Monday, 20 December 2010

Lomond and Lui - 18th and 19th Dec

Well, that's me finished Uni for the xmas hols and it's exams after xmas so the next few weeks will be spent studying my backside off as I want A's for everything, swot that I am!  But this weekend was reserved for getting a final hit of some winter climbing before getting down to hard work.
Andy and I were keeping a keen eye on the forecasts and the snow radar as a fair dump of snow was forecast for the North and the East on Thurs eve/Fri and into Sat and Sunday in the east.  Looking at the forecasts and radars, it looked like the SW hadn't really had much snow to speak of so we decided that we'd head back to Ben Lomond for the weekend.  The main worry was that there actually wouldn't be enough snow!  But I didn't think it would need that much.  The turf would still be frozen and as long as there was a dusting then that was enough for me as Lomond is predominantaly a steep and turfy venue.

We'd considered driving over on Saturday morning and then camping out and climbing Sunday too, but my period announced its arrival on Friday so there was no way I was wanting to camp with bad Menorrhagia, climbing with it is bad enough!  So we decided to see if a local hotel had a room for the night, dependant on where we wanted to go on the Sunday.

Andy arrived at mine on Friday evening and we were up at 4.30am for the long drive across to Rowardennan carpark for Ben Lomond.  Think we were off around 8ish or just a bit later than that.  The walk up to Lomond is a long one and the path through the forest at the start was treachorously icy!  Great!  We stuck to the grassy bits at the side of the path pretty much the whole way up, putting on crampons for the last steeper leg.  The tops were free of cloud when we set off and I commented that this would be the first time at Lomond that we'd had cloud free climbing.  Well, I must have jinxed the day because not long after, a front came in from the east, the wind picked up and it started snowing.  Not just a wee flurry as forecast but that was it pretty much snowing all day long.  I was concerned about getting back home, but Andy was concerned about not getting a route in!

It was absolutely baltic up there!  We had to find a relatively sheltered spot to put more layers on and it's the first time ever in my years of winter climbing that its ever been so cold where I've had to wak in with my Montane Extreme on!  But on it went, along with balaclava, hat and buff, I felt I was going out exploring the Arctic!  We finally arrived up at the top of the descent gully which only had patchy snow at the top.  There was more lower down though, some of the crust was breaking and sliding away in slabs of snow which was a bit disconcerting, but it wasn't deep enough to be of much worry.

We'd decided to try a line a few routes to the left of Lomond Corner.  The snowy groove looked steepish but when you were on it, it was actually not that steep at all.  Andy led the first pitch seen as he had all the gear and when I reached him, we were only about 15m from the top of the actual cliff!  Oh!  Disappointing!  I led off up the final wee bit and belayed Andy up off a fence post which was fun.  We decided that seen as that route had been so short, we would go down and do another on the cliff we'd done our routes on last year.  The first year we'd gone to Lomond the turf wasn't frozen enough to attempt any of the routes on this cliff as it's damn steep and totally turf dependant.  The first pitch went without much difficulty and the 2nd pitch was an utter joy to climb!  I was so nervous though belaying Andy.  He'd spent ages at the crux and I was starting to gibber inside thinking it must be desperate to stop Andy in his tracks.  I was thinking about peg and warthog belays and would they be good enough to hold me if I fell.  I looked down to the bottom of the first pitch, wondering if I could survive a fall down there.  Get a grip!

As it turns out, the crux was tricky (IV 5) but not desperate and Andy had taken so long as he wanted some good gear as the only gear in was the belay about 20m below.  It was actually superb climbing!  Really steep and technical but on absolutely amazingly big flakes and lumps of turf.  I've never climbed something that was overhanging like that but on brilliant enough holds to make it easy enough to be tech 5.  Andy called the route Flake Dance (as opposed to Break Dance) and it's very appropriate!  I was absolutely gushing and buzzing when we topped out it was such nice climbing!

Alas, it was time for the long slog out however and the going was rough.  There was a lot more snow than there had been in the morning and it was covering over all the ice on the path.  I kept my crampons on and was constantly going over my ankle or stubbing my toe and cursing.  Took crampons off to stick to the grass but didn't really find that any fast going so stopped and put crampons on again and just put up with the misery.  Torches came out on the way down and we were back at the car around 6ish. 

We stayed in a cheap hotel in Tyndrum for the night with the intention of going to have a look at the cliffs on Stob Garbh of Ben Lui.  Someone had climbed a gradeII gully there years back and it looked like there might be a route beside the gully.  It was a bit of a gamble as it was hard to tell whether it would by worthwhile or not and upon approaching the cliff it all looked a bit scrappy.  Turned out to be much better than it looked though!  I was so slow going today though.  My period had started in earnest the night before and I had awful stomach cramps and back ache and was feeling all tired and grumpy.  My legs were aching after the day before too which didn't help.

We took the best and steepest looking line to the right of the gully which followed a groove up to a really steep wall.  Andy led the 1st pitch which was much steeper than it looked and on ice.  Well, my calf protested very badly to front pointing when I had too by going into a full cramp!  It was utter agony!  I managed to release the total tetanus of the muscle but it remained tight through out the whole of the icy section.  I'm really frustrated with my legs at the moment.  My calf muscle seems to cramp up at the slightest stretch or tightening and it's related to all the nerve issues in my neck it would seem.  Anyway, that ice section is a blurr of pain.  I was a mess, back aching, neck and arms aching and calf cramping up, wasn't very nice at all!  I could see this little turfy ledge above the ice and I concentrated all my focus on reaching that ledge so I could rest my calf, cursing all the while!

Andy asked if I wanted to rest my leg and he'd lead on and it was very tempting, but I decided to lead through and ended up having to do an 80m pitch as there was only one bit of gear at around 40m then everytime I found something that might suffice for a belay, I didn't have the right gear.  Andy had to dismantle his belay and climb up to my one runner and belay me from there until I found another belay.  I finally managed to bash in a peg and that had to do.  The next 60m pitch took us to a steep band in the rock and I handed the lead back to Andy as it looked hard to me.  Andy ended up traversing leftwards around the left edge of the steep band and taking it direct from there.  Time for me to get nervous again!  I was thinking, 'eeeek, steep and scary, gearless traverse!'

It was pretty dubious and sketchy looking but was easier than it looked.  There was a good flake to hook your axe over and bomber turf so although it was very exposed it was in balance and just a small awkward move at the end.  The next move however I found pretty desperate.  It was totally overhanging!  A really off balance move, which then put you into a bulging position where I managed to scrabble about for something with my axe, get my foot up onto an overhanging detached flake and then, 'aaaarrrgggg!' My axe pinged off and I was left dangling with one foot and one axe, big vertical drop down to the gully below!  My heart leaped up into my mouth, I gave a squeal, scrabbled about some more, wacked my axe back in frantically and was up and over!  Phew!  Took me a moment to compose myself! 

By this point it had started to snow quite heavily and the cloud was down.  I wanted to lead the next pitch which looked steep and interesting but Andy thought it would be harder than it looked and said he should lead it for quickness sake.  I was pretty miffed because I was getting all the boring pitches and he was getting all the good climbing!  But he did have a point about time as it was getting on and we still had a good way to go, the route was really long!  In the end I was quite happy as it was pretty steep and there was no gear whatsoever.  The climbing was good though, steep but bridging up a corner and totally in balance.  I led the next pitch which apart from a tiny scrambly section was pretty much just walking.  There seemed to be another steep wall above, but it was really just the top summit of Stob Garbh and a short walk took us onto the summit ridge.  We just packed up our gear and dropped down the other side of the ridge into Coire Gaothach and down to the Ben Lui path. 

Again the path was an icy nightmare and I kept my crampons on, going over my ankle a few times.  It seemed to take forever to reach the river and the good track where I could take my crampons off but I finally got there and it was a relief to get them off.  Andy seemed to think that it was only a 5k hour back to the car but I was sure it was much longer than that and I was right.  Remembering what a slog it was after I was there the last time!  It took an hour and 40mins to get back to the car and was 4.5 miles back, not 3miles.  I was slow going too as my ankle was seizing up and really hurting.  I resorted to counting the minutes go by in my head I was so tired, I would count to 60 again and again, letting 10minutes or so go past.  Too tired for conversation, think Andy tried a few times, but I just grunted in response.  The walk out was hellish.  I'm so unfit just now, that was my first time this winter of 2hill days in a row, 9-10 hrs for the 1st day and 11 hrs for the second day.  Think it's the most tired and sore I've ever been after a day out climbing.  And today I hurt and ache all over, so tired and dehydrated.  And I've got a session indoors at the wall this evening!  I can see an evening of toproping 4's and 5's ahead!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Ben Chonzie - Sunday 12th

D and I went munro bagging on Sunday up to Ben Chonzie.  Just the one hill today as RB was doing kayaking skills and we had to pick her up early so didn't have time for a jaunt further afield.  But as D reminded me, I still had to do Chonzie at some point so it may as well be this weekend and it might be nicer under snow.

