Monday, 18 January 2010

Torridon - 17th Jan '10

When the alarm went off at 5am I burried under the duvet, still half asleep, thinking,
'Why, oh why, oh why..........?'
I'd slept really badly, tossing and turning, tense with worry and anticipation, finally falling asleep only to be awoken by nightmarish dreams.
I'd discovered a possible new route but it looked like it might be a bit too nails for me and we weren't sure it would be formed properly under the present thawing conditions anyway.  Checking out some photos, we found a different route, not ice and one that looked absolutely amazing!   There was grade I looking ground below the route and a very steep slope above the cliff, facing in the direction that could be dodgy for avalanche if the snow was dodgy with slab.   Hence the worry!  I was having nightmares of doing the route, getting to the top and coming face to face with slab, ready to sweep us off the cliff face.  Then started dozing and having thoughts of RB climbing, and wishing that she'd never started.  What if she ever wants to take up winter climbing?  It's far too dangerous, she could get hurt!  My mind was imagining all the possibilities that could go wrong, for me tomorrow and for RB later in life if she chooses to keep climbing.
So, come the morning I was a mess!  The drive up to Torridon didn't help.  Black ice everywhere and with the tires on my car not being the best, I was forced to drive at a slow and steady 30mph.  Other cars on the road were taking it slowly too, so atleast I knew it wasn't just me being over cautious.  Anytime I tried to speed up, the car would start skidding, so 30 it was, pretty much all the way.  It was a tiring journey!
Driving west, we could begin to see the extent of the thaw.  There were only patches of wet snow left down in valley level and there was no way in hell that any of our South face cliffs that we know of were going to be in any sort of condition.
Walking in should have been easy, the snow all melted on approach, apart from small slushy patches.  But I was tired and grumpy, not helped by my knee being really sore too.   I stopped at one point to take photos as the sky went this amazing grey lighted colour and the sun was throwing shadows of the cliff face into the sky, something I've never, ever seen before.  It quickly faded though, to be replaced by a massive rainbow extending from one cliff face to the other.  The light was amazing but I had a feeling it was going to start pissing it down any moment!  Which is duly did!  Shower only lasted 5minutes or so though.
It soon became aparent that our line wasn't in nick at all.    God, it looked amazing though!  If I can get this route in nick, it will surely be the best of my routes yet.  Such a simple, understated and yet obvious line and I hope the climbing will be as good as the route looks!
There were still ice smears about however and Andy, with his keen eye, found himself something to play on.  I wasn't as keen.   Looked a bit steep for me!  That sort of ice just doesn't appeal to me whatsoever.  I don't really get the whole ice climbing business.  I've never really given it much of a chance though.  I've done Sunshine Gully on Udlaidh and hated every minute of it, but on that occasion I didn't have a clue where to hit my axes, or about technique for ice, and really struggled.   Indicator Wall on the Ben was amazing however and I really, really enjoyed that, but that to me seemed like a different kind of ice route.  A cliff face, coated in ice, whereas these icefalls form quite distinct pillars and chandeliers and I just don't like the fickle nature of them. 
So the mental torture began!  Do I climb this damn route or not?  The ice sections are quite short, but they look brutally steep to me.  Tech 5 and I've only ever climbed tech4 ice before.  There are actual vertical steps on this ice and it looks scary!   I don't like the look of it and ask myself why the hell should I force myself to do something I don't like, just for the sake of it?   I then ask myself why not?  I might enjoy it?  Just get on with it!  It really just doesn't look appealing though and holds no attraction for me whatsover, thwack, thwack, step, step, thwack, thwack, step, step    Where is the turf?  Where are the cracks?   Where are the nubbins of rock to hook and smear on?   What sort of climbing *is* this?  It reinforces my thoughts that mixed climbing is far, far, far more fun that ice climbing.
Andy is happy to solo the route and meet me at the top, me going up some grade I gully.  But the snow is soft from the thaw and although not dodgy, I decide against it.  All that worrying about avalanches for nothing!  What a joke!  The approach to the icefall had seen me continuously breaking through the snow and wrenching my knee and I decided that trudging up a grade I would have me close to tears of pain and decided instead to head down the way we came and meet Andy back at the car.
Heading down was probably just as painful though!   The ground was treachorously steep and my knee became so painful that I was scared of it seizing or locking up completely and me being unable to weight it and having to crawl off the god damn hill.  Very concious of the fact that I was on my own if my knee should go completely.   As it was, I gritted my teeth and grinned and beared the pain, and once down off the steeper ground it did ease off a bit.

