally a belay was found and next followed a really balancy mantle shelf onto a ledge, followed by a wee axe traverse and then a huge thug over a bulge up to where Andy was. Thankfully the belay was ace, and next followed another steep corner at the back of the gully, with more precarious and rounded foot holds. I sure am fast learning that my crampon points will hold on the smallest and most dubious of footholds!
Anyway, I thought it was an evil, evil gully, really bloody hard! And I bitched and moaned about how gullies were horrible dank nasty places. But, by the time we were back at our sacks I was saying, well, it was ok really, actually the technical climbing was actually quite nice and involved. And it felt rather warm and glowy knowing that when others were plowing there way through deep, deep snow or on on thawing cliffs, we had this glorious mountain all to ourselves. And ok, the snow wasn't neve but it was okay, the ice was rotten as it was too low down but the turf was totally solid and extremely helpful (apart from the bottom pitch, where the turf was of the heathery kind!)

Monday, 9 February 2009

Epic on Beinn Liath Mhor - 8th Feb '09

Well, I got my wish of climbing and scaring myself! Though I think I was suffering more from exhaustion than fear this weekend, and I'm sitting here typing, the day after, still knackered!
I had arranged to climb with Diana again this weekend, original plan was Saturday, but high winds made us change our plans to Sunday. Where to go though, considering that up Aviemore way had seen the biggest dump of snow for years and the NW had just gotten a big dump the day before?
Well, the Torridon Youth Hostel webcam showed that there wasn't *too* much snow pointing up towards Beinn Eighe, so I thought doing something like the Ling, Lawson and Glover route on Sail Mor might be ideal, or had thoughts of Sgorr Ruadh and Academy Ridge or heading across to Glen Shiel to Creag Coire an t-Slugain with the option of Forcan Ridge if the clag was down. Diana was keen on Sgorr Ruadh, with the possibility of doing Post Box Gully if the Northerlies had blown the gully free of powder. I was dubious but happy as always to go have a look and we had plenty of options for buttresses and ridges if the gully was too dodgy.
The roads were a bit hairy coming from Diana's but she made it across to Andy's to pick me up and we arrived at Sgorr Ruadh carpark, leaving the car at 9am. The walk in was tough! Much tougher than I remember it! I must have been going good the day I thought that was an easy walk in. Even with the trail broken for us, my legs were still feeling the effort. Once up at the cairn, where the path splits off for Coire Lair there was no trail and the going got even tougher. It would be not too bad for a bit, then knee deep wading before falling into thigh deep drifts. When Diana was breaking trail, she fell into a boggy bit and the water went over her boots, soaking her feet. Hmmmm, not good!!! She was happy to carry on, thinking that the walk in would warm her feet and as long as we weren't hanging about at belays too long then she thought she'd be ok, hmmmmm.........We carried on though, foolishly!
Approaching Sgorr Ruadh, one passes the South facing cliffs on Beinn Liath Mhor. I had been attracted to one of the wee ridges of rock there and suggested that rather than ploughing on any further, we might go up and have a look at doing a new route instead. Diana was quick to agree! No way was Post Box Gully going to be a good choice in these conditions and it was so hard going that even Academy Ridge was going to be very time consuming with it being 350m long and the other route I'd thought of, Riotous Ridge was away further up the glen.
Now we had a problem of how to get up to the Ridge. The cliffs face South and it had snowed on a North Westerly so the South facing slopes might be a bitty dodgy. There was a fair bit of windslab on SE aspects and evidence of a lot of sloughing but to the right of where we wanted to be the slope was okay with boulders and heather poking through, so we decided to head up that way, checking the snow as we went. As it goes it was fine, not deep and there was no base and plenty of heather and rocks to feel secure. We thought we might get a belay at the base of the cliffs to make it safer to traverse across but reaching the cliffs we thought the bit we were at looked do-able so decided to climb here rather than risk the traverse.