Hmmm, sure it is nicer under snow, however it was horrible verglass and ice all the way up to around 500m and if there's anything I hate as much as boulder fields then it's icy paths!  It's nice when you're hillwalking to be able to just switch off and enjoy the walk and surroundings, but when it's so icy underfoot then concentration is required and it just makes me grumpy if I slide around too much and can't switch off.  Thankfully, once we were higher and there was deeper snow, the going was better and crossing round to the SE spur was nice with firm snow. 

There wasn't really any snow to speak of on the top and it's amazing to think how burried the country was just a week before.  It was a stunning day out though, not a breath of wind, clear, crisp and icy blue sky all around with a distant mist and haze obscuring the peaks to the far North.  It was freezing on top though and I was getting cold, must have sweated too much in my Merino top as I was still cold after putting on another 3 layers!  We didn't hang around for too long and by the time we were going down, the sun had melted the snow and ice somewhat and the going down was loads better than going up, with the snow nice and soft and just a little ice nearer the bottom.

That's munro number 127, so nearly half way there now.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Stairway to Heaven - 4th Dec

Yesterday I picked up H at 5.30am for a drive west to Beinn a Dothaidh.  This is a superb venue, with steep, turfy routes, just the sort of stuff I love!  I'd been worried that we might not get anything done at all though.  The east coast has seen a phenomenal amount of snow over the past week and the radar had shown that the west coast was receiving a dump on the Friday evening.  But I was thinking that the Bridge of Orchy area looked like the cut off line for the more heavy snow showers so might be okay.  And I was correct, it was superb!

The roads were okay, but I was slow driving anyway, due to the dark and the chat and after a garage stop, it was around 8ish I think when we arrived.  Got our stuff together and started the slog in.  Jeeze, I'm so unfit just now, it's unbelievable!  I really need to get back out running and biking again and get out on the hill more, just walking and try to get some fitness back.  Even though there was a trail all the way, I was still slow and puffing and panting.

We got there eventually though and our chosen route, Stairway to Heaven was free of other climbers.  I'd chosen this route as it looked nice on the topo and had no technical grade and seemed straight forward enough.  Well, it should have been straight forward!  We had a bit of a rope issue though!  I'd deliberated over taking 1 rope or 2 ropes but in the end just went for one rope, as my 2nd half rope is only 45m and I couldn't be bothered with short pitches.  Bad mistake!

The first pitch started at the foot of a triangular shaped buttress and there was a steep start to begin with.  I'd shoved in a hex for the belay, then some gear at the steep step, then more gear above the steep step which was off to the left.  Already I was feeling a bit of drag in the rope.  Moved up again for a while then got in some more gear way out to the left before moving up and right.  The drag was getting worse!  Ended up at another steep section which felt overhanging, it was bulging out so much!  There was an excellent block out to the right that I was able to hook my axe around but I just couldn't reach the good turf over the top of the bulge.  I kept popping up for it, but the bulge would just through me down again, it was getting annoying!

2 guys had shown up at the bottom of the route and I shouted down that they shouldn't wait as I'd be there for some time.  I decided to try and turn the bulgy bit on the right, which involved a sketchy traverse, then a section where I crawled along a ledge and dropped down a step, then moved up and over the steep bit.  That was funky!  Unfortunately, I'd placed a sling around that original block and then the rope seemed to snag on blobs of turf and no matter how I tried I just couldn't free it!  I was in a pickle now!  I couldn't budge an inch and couldn't seem to free the rope, and there was no way I was downclimbing what I'd just done!

It was a nightmare!  I was thankfully in a good position and was able to heave on the rope with all my might with both hands, so much so that I was almost pulling myself off the route at times!  Slowy, inch by inch I managed to pull up a few metres so I could make some more moves.  Then I had to repeat the process again, then again, then again until I could find a suitable belay.  The gear had been amazing below but was becoming sparser!  I had around 5m of rope left before I got a suitable belay.  I wanted a stonking one as I thought H might find the pitch difficult.  The belay wasn't perfect, but was adequate.  H had to climb the start of the pitch with some slack in the rope until the rope had freed some and I could pull it in.  She managed the pitch really well, finding it easy which was great and I was really impressed!  Thus ended the faff of the 1st pitch.

2nd pitch faff.  H reckoned she could lead the 2nd pitch which looked a lot easier than the 1st, up another short step, then what looked like a snowy ramp above to antother steepening.  Off she went, until I could see her going up a snowy steepening over to all the steep rocks on the left hand side of the buttress.  'Um, H,' I shouted, 'I think you need to be more right, away from all the steep bits.  But she had thought she could go right up to the steep bits and then traverse rightwards at the top.  It didn't look probable to me, but I should have trusted her more, after all she was the one up there and was able to see things more than I could down at the belay!  I shouted up that she really had to go rightwards lower down, but she didn't like the look of that, so came back down and said I should try it.

After sorting the rope and gear, I set off over the wee step and onto a flat snowy section.  It looked like you go up the snowy bit, then cut round to right.  I could see why H had thought it looked scary as there was a big drop below and no gear.  But the snow was soft enough to kick into and firm enough that it wasn't all falling away which made the traverse across nice and easy.  Then it was just a case of heading up a snowy ramp to a belay.  Again the belay wasn't the best, but adequate and I brought H up.  We had another rope moment, with the rope getting snagged somewhere.  H couldn't free it, even when she went back.  I think it had dropped down a gully as she'd come up the flat bit and snagged down there.  Anyway, to solve the problem, H clipped herself into some gear I'd place en route, untied, pulled the rope through, then tied back in.  Of course, communication was hard as she was too far away and I was clueless as to what was going on, wondering why she was taking so long on what was really easy ground.  I think both of us were getting fed up of shouting, so I just waited to see what was going on.  Eventually the rope ran fast again and she was across, explaining what had happened.

We decided that I should lead the last pitch as the guide had said there was a crux on the second steepening.  But it was a doddle!  I think the first pitch was harder than that!  There was one steep section, where you had to make another traverse again and that was it.  But I think I'd just gotten used to all the traversing about by now and the little steepenings that it seemed really easy.  And H found it easy too, surprised that it hadn't been harder as she could have led it fine.  Time was getting on though and the light was fading, due to all the rope snagging faff.  After bringing H up the last bit, there was just an easy scramble to the top, so we just packed away the rope and soloed up the 20m or so.  The fog was thick and H thought there was a big cornice at the top.  I explained how the mist and fading light was making it look deceptive and there wasn't really a cornice there at all, remembering the time Andy and I took RB up Central Gully in Sneachda only to be faced with a humungous cornice in the mist, wind and spindrift which turned out to be not so big and you could go around it!

We shoved stuff in our bag, deliberated whether we should descend West gully, decided against it as it was getting dark and set off for the path down.  The mist had cleared and it seemed to get loads lighter which made things easier and we found the path no problem, not needing the map.  From previous visits I remembered a steeping at the top of the descent then straight forward after that.  By the time we'd gotten about half way down the the ridgey bit you descend down, the dark had well and trully set it.  Looking up to the cliffs, we could see some headtorches still on the West Buttress.  A couple of guys had passed us as we stopped on the approach up to the cliffs, to have something to eat.  One guy said hello and the other guy blanked us completely.  Who knows whether he was nervous of the day ahead, and keeping himself to himself, or just plain ignorant!  Anyway, we reckoned it was them up there and there was slow movement and I think they were on one of the V's, so we assumed they knew what they were doing and carried on down.

It had gotten misty again and we got to a section where there seemed to be a bit of a drop and we were hesitant to fumble on in the dark and mist again.  Out came the map and H had her GPS to confirm where we were.  It seemed we could go due West to avoid the steepening, but then we'd have to traverse right round again.  The couple of bloked who'd been waiting for us on the route, and had then decided to go do Taxus instead, over took us on the descent, hesitated at the steep bit but then carried on down.  I admit to being a bit sheepish here and following them.  But we could see there headtorches down there and it seemed that the ground wasn't as steep as it looked, just the dark and mist making it deceptive again.

The going was quite slippery though, soft, fluffy powdery snow over frozen rock and I'm not sure which of all of us fell onto our backsides more!  At one point when I slipped, my foot got snagged on something and my whole body fell downwards, but my leg stayed behind.  Aaaarg!  &*^%%^&  that was sore!  I'd pulled a muscle at the top of my leg, lay on the ground groaning for a moment, then picked myself up.  It twinged and ached for quite a while, but I could walk on it just fine and by the time we'd gotten back down to the car it had loosened off again.  Then began the drive home.