The N.facing cliffs in Torridon that we could see have been stripped of snow, only the bigger ledges on easier stuff have some snow on them.  The turf is still well frozen however.   There is still ice about, but thawing rapidly and nothing we saw was complete.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Bonnie and Clyde go Pole Dancing - 9/10th Jan '10

Andy and I did 2 new routes in the Southern Highlands on Saturday,
Pole Dancing IV 6
Bonnie and Clyde III 4

I met Andy on Fri night at Broxburn Services and we drove to D's in Glasgow to stay the night so we didn't have to get up so early, though we were still up at 6!  Oh boy did I want to stay in bed or what?!  D had been up the hill the previous day so we knew the road was clear and there wouldn't be any wading involved (thank god!) but what we didn't bank on was thick cloud and a few inches of fresh snow in the morning.  All forecasts had mentioned crisp, clear and bright, sunny winter weather and I had been so looking forward to an outstanding day in outstanding conditions.  Never mind, conditions were still utterly superb, even if we didn't get our clear, blue sky.

The road wasn't too problematic and we arrived at the carpark around 8ish, setting off around 8.15am.  The path up through the woods was treacherous with ice and I was skiting about all over the place but adamant and stubborn that if Andy could manage without crampons, then so could I! (even if I secretly wanted them on)  The walk in was slow.  Again, I feel so unfit and at times I struggle with my breathing, my legs have no power behind them, my lower back aches and at the steeper ascent towards the descent slope my calves are screaming.  But at last, 3hrs later, we are there and I can relax, for a short time anyway!

The descent is on rock hard neve, but the ground isn't too steep so it feels okay and before long we are the bottom of the cliff that we backed off from last year due to poor turf conditions.  No such fear today!  The Northerly winds have scoured the crags and the turf is bomber enough to hang a bus off!  We pick out our line and I'm keen to have a go at leading the first pitch.  Andy is hesitant and thinks I might get myself into trouble, so I give him the lead and right enough the crux is hard!  But it's well protected (although I'd have struggled to place gear in Andy's higher position as it was so strenuous)

I'm having horrible thoughts as I belay.  I'm wondering why the hell I'm here?  What a stupid and pointless activity this is!  I feel scared.  I feel out of my depth and I wonder why the hell I keep saying I want to push myself.  I bury deeper into my jacket to fend of the cold and the negative thoughts, but they keep creeping back.  I'm kidding myself that I can be a winter climber, that I can ever lead grade IV.  What a fucking joke I am!  I don't want to be here anymore, I want to be back at D's, safe and warm.  I want my man, I want my daughter, I want my family.  What will they do if I push myself too much and end up hurt or worse?

Before long though, it's time to go and as I start climbing and focus on the job at hand, all bad thoughts disappear.  The crux is soon upon me.  A funky looking chimney with a wee cap/roof at the top of it and a slab to either side, one with miniscule edges and the other coated in verglass.  Inside the chimney is very helpful, big tufts of turf and chockstone higher up.  What the hell do I do with my feet though?!  At first I have one foot in the chimney on the turf with the other dangling and I'm udged up into the chimney but I can't go any further because of the roof.  I have to bridge it.  But how, there's no footholds!  I trust my front points to stick to the smallest thing I've ever asked of them and am surprised that they hold and feel secure enough.  Not so the other foot though!  It is windmilling all over the shop on the thin ice, grasping for non existant purchase!  Thankgod for bomber axe placements and a tight rope!  It's as scary and strenuous as anything but I have to remove one of my axes for a higher placement,
'aaaaaarggggg, it's all soft snow over the lip!'  But I eventually find something, heave with all my might, get my right foot up high, left foot still scrabbling helplessly, and finally I'm up and over, panting with the exertion, shaking with fear!  Thank fuck I didn't try to lead that!  The next section up to Andy is sublime!  A steep turfy wall with tiny ledges and bulges and just my cup of tea.  It's over all too quick and I'm beaming from ear to ear, all the earlier panic forgotten.  Me give up climbing?  Never!  This is the f'ing business!