Diana led the 1st pitch up a rocky band, then I had to avoid a deep snowy groove by climbing rocky bands to the right. A steep wall, saw Diana taking a left traverse onto a snowfield. I was attracted to a rib to the right, but it involved getting across a steeping of the snow, and the snow becoming steep and shoulder deep, no f*cking way! I went directly up instead where the slope felt more secure, and rocky. This gave Diana the option of having a belay to cross the dodgy snow or to go up the steep ground above. The steep ground option won and Diana brought me up to a brill looking turfy corner! I struggled with this bit, there was a ledge for your right foot but try as I might I just couldn't reach it and the axe placements didn't feel so great to heave up on. Eventually, I managed to dig out a tiny one point notch for my left foot, just enough to precariously reach up. Reaching up, again the axe placements weren't so good and my foot slipped off and I slithered back down, thankfully not long enough to weight the rope! This was pissing me off now! No way was this corner getting the better of me! My aggressive nature took over and I thugged my way up. Diana found it easier than I did, gggrrrrrrrr! She had unearthed a bommer axe placement, making life easier. I forget to do that when I'm struggling, my relative inexperience coming through, and wack blindly through the snow trying to find something. Much less energy consuming to actually clear the snow and LOOK for something! I think I'll remember that next time though! The corner led up to a rib and then to a delightful gully, with beautiful rock scenery and funky wee turfy and ice steps, then leading back out to the rib. We decided to move together at this point, knowing the angle was lessening and it had gotten dark by this point! My 1st time I've had to climb in the dark due to running out of time! Thankfully the moon was full and it was bright enough that we didn't need head torches. I was knackered by this point and just going on auto pilot, up and up and up, how long did this f-ing rib go on for! A snow slope led to the top and it was a case of 10 steps, puff and pant, 10 steps, take a breather and so on, up to the top. We had to keep moving though, Diana's wet foot was numb and we were worried about frostbite! It was getting cold and everything was freezing up and I couldn't get one of my gloves back on it had frozen solid! And my spares were buried at the bottom of my sack as I never normaly need them. Keep moving though and we warmed back up.
6.35 and the map showed a steep and wide ridge heading off eastwards down to the path. I'd left my crampons on, thinking we'd hit hard snow at some point but the snow was soft so I took them off and sod's law as soon as I took them off we would hit a hard section and the ground was steep enough that it would take forever trying to get down! So we kept to the bouldery edges. Unfortunately, that was taking us towards steeper and steeper ground until it got to the point where it felt too steep to carry on. Looking left, it seemed that there was a snowy ramp we could get down, but crampons had to go back on. The ramp led to more steep ground however, but I went further down to see if I could see away through. I ended up in shoulder high snow again, above a huge drop, feck that for a laugh! I tried to go round and back up but just couldn't wade through that, and with the threat of that drop always on the back of mind, I turned round and went back up the way I'd come down.
There was a huge, deep gully to the left and on the other side of this gully the slope seemed more friendly. What to do? We could either carry on rightwards trying to find a way down the steep ground, or we could go back up the way we had come and cross above the gully and down the less steep ground. It was hard to decide as we were both shattered by this point and eager to be off the hill! The up and across to the less steep ground won in the end, it was very unappealing having to go back up in my knackered state but it seemed a safer option and probably quicker, even though it seemed longer to go back up! It was hell though, my legs were screaming in pain, I was so thirsty and just exhausted. I can fully understand how some people just give up and curl up in the snow unable to go on. Diana agreed and we knew we were really pushing ourselves to carry on!
The ground was steeper than it seemed and we still had to go carefully, but before long we were down off the steep ground, thank god! All that was left was a long slog back to the car, and neither of us was looking forward to ploughing through the deep snow as the path was buried! It wasn't long though before Diana spotted a walker's trail through the snow, HURRAH! That was going to make life MUCH easier! Was still hard going though and I inwardly cursed at every little uphill section! We came to a stream and filled up our bottles, drinking greedily and carried on, each step a torture as both of us get problems with painful toes going downhill.
10.30 we got back to the car, Diana 5mins ahead of me. The last stretch through the woods was scary on my own! I get so spooked in the dark on my own, and add trees and shrubs and bushes, it's a playground for my imagination! Rustling bushes were hiding nasty bushes and mad axe murders ready to drag me off into the bushes to chop me up! Haha, you'd think I was 5yrs old, I can drag myself up cliffs, but still get scared of the dark!
Had to organise RB getting to school the day after so I could stay at Andy's, just couldn't face the drive home and the danger of falling asleep at the wheel. Next day and I'm still tired, an early night calls!