Ace day though and at least we managed to finish our route this time, in spite of all the rope snagging/drag problems.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Awesome Walls Open Youth Comp - 27th Nov

On Friday afternoon I drove RB down to Liverpool for another competition.  It took us around 5hours to drive to our hotel from Dundee, dump out stuff and straight to the hotel restaurant for tea (which was dire by the way, I'll never stay in Premier Inn again!)  The room was cold but we blasted the heater up and then went for an early night, to get up at 6.30am.  I had to bring our own breakfast as the hotel didn't serve breakfast before 8am!
It took us a while to find Awesome Walls, getting a bit lost (rubbish directions on the wall website) but we were really impressed with the wall once we got there.  It's an ace looking wall with a good bouldering area, steep leading walls and a featured tower, slabs, top roping walls.

RB's age group started off on a crimpy and technical route (not sure of the route) and RB did amazingly well on this one, slapping the top hold.  2 GB team members topped out and another team member and RB came joint 3rd.  The second route went up the back overhanging wall which starts off slightly overhanging, becomes really overhanging and convex, then eases back to less overhanging.  A few girls managed to top out on this route, both RB and the girl she was neck to neck with fell off 5 holds from the top.  It meant that RB was knocked down to 5th position, but was still into the final.

The kids went into isolation for some time, but luckily RB's group was out first to check out their final route.  I wasn't able to speak to RB so was praying that she was noticing where all the holds were and that she'd do good.  Because 2 girls were drawing for 1st place, and RB was drawing with someone else for 5th place, it meant that 10 girls went through to the final and RB was up 5th to climb.

I was gutted for RB, she didn't manage to climb as well as she normally does.  I don't know what happened to her, but she seemed to get a touch of 'tunnel vision' and couldn't see a foot hold out on the left wall (it was a corner route)  I was silently willing her to see the hold and work her feet up the wall, but she just didn't seem to spot the hold at all.  The next handhold up was too much of a reach without that foothold and RB fell off.  She was really upset, as she knew that the girls she'd beaten previously had gotten to a higher point and we were both confident that she can normally do better than she had done. I tried to console her, sometimes it just happens, you miss a hold, you have an off day, your foot slips, happens to the best of them.

Anyway, that was RB knocked down into 7th place but she put on a brave face and soon cheered up.  I could see she was hiding her disappointment, but she coped well and went off to have some post comp fun with some of the other competitors, which I believe involved locking someone up in one of the lockers!

I went out for a short walk to stretch my back, but the biting cold soon forced me back and the fact that there wasn't much to see!  We didn't stay until the end as I was eager to get off early, get some tea, an early night and be home early to try and miss the bad weather forecast.

Hah!  That wasn't to be!  What an epic getting home!  Signs up the M6 were saying that the A9 was shut at Dunblane, but a phone call to D suggested that the road was clear now.  We hit the first of the snow at the Lakes, but the roads were still fine, hitting snow on the roads once we were near Glasgow.  Once passed Glasgow, the going was really slow and at one point folk were driving through a gap in traffic cones to get into a faster mover lane so I decided to join them.  There was a huge dip in the gap and I was glad of my winter tyres!   More signs that the A9 was shut at Dunblane and D checking Traffic Scotland website who were still saying it was open.  We stopped at services in Stirling for lunch and a hot drink then went on our way, only to find that surprise, surprise, the A9 was shut at Dunblane!  Rats!

Drove into Dunblane and tried to get back onto the A9 at the other side.  Other folk were having the same idea and there was a massive queue of traffic through the town.  A couple of pedestrians were walking up the snowy road at the side of the cars so I asked them how long the queue went on for, only to be told that it went right to the roundabout at the end of the road but folk seemed to be turning back round again.  Sod waiting for that!  I did a U-turn on the snowy road (thank god for the tyres again!) and headed back to the roundabout where the A9 was closed, preparing myself for a long wait.  I got RB to text D and my Dad to see if the road between Stirling and Edinburgh was open, looks good.  Shot off down past Stirling and onto the M90, road was good.  Before the Forth Road Bridge we heard on the radio that the M90 was shut before Perth due to an accident, aarrrgggggh!  Decided to risk the A92 through Fife and was amazed at how black this road was in comparison to the major roads.

Hit Dundee, then stopped by my folks for something to eat and another hot drink then went on our way.  Traffic Scotland said the A90 North of Dundee was shut due to another accident (jeeze, folk don't know how to drive in snow!)  They said there was a local diversion in place so we went anyway.  Um, where's the diversion?  We ended up driving through all these side streets in Fintry, me hopelessly lost!  Eventually found my way back to the dual only to see a car heading up the road past the 'Road Closed' signs.  Followed and found the diversion.  A policeman standing out in the cold wind and snow telling folk where to go.

We had to take the Arbroath road home and again this road was brilliant in comparison to the main roads but once we left Arbroath and onto the Brechin road, it quickly deteriorated (thank god for winter tyres, take 3!)  9 hours later and we were home and cozy.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Ben Lui - Sun 14th Nov