The next pitch has a couple of steep sections and an airy traverse but it's not problematic and I wish I'd led it and bagged my first IV, but hey ho!  The only problem with this new routing business is never being sure what I'm going to find and whether I'll be able to cope with it.
Woohoo!  I ask the time?  Have we got time for another route?  It's 2 o'clock, I'm back in December and thinking it's going to be getting dark at 3, but so keen am I that I don't care about the dark, I just want to climb!  That route was worth 2 stars in my opinion.
Our next route is an easier line we'd spotted on the right side of the buttress.  I'd thought it looked around grade II originally, but again, standing underneath it looked steeper.
I started off up a left trending ramp and onto a steepening, which led to another steepening.  Hmmm, I really wanted some gear in somewhere before it got steeper.  I tried to get a nut in, but it was crap and fell out as soon as I moved past it.  Slightly higher, I managed to hammer in a hex which I wasn't too sure about but Andy later reassured me he struggled to get it out!  Then came the steepening, and in common with other routes here, there wasn't much for feet (but massive ledges compared to the crux on the earlier route!)   A couple of seasons ago I'd have been terrified trusting my feet to stick on ledges that are only an inch wide, but these sorts of ledges are huge really!  Not fair though, the turf on my route doesn't seem as thick as on the previous, but I get up eventually.

Another steeper bit, and the crux of the route.   There is a flake with a smallish crack beside it.  I manage to bung a hex in behind the flake, get my axe hooked blindly behind something, but it feels solid.  Other axe is hooked into a wee chockstone in the crack.  I step up onto ever smaller footholds than before.  My foot skites off and gives me a sh*ter, but the other foot stays put and my axe placements are good.  Foot back on, step up, wack into the turf only to find it isn't turf but more soft snow, aaarg!  Think feet Sonj, think feet.  Get a big high step onto small projected block in the crack, paranoid that it might be loose and come sliding out.  But it holds fast and I can use the momentum in my legs to push up and over the steepening.  Phew!  That felt tricky!
There's a couple of places I can belay but as the ground above looks to pose no problems and seems only grade II'ish, then we just move together for a section and Andy belays me off the bomber hex I'd placed below.  I fling around a sling at the top, then bring him up.  Quick bite to eat, then we dash off down the hill feeling pleased as pie :o)
Andy takes his crampons off after the steeper bit, but I'm feeling less proud now and more tired, so I keep mine on, trudging down on auto pilot, going over my ankle on occasion and yowling as it wrenches my knee!

I'm glad I kept them on though as the woods are icier than ever.  Andy's crampons go back on and he is flying down fast as usual and I'm left behind, in the woods, in the dark, on my own.  The fear comes back.  I can hear twigs crackling and don't like it.  I see a shadowy shape on a boulder and wonder what the feck it can be.  It must be Andy surely.......of course it is!  He's stopped to take his crampons off again.  I keep mine on till we're down though.
We arrive back at the car at 5.30pm and set off for Glasgow.  I'm busy texting D telling him we are on our way, happen to glance up and feel that Andy is going too fast, the road is still white.  But I go back to texting.  Put the phone back in my bag and as we go round a bend, it hits me that we're going way too fast round this bend, Andy's not going to make it!  I hear myself shout out,
'we're not gonna make it, oh my god, oh my god!'
I can see a black and white marker post and for some reason I think it's concrete.  I know I'm going to smash into it and I think,
'fuck me, this is gonna be bad!'
We hit something, a big jolt, my head is flung forward and bounces back but other than that it wasn't too bad.  Just a big jolt.  I quickly turn to Andy,
'You okay?'
The car feels like it's vibrating and it takes me a moment to realise it's my brain that's vibrating, not the car!
Holy shit!
I peer out my window, it's not a steep drop out my side so I try to open the door but it won't budge.  Andy gets out and I'm paranoid that him getting out will overweight my side of the car and cause it to roll.  I have to remind myself, that it's my head that's jolted and the car is stationary.
I feel pretty shook up, giggle nervously, check out the damage.  Does't look good!  The post had bashed against the side of the car and it was a telephone mast we hit, square on my side.  No wonder my brain hurts!