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Slowly losing the will to live - 1st Feb '09

Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggg!!!!! I NEED TO CLIMB!!! It's been 3 long weeks without feeling scared out my wits, without thinking, 'oh my god, what the f*ck am I doing hanging off this cliff in the freezing, bloody cold! Come next weekend, if conditions are rubbish or I have a partner cancel on me, I *will* slit my wrists.
OK, drama over...........
I was supposed to climb this weekend with the wife of one of Andy's mates. Andy had been guiding all week, with today off and I wanted to climb yesterday and have today off too, so I wasn't knackered for my Biology exam tomorrow. So, Saturday it was (or wasn't as the case may be)
The forecast was changeable from day to day, but was slowly looking worse as the week went on. Friday's forecast had the freezing level lifting above the summits and being a bit blowie with gusts of 60 forecast. I was still keen to have a nosey though, with the option of taking the climbing gear for a walk if things were duff. But Diana wasn't so keen and had work that she needed to get on with and when Andy checked the Cairngorm summit forecast in the morning and it read gusts of 100mph, then I guess we made the right call by cancelling. Seems though, that Mess of Pottage was a bit more sheltered and some folk had made it up there to climb (Diana's husband being one of them! But hey ho, such is the nature of the game)
Decided to go for a hill walk instead, at least getting out on the hill was better than doing nothing. Either the hills down Glen Feshie way or the Monadh Liath were the nearest to Andy's that I hadn't been up before, so decided on the nearest Monadh Liath (A' Chailleach and Carn Sgulain)
I was feeling lazy and couldn't be bothered with an early start so pottered about in the morning, slowly getting myself woken up and organised. Was about 10ish when I finally pulled up in the Shephard's Bridge carpark, to be greeted by a billion other cars! Bollox, I wasn't really in the mood for a busy hill, much preferring solitude. But, busy it was, surprisingly, I didn't think these would be such popular hills. Folk seemed to be heading up the hill in a NW direction, but avoiding the path I made my own way directly up the hill, aiming up towards Creag na h-lolare. Was probably about half way up there when I started regretting straying off the path. There was a semi hard crust on the top of the snow which would hold my weight for a few footsteps but then I'd break through, sometimes fairly deeply and it was making the going hard work! I decided that heading right up onto the ridge would be exposed to the wind and started contouring round underneath instead to rejoin the path not far below the summit. And windy it was! The wind had blown something into my eye, couldn't get it out and my eye was streaming in protest! I did toy with heading back down in case it got to the point where I couldn't open my eye. But nah, I've had to drag myself one legged off the hill before, damned if a sore eye was going to put me off!
I nearly fell over a few times on the top as it was pretty icy and try as I might to avoid the verglass the wind kept blowing me on to slippy bits. I didn't hang around for long and ploughed on downhill, where above the Allt Cuil na Caillich the snow got too firm to plough down and heels were needed to dig in. Was a short slope though and soon enough I was fighting my way up into the wind again and onto the next summit. I sheltered behind a wee cairn for a bite to eat and then dropped down quickly, running and jumping down through the soft snow, was braw! Came to a steepening and could see folk out in front heading around the edge to where it was less steep. Peering over the edge though I could see a way down through the steeper ground and moving around a rocky bluff, I picked my way through and around a few wee rocky steps and across some scree and down a steeping, jumping into mid thigh deep drifts at points. Took a bit longer than walking, but was more fun! And then, jeeze what a slog back to the car! No path, heather bashing, breaking through the snowy crusts again, trying to avoid bog, unsuccessfully I might add after falling into a hole and getting my foot and lower leg soaking wet (and freezing!) But och, a day on the hill just isnae the same if ye dinnae fall intae a bog, min! After the slog and just where the path started up, there was a gate, just sat all on it's ownsome which amused me. It just looked so random sitting there, like a gate to nowhere. Took some photos of it, but these things never turn out how they looked at the time (or they don't if you've not a keen eye for photography!)
The sun was blazing down here, jacket was off, hat was off and it was nice to feel the sun beam down, so much so I started thinking about rock climbing! Bring on next week though, more snow forecast, hurrah!