Out of the blue I managed to find a climbing partner for this weekend.  When taking RB to the wall, I had sometimes climbed with a lass from the wall and she just happened to mention a previous trip to the Alps and I asked curiously whether she did any Scottish winter stuff, only to be met with much enthusiasm.  Brilliant!  I wanted to do something easy seen as it was our first time out together and was deliberating between Dothaidh, Glen Coe and Ben Lui.  The day I'd went up Central Gully on Lui, I thought it a bit dull and thought the rib next door looked far nicer, so I decided we could give that a go.
I picked H up at 5.30am and we left the carpark at 8am.  The walk in was fine, really pretty with the mist swirling all around, so pretty that I went to take a photo only to realise that the camera batteries were flat.  Gutted!  So no pics today, and there could have been some corkers too!
The walk up into the gully is a slog, my arthritis is protesting more and more about these steep walks.  Helena offered to take some weight, but I'm far, far too proud and stubborn for that.  When the day comes that I'm unable to carry my own share, is the day that I should give up.  And the sack wasn't too bad as it was a very small rack of just some nuts and slings, and just the one rope.
We got to the bottom of South Rib eventually and I started off up a snowy ramp.  I'd climbed up just over 30m and there was no gear whatsover.  I'd not thought about the rock here being schist at all, so it was very compact, no cracks for nuts and I hadn't brought any pegs, thinking I wouldn't need anything like that with it only being a grade II.  I came to a steep section of turfy ledges up a steep wall.  It was probably only around 10-12m high, but the turf I'd come across so far wasn't frozen at all and the snow completely unconsolidated.  There's no way I wanted to try and go up that steep wall without the turf being frozen enough, as it was just off vertical, and didn't even seem like gradeII territory, and there was no gear to speak of!
So I climbed back down to H, we shortened the rope and moved higher up the left side of the rib to tackle it a little higher up.  That was much more friendly and seemed much more like grade II ground!  And it seemed more frozen too.  The going was still slow though, I was having to sweep away lots of snow for nearly every axe placement and I was constantly on the look out for gear.  A bank of cloud and wind was passing through and I wondered how much rope I had left but I couldn't hear any reply from H when I shouted down.
I came across a ledge that actually had a rocky bit with a crack so decided I'd stop there to belay.  Got in one good nut, and one pretty crappy one, but it was better than nought.  I'd only run out around 40m, which was a bit annoying as time must have been ticking on, having wasted time climbing up and down that first bit earlier.  H didn't want to lead as she wasn't sure where the route went.  I remember feeling the same when I first started leading in winter, that unless I could see ahead of me where the route went, then I didn't feel confident enough to do it.
The next 2 pitches were standard grade II, lots of easy grade I bits with the odd step off steeper II.  The going was getting slow again though, the snow was getting deeper and I think I placed around 3 bits of gear in the whole 120 metres.  All the bits I did find were totally bomber though, so that was reassuring.  Eventually got to a steepening which looked fun and I reckoned the angle would ease after that and it would be another easy ropes length to the summit.  How wrong I was!  Tackled the steepening by going rightwards, then cutting back left and then came to a flat and level section barred by a high overhang.  Hmmmmm.  I was wary of the snow on the flat section, it looked so flat and uniform that it seemed a bit weird and there was a big hole in the middle of it, that I carefully avoided!  I peered over the right edge.  If I could scrabble down a little, then there was a system of vertical ledges round on the right of the overhang.  They were above a massive drop and there was no gear whatsover to protect me.  I toyed with trying it, but I'd run out alot of rope with no gear and was faced with a huge fall into space if I came off.
I decided against that option and went over to the left side of the overhang and peered down.  I could see that if you climbed down a snowy ramp, then you could access another less steep wall to the left of the overhang.  I thought about that for a while then turned back to look at the overhang instead, maybe I was thinking it was harder than it looked.  On the left side was a smooth and blank looking vertical wall.  On the right was a series of overhangs.  There were cracks here and it did look do-able to me by someone that can climb overhanging rock with axes.  Now I've climbed plenty bulges and a couple of roofyesque type moves on grade IV ground, but this looked harder than anything I'd ever done before.  There was no way I could contemplate that, I'd never even seconded anything that looked like that before!
I thought I would bring H up and explain the situation to her.  So I dug around in the snow and managed to unearth a small block to belay from.  As I was working, I was planning a way out of our situation.  I'm not used to being the more experienced one but it felt good and I felt in total control. I was thinking about trying the option of going left, but the light was starting to turn that way when you just know it's going to start getting dark any minute.  I toyed with the idea all the same.  I've been caught out by the dark on several occasions and it doesn't bother me, but I've always been finishing the route at the time and can see the actual top, or it's just been walking off in the dark.  The cloud had parted briefly beforehand and I could see that the summit was still some way away, around 100m.  My main concern was that we were on the wrong route.  I couldn't understand it though!  There was only that one rib that came down into the corrie on the left hand side so it couldn't be wrong, could it?  I was scared of climbing up and being faced with another overhanging section like that, or climbing msyelf into a spot where I couldn't make anymore upward process and where there would be no gear to speak of to make an abseil.  Hmmmmm.  It was decision time!
If we downclimbed the snowy ramp, then a series of ramps would take us leftwards off the cliff and down into South Gully which didn't look too bad.  There had been lots of evidence of the snow sloughing off previously, I'd seen bits and bobs of wind slab around, not much to be too worried about, but the snow was pretty deep and unstable in places.  I took note that there had been lots of graupel around, but wasn't too worried about that as it was only on the top layer of snow and not underneath, but it was handy to note it was in the area for the future snow pack.
Once H was up, I explained the situation to her, was tempted to joke that she could lead the next pitch and point her towards the overhang, but decided against it as time was getting on.  The going looked easy going down the snowy ramps and H is confident on that sort of ground, having done a lot of ski mountaineering in the Alps, so we just headed down ropeless, which was safer anyway as there was no gear!  The light was fading fast and it was getting difficult to judge how steep the ground was below us.  We got to a point where it seemed that the ground seemed to drop away lower down and I was wary about going further. It looked more inviting to head into the gully.  Still, because of the snow, I was a litte wary, but that seemed the best option in the end.
There was a small wall beside the gully which had a perfect crack in it (where were they on the route itself!)
It was hard to see what the gully was going to be like, whether there would be any steps in it at all.  H wanted me to go first so I could find some gear lower down if need be.   I told her she wouldn't be very well protected coming down though, but if that it was hard then I would come back up and protect her from above.  Luckily it was a doddle.  It was barely even grade I and H had been more than happy coming down the steeper ramp above with a rope.  So I told her to just untie and slide the rope down and I'd pack it away.  We went down seperately though, to keep an eye on each other and before long the angle eased again.  We both fell into holes quite a few times and it was so tempting to start bum sliding down the rest of the way.  But it was getting pretty dark by this point and I had bad memories of smashing against a big rock when bum sliding in the dark one winter previously.
Once we were out of harms way, we stopped to sort our sacks and I gave D a phone as I knew he'd be worrying as I hadn't texted him at all and it was around 5ish.  Getting down to the landrover track was a slog.  The path was all verglassed and we had to go on the grassy bits beside the path.  We came across footprints going down and then saw a headtorch in the distance, seems we weren't alone on the hill after all.  The walk back to the car seemed to take forever and a day and my ankle was starting to seize up a little.  I'd always scoffed at people taking bikes into Ben Lui as it never seemed that far to me when I'd been up there before.  But last time I was up, we'd walked over the next 2munros along and came down off the hill that way.  But the slog along the road took ages and the carpark never seemed to be coming!
We got there eventually though, it was 7.40pm, nearly 12hrs out on the hill for an unfinished grade II, brilliant!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Pygmy Ridge - Sun 24th Oct

It's Saturday and I'm debating whether it's a good idea to try and get out winter climbing.  Forecast isn't great, snow showers and winds of 40mph with gusts to 55-60mph.  I'm exhausted, not sleeping enough and have so much Uni work to do and half of me just can't be bothered going out in crappy weather.
Start packing my sack though and the enthusiasm builds until the lack of motivation goes and I'm feeling really excited!  Winter, snow, spindrift, woohoo, yay!
Drove up to Andy's on Saturday night, we reckoned nowhere much would be snowy other than the Cairngorms, but also that Sneachda might be busy with folk after the dry tooling competition at Glenmore Lodge.  Decided on a late start nonetheless and were up at 7.30am which seemed quite blissful after my 6.15am Uni starts at 5.45am starts for a pre Uni run!
Seemed a bit mildish at first but it's cold in the carpark, some snow low down, clag down though so can't see much.  We walk in pretty quickly and easily and at the boulder field, hear a
It's Mel and Fiona, they were doing the comp yesterday and are quite sore, but keen!  There are some footprints meandering off in the direction of Mess of Pottage area but no sign of anyone else in the corrie that we can make out.  The weather isn't as bad as forecast so all those who wimped out are missing out on cliffs thick with rime and snow, proper winter!
Andy and I are first at Pygmy so we gear up for that and Fiona and Mel gear up for Saturation Point, the harder route to the right.  It looks hard!  Andy is up the first pitch of Pygmy fairly quickly and I can tell he's done it before as he seems to know where all the axe placements are!  I find the first pitch pretty hard.  The chimney has a good flake and chockstone but I can't reach up to either of them!  I have to torque my axe behind a lower flake, edge my feet up and totally wedge myself into the chimney to stop myself falling out and keep in balance while I finally reach up.  Hook that chockstone, then it's thuggy, awkward and strenuous, but just a few moves.  The top bit isn't a push over either!  We had to clear every placement of snow and I was finding things a bit reachy or balancy.
I led the 2nd pitch up a steep chimney/corner.  Better holds in this one but I looked down in dismay to see my sling lift off a flake, followed by a nut which I had been sure was bomber!  Rats!  Hesitate now!  Next move feels even more committing without any gear!  There's a nice ledge to soften my landing if I fall.  Don't think about falling stupid cow!  Get some more gear in!  Scrape about, unburry another flake, a better one, fling another sling round, only one left now!  Try to figure the move.  There is a huge detached flake on the right wall but I can't reach my foot or my knee up to it.  I need a foot in the chimney on a dubious sloping hold to move up.  It goes okay though.  Scrape round for another hold and I'm up onto a terrace.  Mel is there, belaying Fiona, as their route joined ours on the 2nd pitch. 
I'm not sure what to do!  I've already led the meat of my pitch but I wanted to reach the pinnacles and carry on a full ropes length, but feel it would be a bit rude to climb through Mel and Fiona.  Deliberate for a second or two and decide to belay Andy from there and by the time he has come up, Mel has started off, seconding Fiona up the next pitch.  It's blowing a hoolie by this point and the spindrift is blinding!  At one point, a lump of ice flies into my mouth and down my throat and has me chocking!  Above us, Fiona's ropes have blown off route and poor Mel has to climb up an awkward way, but Andy is impatient enough to get out the cold, climb around her and pull the ropes through.  He goes off a different way though, so as not to climb through them and belays me a short way from the top, out of the wind.
I led up a final groove and over some really easy ground, round Mel and Fiona who are packing their sacks away from the plateau and gave Andy a quick body belay up.  We threw everything into our sacks higgeldy piggeldy, then stopped at a sheltered hollow to sort our stuff and take crampons etc off as the snow was still quite soft on top.  Then trudged up to point 1141 and stopped again for food and coffee.  It was fast going down, then with a brief stop at the start of the road to take off some layers, we were soon down.
What an ace day!  Superb getting out and very surprised there wasn't more folk out.  Andy reckons we are in for another good winter and I hope he's right.
For all you snowboarders though ;o)  too many rocks were poking through the snow I'm afraid.
Looks like all the snow will probably melt in this weeks SW's too.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

