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.