British Lead Climbing Comp - 9th October '10

RB competed in the BLCC's on Saturday.  She was a bit nervous about it as she hadn't been training as much as she should have, mainly due to me starting Uni and being too knackered in the evenings to get out doing extra with her on non climbing days.  But she'd recently redpointed a 7a+ at AVW which is no easy thing seen as the AVW grades are really stiff due to it being a short wall.  So she wasn't going too badly!
We were up at 6am to get ready for the drive through to Edinburgh and arrived there just after 8, a little tired and bleary eyed.  The qualifying routes looked hard!  A yellow route up the old comp wall to start and then a pink route up the steep comp wall.  When the starting list was put up, RB was disappointed to learn she had to go 2nd, somebody has to go first though.  The girl who went 1st fell off and jumped for a hold before falling and then it was RB's go.  RB got to the hold above that 1st girl and then stopped, unable to move rightwards.  She was at that hold for a good minute, swapping her feet around, trying to get her weight over right.  It all ended when she matched her hands on the hold and then tried to move across and fell off.
The next girl up was in the British Team and was amazing to watch, very small, light and so bendy and fluid at climbing, really something!  She managed the move that RB fell off just fine, by holding the hold below the one RB had, walking her feet up right and then rocking over, made it look so simple.  Unfortunately, now that everybody saw how it was done, it was easy for everyone else to do the same.  I knew this didn't bode well for RB.  As it was 6 girls got past that point, with one topping out and 2 other girls got to exactly the same point as RB.  This made RB in joint 7th place so still in with a chance for the finals if she did well in the 2nd route.
Imagine our shock then, when the scores came through and the judge had put RB into 2nd last place.  WHAT???   We were both extremely puzzled!  How the BLEEP can a judge mistake holding onto a hold for as long as a minute, with holding the hold below it.  I was utterly furious!  We spoke to the head judge, who then spoke to the 2 judges who were watching the route.  Both of them insisted that RB fell off before the girl who went before her.  I was stunned!  Were they f-ing blind!  I ranted at the head judge for ages, what the hell is the point in even having a head judge if he won't do anything about judges who must be utterly blind and can't judge properly!  When the judge in question tried to speak to me later, I couldn't even speak to him, I was so angry.  I had to walk away as I didn't want to start shouting at him and losing it.  I was so annoyed!  RB has worked so hard and is so determined to do well that this was extremely unfair on her.  I know the judges all volunteer to do what they do and it's great, but if you're going to judge, then bloomin well do it properly!  So, they refused to look into it, adamant that they were right and I was wrong.  Unfortunately the BMC hadn't been filming the qualifiers as they said they didn't have enough cameras and even if I had filmed her climbing they wouldn't accept that as proof, which is utterly stupid.  I hadn't filmed it anyway, and had stopped taking photos at this point as I was too busy watching RB on that final hold, which is why I know what hold she was on as she held onto it for ages!
So, RB was listed to do the 2nd route 8th which was good.  She was going to have to climb exceedingly well to get into the final and I feared that with the competition being so stiff she just wouldn't be able to make up for the judges error in putting her into 2nd last place. 
As it was, she damn well climbed like the wind!  She cruised that 2nd route, getting to a really high point, just 2 moves away from the top before falling.  This put her into joint 3rd place with one of the Team members and only 1 girl getting ahead of that, and one girl topping out.  Things were getting exciting!  We watched as everyone fell off below that point, meaning that RB just scraped through to the finals and no more.  As it was, even if the judging had been done efficiently and correctly, RB would still have only got 5th place, possibly getting 4th.  I'm unsure as I can't make head nor tail of how they mark these routes.  The final position is supposed to be the ranking score of route 1 x the ranking score of route 2, and then you take the square root of that number.  But I did that on my calculator and the numbers didn't match up.  I know that if there are folk who draw in ranking position then something else happens to the score, but it's not clear at all to me.
In the end though, she got through to the final, so we were both happy again.
They were in isolation for some time, as the final routes were put up.  RB's final route was the same route as one of the qualifiers for the boys, but holds had been added to the top of the route to take it to the very top of the steep comp wall.  The mid section look hard and the top looked desperate!  RB's age group was in the 2nd category to come and do the final route, and RB was on first, seen as she had been put into 6th position and not 5th like she should have been.  It doesn't really matter in the final as you don't get to watch anyone climb the route before you anyway.
I was so nervous!  RB started off really well, had a wee moment a bit higher where she switched feet a bit to get her balance to clip and I thought she might come off.  But she moved upwards up towards the point where some holds on the edge of the overhang were round an arete.  I was hoping she would remember they were there!  She did, and made some really powerful moves to get them!  She then was back onto the face and had to heel hook onto holds round the arete.  She struggled a little here getting her foot into position.  Her 5.10's are slightly baggy at the heel and not the most sensitive for this kind of move but she managed it (really need to get her new shoes pronto as the ones she has are just ever so slightly too big and they have a masive hole so her big toe is pretty much gaping out now!)
Next came a volume and more hooking and then up to the 2nd volume.  RB needed to take a big swing across to reach a hold on the volume, only got the edge of it, then managed to quickly adjust and get a proper hold of it.  She then swung across and tried to clip, but couldn't.  She shifted her weight, tried to clip again, but then her feet cut loose.  She got her feet back on, tried to clip again, feet cut loose again.  That was it for her.  All the cutting loose just tired her arms too much and she was off, taking a wipper into space!
The next girl on came to exactly the same point as RB and fell off but the next girls got the stalactite above and the winner got past the stalactite and nearly topped out, was quite something!
RB was berating herself a little for not being able to clip, but I thought she did amazingly well in her 1st BLCC!  Because RB was marked wrongly for the 1st route though, it did mean she got 6th place overall, whereas she really was 5th.  Well, we both know she was 5th, so she was happy with that.
And know it's time to get some hard training in for the next comp down in Liverpool on the 27th Nov.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Glen Lyon - 25th/26th Sept

D and I went munro bagging this weekend as I was in desperate need to get out into the hills having not been near a hill since our trip up Tower Ridge with RB.  Too much wall climbing and cragging is no good for the soul.  Besides, I need to start getting hill fit again as winter will shortly be upon us, hurrah, yipee, woohoo!  I'm getting excited about snowy hills and frozen turf and crunchy, crispy snow sparkling in the winter sun.  Mmm mmm mmm!

Anyway, back to the weekend!  It was the AVW bouldering comp on Friday evening.  It was really busy and their were lots of new faces around which was good and not many regulars which was good too as it means I came in 3rd in the Women's Easy category.  RB was a star as usual and came 1st place in Juniors Girls.  She did the hard comp this year, without using any junior holds, bar on her first problem, before Ian, AVW's manager, reckoned she should do it without the junior holds.  I was a bit miffed at this to start off with, as she maybe a good climber, but there are some things that are impossible if you just can't reach.  But she did amazingly anyway, coming in first place still and beating the Hard Women (although the usual hard women regulars weren't competing!)
I met up with D afterwards and we drove up Glen Lyon way and parked up in the Schiehallion carpark for the night.  We were up bright and early, drove down to Inverar only to be met with a closed gate and 'Stalking taking place today' signs everywhere.  I was miffed!  I'd gone to do these hills before and had to bail because of crap weather as the guy I was with at the time didn't want to do them in the rain.  The notice board said to take alternative routes as suggested, but I didn't notice any suggested alternative routes.  We both came to the conclusion that the stalking sign is probably put up at the start of September and just left there all the time, and there probably wasn't even stalking taking place on the 4hills we wanted to go up, as the argocats had been taken in the opposite direction!  We decided that we would go up the hills regardless, me a bitty nervous of meeting some irate stalkers with guns, but my rebelllious nature out in force regardless.
As it was, there wasn't a stalker in sight so it was doubly annoying that there were signs up saying not to go up the hills.  And having closed gates and signs verges on a breach on the access code as far as I'm concerned if there isn't any stalking taking place.  But the estate is notorious for such nonsense!
I wasn't going that well up these hills.  My legs felt heavy and weak and my lower back was aching, muscles spasming every so often, sending wee nervy feelings reminiscant of sciatica into my legs.  Bloomin neck!  I could feel the muscles around my neck tightning up and knew it was a touch of the arthritis kicking in.  I ploughed on regardless.  I won't let this stop my enjoying the hills, even though it makes it hard work at times.
Think my most prominent memory of these hills is going a stupid way down off the 3rd hill, ploughing straight down from the summit, down a very steep boulder field.  My knee didn't appreciate that in the slightest and was all swollen by the time I got to the bottom.
We were out for around 6 and half hours and then drove along to the dam at the head of Lochan Daimh for the night. It was freezing through the night and we woke to a sheet of ice on the front windscreen which had me hoping that I might see a wincy snow flurry or two.  But it wasn't to be, it was much milder on the hill than the previous day, though there were still pockets of ice in puddles.  We left the landrover track to head up Meall Buidhe and sheesh it was boggy!  We'd reach a bit of a dryer bit and I'd hope that was the bog finished and then it would get worse.  I wasn't going well again today, worse than the day before if that's possible!  Felt really tired and heavy legged again and a bit woozy.  I was getting hot flushes and ended up taking several layers off, it was so warm in the sunshine.
Seemed to go better nearer the top, although the last leg is a broad and flattish ridge so there wasn't really any uphill to speak of.  We didn't hang around the summit for too long and it felt weird going back down, like it had seemed pointless going up, just to sit for a minute and not go back down.  I'm too used to doing several hills at once and dying to get off the hill at the end of a long day.

Driving home, we came into mobile reception and I received some really gutting news that my Grandfather had passed away that afternoon, probably around the time I was up on the summit. My earliest memory of my Grandfather is of him pottering away in his greenhouse and me being allowed to help repot some plants for him and help him plant seeds into small pots.  I can vividly remember him showing me how to compress the soil down into the pots before adding more soil, but  not to compress it down too tightly.  I can still picture the feeling of the soil between my fingers as a young child and how it made a great impression on me.  I am sure that my great love of the outdoors and nature stemmed from such simple pleasures and for that I am eternally grateful.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Logie Head - 12 Sept

I met up with Andy at Logie Head at 10.30 am on Sunday morning for our first climb together in ages.  It had rained on the way there but on a westerly, so the crag was still dry and I was actually climbing in a T-shirt it was so warm!
The tide was out when we arrived so we didn't want to hang about for too long in the non tidal area, but I wanted to warm up on something before heading across.  I decided to go up the line of the HS and if I didn't feel like it, then I could scoot across to the easier line on the left.  I'd forgotten how fiddly some of the cracks can be at Logie for placing gear and it seemed to take me ages to get good placements, so much so that I really felt the lead on my arms.  Thankfully the holds are big so I didn't get too pumped!  The HS is pretty soft and I managed it okay before we scooted across to the tidal area.
The tide was coming in and we had to traverse across, timing it right so as not to get our feet wet!  There is a VS there called Moray Eel that I hadn't done before but on looking at it, I thought it looked quite hard and Andy said it involved jamming.  That immediately put me off so I let him lead it, not bothered at all about the onsight, just happy to be out climbing.  I was glad I didn't lead it in the end as it's horrible!  It felt really hard at VS, probably the hardest VS I've ever been on.  Horrible insecure jams that my hands didn't seem to fit into and on top of that it was really reachy.  There is no way in hell that I could have led that so I'm glad I didn't even try.  I'd already led the other VS there and I wanted to warm up mentally a bit more before leading a proper VS, so I just got Andy to lead that one too.  It's funny, because he reckons that Fallen Star is harder than Moray Eel and he certainly made ME look really easy!  But I find Fallen Star quite nice and easy enough, nice incut holds and no jamming!
We scooted back to the non tidal area after that and I led Fisherman's Tail.  I love this HS, it's really nice climbing and it's far better than the other HS, so I can't understand why it doesn't get a star but I think Andy had said he never used to like it.  Andy then led Sunnyside Up at HVS.  I couldn't remember whether I'd climbed this before but it turns out that I'd seconded it a few years ago and had to rest on the rope.  Managed it cleanly this time but it felt right at my limit, very sustained climbing.  I decided to lead Poacher next and it took me a while to actually get off the ground on it!  I got a bit of gear really low down, for confidence but I wanted a higher bit and I just couldn't suss out how to get up there.  There is a side pull to the right and an undercling to the left, then a thin diagonal crack on the left, running rightwards.  I was up and down like a yoyo trying different combinations until I finally got my hand higher in the left/right crack, got my feet higher and was then able to reach up very easily to the top of the crack on the right and a big jug.  I then got more gear in and was committed.  The next move up was easy but left me on rounded holds, so I moved up again to more incut holds, though smaller.  I was getting so pumped placing gear, much more so than last time I led it.  But I was quite surprised by how long I managed to hang around for and place all the 8 bits of gear that I did!  8 bits of gear on a 10metre route, no wonder I was pumped!
After a break for something to eat, Andy then led Dave's Dilemma with a bit of a struggle, think it's the only E1 he's led this year.  I found it utterly desperate and had to aid up the damn thing with a very tight rope!  The very start is a wee scramble but that takes you up to a horribly polished crack.  The crack is very small, the crux hold faces the wrong way, so you can lunge over for a hold on the left instead.  But then the crack above becomes even more polished and not helped by the greasy rock and I just couldn't hold on without the help of the rope.  Once past the crux moves, the rest of the route was easier enough, but I found the climbing dull.
I'd been looking at Spread the Donkey to lead at VS 4c, but after getting so pumped on Poacher and seeing how thin the other VS looked in the middle, I just didn't think I'd have the stamina to hold on and place gear.  It's really frustrating, because I find the moves very easy, I just get pumped so quickly because my arms are so tight due to my neck.  And it doesn't help that I'm not getting out climbing enough either and am finding my gear placements slower to make.
I gave over my lead to Andy as my arms were knackered and he led On the Beach at HVS 5a.  This was a struggle!  It looked easy enough with big holds everywhere, but my arms were so tired and my fingers so weak that I found it quite brutal!  Managed it cleanly though, just!  Andy led Spread the Donkey next so I could see what it was like.  I just don't think I could have done it just now, but maybe it would have felt easier if I'd been fresher.  9 routes in one day is the most climbing I've done all year!  And the hardest climbing I've done all year.  I need more of it!

Monday, 6 September 2010

HAWKCRAIG - Tues 21st Aug

I went out climbing with Mel last Tuesday, finally we made it down to Hawkcraig where we both had loads of things we wanted to do.  At last the tide was agreeable and the weather was playing ball.  Typically though, my head just wasn't in the right space at all for leading and I ended up taking one look at the rock and thinking,
'I can't lead today.'
Mel however was as keen as ever and was happy to do all the leading that day.  Just hoped my head was up for even seconding and I wasn't going to be wibbling all over the place.  She started off on what we thought was a HS called Torment.  We hadn't looked at the guide description properly, how hard could it be, a HS?  Bloody hard is the answer!  Mel just onsighted an E1 the other day and shouldn't have had trouble with a HS, so she was pretty puzzled that the holds seem to run out, or the route really unbalanced.  Turns out we were off route and should have been much further right.
Mel decided to go left onto the HS called Brutus instead, but because we weren't in the right place for that either, it would seem that we climbed something that wasn't in the guide (and IMO was a much nicer line anyway if not a great deal harder!)  We reckoned Mel's Brutal variation went at about HVS.  You had to pull out through the roof, onto a slab which was very technical (but lovely climbing (on second atleast with the rope above me!)) and then it all seemed rounded, bulgy and desperate after that.  An amazing lead by Mel as it was seriously bold.  I remember praying that she wouldn't come off after the roof as it would have been a total swing and wipper!  She got in a hex, placed semi blindly and the 2 okay (ish) nuts in an awkward position after that, none of which could have been brilliantly confidence inspiring on lead.
I came really close to wanting Mel to ab down for the gear as I'd never seen her worried on a route before, knew it was gonna be hard and was bricking it.  But I did it cleanly and felt quite chuffed.
I had a look at a Severe called Gunga Din after that, bouldered out the 1st couple of moves but still bottled it.  It just seemed steep and I was having really negative thoughts.  Was stupid as the route was a real doddle.  Massive holds everywhere and I don't know where the guide description about big spaces between holds came from as it wasn't reachy at all.  Gear was good too and I'd have cruised it.  Ho hum.  Really nice wee severe.  Much nicer than The Lilly I thought.
Mel wanted to lead Pain Pillar after that and went for the HVS Direct start version.  It's pretty damn bold to start off with and I was a bit worried that she hadn't put gear in after her 1st bit, she'd deck if she came out and it wasn't like Mel at all not to be putting in gear.  When it came to my go, I realised why!  You just don't get into a position to place gear until a good jug appears higher up.
Mel cruised PP, making it look a doddle (esp in comparison to the horror she'd led earlier!)  Everything went pear shaped when I got higher up.  I got to a cam wedged deep in a crack.  Pulled the lever but the cams wouldn't budge at all.  Hmmm,  yanked the lever some.  Got my nut key in behind the lever and pulled and the cams still wouldn't move.  Seemed a bit over cammed to me.  Got my nut key in each wire individually, the cams moved a little but then everytime I went back to pull the lever, it just wouldn't budge.  I spent ages on the rope trying to get the damn thing out.  Thankfully there was a jug to hold onto, so I just had to keep swapping hands.  It was no good though, I just couldn't move it.  I called up to Mel that she could ab down and get it.  She said there was nothing to ab from and in retrospect it probably would have been much easier for her to have abbed off the perfectly adequate belay rather than the faff that ensued.
I shouted up for Mel to lower me, and I'd come up to the top and belay her up and she could get the cam out.  It was a bit of a struggle as it's really hard to hear because of the sea.  Mel was getting sore feet due to a loose toenail and I was pissed off about not being to get the cam out and spoiling the route.  So by the time Mel got up to the top having easily got the cam out first go and then making a wee sarcy comment, I was seeing red and my temper flared.  Now things got silly.  Mel has a very similar personality to me in the respect that she's not one to back down, she's stubborn and opinionated, so we had a bit of a clash.  Which resulted in my childishly stomping off in a huff, steaming at the ears.  By the time I came down to the bottom of the cliff I'd calmed down enough, apologised to Mel for being a narky cow and got all upset and emotional, hate arguing with folk!  So, we were totally cool thankfully and have a laugh about how daft it was.
It's funny, Pain Pillar is nothing like I remember it.  I fell of the Direct Start last time I did it (1st year of climbing) and it didn't seem so bad now.  I'll happily lead PP now next time I go (if my head isn't in hormonal raging cow mode!) but I'll just do the normal variant I think as I'm not sure I like the boldness of the direct start even though it's a far more pleasing  and logical line.

Not been out climbing since then and to be honest I'm starting to pine a little for winter.  I've been having dreams and thoughts of snow and turf and the reassuring thwack of an axe and the beauty of our Scottish hills in winter.  I'm trully a lover of snow and winter rather than a rock goddess.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Sea Kayaking - 28th Aug

It was D's birthday on Tuesday and I'd booked him (and RB and I) onto a beginners kayaking course on Seil Island with Sea Kayaking Scotland.  D had mentioned that he'd always thought of trying it but never had as he's not a strong swimmer.  I'd been curious about kayaking but I'm very nervous of the sea and the thought of tipping the boat and panicking and getting stuck always put me off.  There was no putting things off any longer though!
We drove to Oban on Friday evening and camped at the Divers campsite just to the South, then drove to Seil Island for 9am.  We arrived far too early and were treated to a cup of tea while we waited for D to turn up in his van and for our instructor for the day.  We didn't have too long to wait and before long were being kitted out in ridiculous looking dry suits.  RB's and D's weren't too bad but mine was massive and I felt like an astronaut!  Then we were shown how to make sure our kayaks fitted, messed about with the pedals in the boat and set off to where we were going to start.
We were shown how to get into the boats without tipping them over which was easy enough and then launched into the water straight away.  I was finding paddling hard to start with, just wasn't sure how to turn at all, but quickly realised that paddling right would turn you left.  I found it a bit frustrating that the boats turned in such a wide arc, but managed to figure a way of turning part way, doing a back stroke with the paddle, then turning again and that seemed to turn me in less of an arc.  Not sure if that's correct, but I liked doing it that way.
It wasn't long before we all sussed things and then we set of for Balvicar Island, a small island down the Sound of Seil. We paddled right round this and stopped for a bite to eat, then paddled back to where we started.  We then carried on underneath Clachan Bridge and down the Sound of Clachan, into the Atlantic.  Even though we were barely away from the mainland and mostly hugging the islands, you could tell the difference between this water and the water in the Sounds.  There were more waves and if you stopped paddling you could feel the swell of the sea bob you about.
It was amazing.  It reminded me of being on a really exposed route out in the mountains.  There is a sense of space all around you and feel so small and vulnerable.  I never once felt scared or intimidated though, just a sense of awe and it felt so peaceful when you were bobbing around.
We had to stick together in a group out here as there were wee fronts passing through, but they missed us and headed inland further North.  I'd been paddling ahead of everyone most of the day, getting into a real rythm and just enjoying the motion of it.
It was pure pleasure though, to see RB's joy when we came across a group of seals on an island.  As we approached, some of them slid into the water which was funny to see.  RB managed to get quite close to them and they did look really cute with their heads bobbing out of the sea.   Such curious creatures, but their shyness overcomes their curiosity in the end and they dip back under the surface if you get too close.
We also saw Shags and Herons, anenomes, crabs, shoals of fish and RB saw a load of jelly fish.  Thankfully they were white ones with no pink in them she exclaimed as we'd been told the white ones don't sting.
After passing the island with the seals, we threaded between 2 islands and back to the Sound of Clachan.  We had to get out the boats and pull them for a bit as the tide was out and the water was too low to paddle.  It's amazing how heavy the boats are on land but how light they are in the water.
Back at the bay where we started, RB managed to persuade me that we should capsize our boats and learn how to get out of them.  I was really nervous as this was the bit I was scared of!  Mitch, our instructor, reassured me that it was easy to get out when you tipped, so I went for it.  Unfortunately, I gave out a squeel as I hit the water and got a mouthful.  Salty sea water is disgusting!  It was stinging my nose and my eyes and it took me a minute to get myself together.
Trying to get back into the kayak was hard!  You have to mantle onto the boat, shuffle your bum along until you are straddling the seat, wedge your bum in, then get one leg in at a time.  Well it took me 5 attempts as I kept losing my balance as I shuffled and I'd splash into the water again.  RB did it in 3 goes.  Then we both tried to stand on our kayaks which was absolutely impossible!  D looked on bemused and quickly paddled to the shore, lest we manage to tip him too!
Poor RB though, her dry suit was too big around the sleeves and let loads of water in, she was drenched!  I was a bit damp but not too bad.  And it's amazing how warm the suits keep you.  All our stuff in the dry bags was completely dry too.
Brilliant day and I could easily get into this kayaking malarky.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

LIMEKILNS - 22nd August

Mel and I had planned to go to Limekilns on Friday but got rained off so we went along today as the forecast was better, at last!  This is the 1st time I've rock climbed since I went to Kirrie with Mel so was really looking forward to it, if not a bit nervous.
I wanted to lead Red Flag first as it's a VS I've done before, then Humbug as I'd seconded it before.  Then I wanted to do Two Ringer at VS too and as an onsight.  I was determined to get back to leading VS.  Unfortunately it would seem that both Red Flag and Humbug have been downgraded to HS and I didn't end up having time to lead Two Ringer.
Red Flag was steeper than I remember it and I couldn't for the life of me remember how I started it.  I had memories of jamming a foot in somewhere and a hand and it being quite strenuous.  Mel recommended a different way and that seemed loads easier!  It didn't take long to get past the crux and then cruise the rest of the route.  Hurrah, my 1st trad lead in AGES!
Mel had wanted to onsight her 1st E1 here, Dead Ringer.  It looked desperate to me!  And climbed desperately too!  But I knew Mel could do it having climbed with her several times before and seen how strong she is and how calmly she climbs.  It took her a wee minute to commit to moving off a ledge and getting on to the meat of the route, but once she went for it there was no stopping her.  I could tell it was strenuous and thought needed, but she made it, without resorting to holding onto either of the big metal rings sticking out the wall (where the route name comes for)  Nice!
I was nervous about making an utter twat of myself on this route.  Having not climbed for 7 weeks I'm not sure that I was up to getting up a 5b.  It was a struggle!  As soon as you get onto the face, it's very sustained with no proper rests at all.  The holds are mostly good though, but I had to get Mel to point a fair few of them out.  And there was one section where the hold was TINY and I remember thinking, 'how the hell am I gonna hold that!?'  I came off here, slumped onto the rope, pumped beyond belief and annoyed as I was only 2moves from the top!
After shaking out, I remembered that Mel had gone more rightwards and sure enough, looking right there was a better hold and up I went again to be met with a nice jug at the top.  This turned out to be loose!  But it held okay thankfully and I was up, after much grunting!  Phew!
I was gearing up to climb Two Ringer when an accident occured and help was needed and ambulance called.  All this took up the rest of the afternoon really.  I wasn't really sure I wanted to climb after that, but decided my head needed to get back on the horse as it were.
Someone was toproping Two Ringer so I went and led Humbug.  This route looked loads slabbier compared to the other VS's and looked loads easier than I remember it!  When I seconded it years ago, I remember tiny holds and crimps, but other than one wee thin section, the holds are huge!  I can see why it's been downgraded.  But I still found it quite tiring on my arms. 
That was it for the day.  Time was swiftly getting on, I was happy with my 2 'VS's' and Mel with her E1, so we called it a day.  I was really happy with how my neck and arms coped today.  My neck got a bit sore belaying Mel, but I was so intent on what she was doing that I was more focused on that.  My legs were very tight and a wee bit crampy but nothing that I couldn't climb through. 
Good day, great to be out again.  No photos though.

Monday, 16 August 2010


Forecast was looking good for the weekend and I had a sudden impulse to go and do Tower Ridge with RB. I'd wanted to do Tower Ridge for years but never had the oppurtunity as all my climbing partners had done it before or wern't interested or able. We drove up to Lochaber and camped at Roybridge on Saturday eve, meeting D at the N.Face carpark at 8am on Sunday morning. D had always wanted to do Tower Ridge too but was never sure he'd be able to solo Tower Gap so never had the oppurtunity to go up, not being a lover of ropes.
I thought we'd probably manage to solo all of it, just roping up for Tower Gap, but I took some bits of gear just incase RB or D (or me!) decided it looked too iffy to solo in places.
The walk in didn't seem to take long at all and even RB didn't seem to mind it once we were out of the forest and onto flatter ground and she could gaze at the cliffs, never having seen them before. Within a couple of hours we were passing the CIC hut and bypassing round the Douglas Boulder.
Seemed like there were already 2 parties on the Douglas Boulder and there were 2 teams above us heading up to do Tower Ridge. We had some difficulty finding the start of the ridge as the guide says to look for a grassy bay. I saw a grassy bay with what looked like a path heading up from it and a chimney at the top near to Douglas Gap and I was sure we should be going that way. But the 2 teams ahead of us were both heading further up Observatory Gully. So we ignored that first grassy bay and headed up the gully too. I was convinced that we were going far too high up the gully as I could see another large gap in the ridge (top of the Great Chimney) and we seemed far past the Douglas Boulder. The first party had gone far too high up and were coming back down and the 2nd party headed onto the ridge from a 2nd grassy bay. There seemed to be a well worn path here so we reckoned we'd just go up that way too. Looking at the topo now that I'm home, I reckon the first grassy bay was the correct way to go as we missed out the 20m polished chimney which climbs out of the Douglas Gap and came onto the crest just past the Gap.
No problem, we were on the ridge and the going was very easy at first, scrambling over blocks and boulders. The ridge then came to a short steepening and we were catching up with the 2 parties ahead which made me nervous that it must be hard as they were moving slowly.
Getting closer though and it didn't look too bad. I asked RB is she was happy to solo and she'd be committed once she started, which she was happy with. This bit was graded moderate and went easily enough and wasn't very long. Then followed some more easy and blocky scrambling followed by the ridge narrowing which RB really enjoyed. We then came to another steepening, the Little Tower. Both parties ahead were roping up for this but RB was happy to solo and D was happy to solo if we were. Again, seeing the folk ahead roping up made me think it might be tricky but the start was a doddle. We had to wait for a while for both parties to move upwards. I didn't want to be climbing directly under folk seen as we were soloing and we were making good time so didn't have a problem with waiting. After the first section there was a bit where we moved left and there was a steep step to overcome. This section was pretty hard for Diff and was quite off balance. But the holds were good and we were shortly all up and past it. We again caught up with the 2nd roped party, who seemed to be going the wrong way. No problem, it gave us space to overtake them.
I really enjoyed this next section. We moved right, back onto the crest of the ridge and took it direct. The climbing was lovely and easy with a nice bit of exposure thrown in. It was over all too quickly though and then we arrived at a more blocky section again. We stopped for a wee breather here and let one of the parties, who'd been finishing the Douglas Boulder as we arrived on the ridge, past us as they were moving faster. A section of easy scrambling led to the Eastern Traverse. The guys ahead were nosying at a more difficult variation up a wall above the traverse, deciding against it as they couldn't be bothered roping up again. One of the guys was stood in the middle of the traverse and I was nervous about squeezing past, so he shifted over a bit. But there was nothing to worry about as the traverse is a big wide path in summer that you could happily have a picnic on.
The through route was great fun, real classic climbing! I thought you might have to back and foot it, but there were big massive holds in the chimney, on the left wall, both for hands and feet. But it was reassuring to squeeze in far enough so that the right wall gave a little support. I think the next section was really the technical crux of the route. It was damn steep for Diff climbing, but again with massive holds. The rock really bulged outwards here and there was one section were you had to squeeze into a groove so as not to be thrown outwards. There was one wee hidden thread type hold that I could hook my hand through and yard up on. This was followed by another steep groove and then we were up onto a nice and flat level section, with the ridge narrowing considerably up to the Tower Gap beyond.
The first roped up party were having some lunch here and the soloing party were approaching the Gap very cautiously and spent considerable time deciding how to pass it.
We decided to stop for some lunch too, which in retropsect maybe wasn't the best idea as it gave me more time to get nervous about the gap until I was making myself feel sick about it. A guided party arrived and we let them past to give us time to contemplate and for D to go over and have a nosey to see if he was happy soloing it or not, which he was. I decided that RB and I should rope across though as I wasn't sure what to expect. We let the first roped party go ahead first as I thought I might be quite slow and didn't want to hold anyone up.
I had a bit of a faff with the rope, I've hardly done any climbing this summer and it's amazing how your rope skills need a good thinking about when you've not used it for ages! I ended up going first as I wasn't sure RB would know how to protect me coming across as a second. I felt bad as it's easier for the person going first on the rope, but alteast I'd be able to give her some protection. I flung the rope around a big block and got her to sit on one side and I went down the other side. I also clipped a quickdraw into a heap of slings around a lower block that you use to downclimb on so I could protect RB on her way down.
The step down was really awkward to figure and felt weird. Most people hold onto the big block that the slings are round and step down onto a smaller ledge below before stepping down onto a bigger block further down. Well I couldn't reach the smaller ledge below by holding onto the big block, so I had to grasp the big block with one hand, clasp my hand round the back of a lower block beneath the big block, then drop my foot into space and flap it about to find the lower ledge which you were unable to see as you were facing in. Finally found it and felt more balanced and then had to get my hand round the side of the massive block where there is a small edge that you can use as a side pull to hold yourself in balance while you step across the lower block.
It's awkward to figure if you're small but once you've sussed it the move is actually really easy. Then once on the lower block it's just a matter of stepping across the gap and climbing out the other side which is a doddle. I messed things up here though. I should have climbed right down and protected RB from down the bottom, but I decided to protect her from the other side. This resulted in awful rope drag and I had to get RB to fling the rope off the big block, but I was happy enough now being unprotected. A sling that I'd flung round the lower block to protect her had also lifted off because I'd gone upwards. Now there was no drag I was able to finish going upwards and fling a sling round a block to belay her from. It wasn't ideal, but it would protected that first awkward step down which is the hardest bit really.
She managed it fine though, doing it almost the same way as me and also found the rest a doddle. Once across, we shoved the rope back into the bag and carried on up past the easy scrambling and onto the top of the ridge.
That was it, Tower Ridge done. What a buzz! I felt so happy and was grinning from ear to ear. 'Finally done it!' I exclaimed and gave everyone a big hug, woohoo!
RB thought it was superb and really enjoyed herself.
'That was so much more fun that hillwalking,' she said happily.  I was really impressed that she'd managed to solo it all, and the gap was more intimidating by it's reputation, rather than being hard.  She showed no fear whatsover in soloing the route and even went ahead on up the ridge by herself, doing the routefinding at times (which did make Mum a bit nervous!)
We decided to head on past the summit and find a quiet spot to have something to eat and enjoy the sunshine and views, the top being totally clear of cloud.  I wished I'd ditched my gear into the sack straight away though as I felt a bit of a pleb passing the summit with my harness still on!  We had a bite to eat near the top of NE Buttress and then began the slog down to the Carn Mor Dearg Arete.  The walk down to the arete is horrible in summer!  I'm so used to it being a steep snow slope in winter but in summer it's a steep boulder field, yuck!  RB didn't enjoy it either and we all contemplated heading down the Coire Leis headwall rather than going the arete as RB was pretty knackered.  It looked steep and bouldery that way too so we decided it was probably just as quick heading round.
RB picked up again once we were on the arete and seemed to be enjoying it, though it did seem a bit of an anti-climax after Tower Ridge.  Imagine that I used to worry that she'd find going to the summit of the Ben via the CMD too tiring, and now here she was scampering around it after doing the Ben via Tower Ridge.  She scampered ahead of D and me, zooming off to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg itself, leaving D and I behind in a smoke of dust.  We stopped again for a while and then began the slog down.  There is a path down but where it crosses a stream I didn't notice it, and carried on down a different path which was pretty steep and minging.  RB coped really well though, and even though her knees and legs were aching, she kept up a fast a pace as I was doing once back down and then even ran down through most of the woods back to the carpark.
We're all having a rest day from climbing today though, as legs are achy!  What a route though and a thoroughly enjoyable day by all, superb!