I get myself together.  Thankfully I've got RAC roadside and recovery and they will bump us to the top of the list so we only end up waiting 50mins.  The guy who comes up in the pick up truck has trouble on the icy road too and is cursing that this is the worst job he's ever had to do!  They won't take us to Aviemore tonight but we get Andy's car dropped in the garage at Helensburgh and then given a courtesy car which we drive to D's.  D has been a star and ordered in Pizza for us and made a cuppy.  Andy and D have a whiskey (bleurg) and there is wine, but my head can't handle any booze right now.  I feel utterly wasted.  I'm wandering round in a bit of daze.  My head feels minced, can't think straight, am looking for milk in the washing machine cupboard ffs!  Don't feel so great the next day either.  Must have given myself a bit of a jolt in the car cos the muscles up my neck are sore and bruised feeling.  But there is no wincing pain like having whiplash, so all is good.

Andy drives back to Helensburgh on Sunday morning so he can be towed back home and I take it easy at D's, still feeling pretty wasted.  No thoughts of climbing today.  A walk along the canal and some lunch at the pub is about all I can manage.
We did cross the canal by walking over the ice.  D had been tempted during the week after seeing folk cycling along it!  But I was too much of a wimp and just crossed it quickly rather than walking along it's length.  The thought of death by drowning under ice is far too horrible a thought!  Would you drown or succumb to the cold first I wonder?  A cheery thought to leave you with!

Monday, 4 January 2010

New Year hillwalk - 1 Jan 2010

D and I went for a walk up An Caisteal on New Year's Day.  We were up fairly early and arrived by daybreak.  The going was easy at first as the trail was already broken and the snow not as deep as in the East.  The higher we got the more scoured were the slopes and a wee interesting step saw us approaching the summit just in time for lunch and the cloud clearing to give us nice views of the hills to the West and Lomond to the South.
We decided to carry on to Beinn a Chroin seen as there was still plenty day left and I was glad we chose to as it's a fine hill. 
There is a nice scrambly section on the approach to Beinn a Chroin from Caisteal where you can make it as easy or hard as you like, with us choosing to head up a ramp with a couple of grade I sections.  I couldn't be bothered getting my axe out but it was such a short section and I had crampons on, and decided a slip wouldn't take me anywhere dodgy so just used hand and poles.
There were a few false summits ahead, which was frustrating as I'd stop at a cairn thinking I was there, only for D to say the top was further on.
The tops were even more scoured here and it was amazing seeing the sculptures and dunes made out of the wind blasted snow.  Much of the wind blasted stuff was rock hard neve and I'm sure that N facing cliffs around these parts would have bomber turf just now.  The scramble up also had little sections of hanging ice.
We chose to come down the N facing spur, changing our mind half way down and dropping into Coire Earb instead as we had spotted what we thought to be a path down there.
Ugh, it was horrible!  The snow wasn't as deep as our previous trips out but my knee was giving me a good bit of grief and I tried to stick to patches where the tufts of grass were poking through so as not to break through and wrench the knee.
Finally we were down and
'Aaaaaaah,' I thought, 'not long till we're back to the van.'
I could see the woods and road below but it seemed to take forever and a day to get down there!  There were a good few streams to jump or cross and even though we found a trail, the going still wasn't the easiest.
We came across a few tents surrounded by a marvellous igloo made out of snow bricks and complete with arched doorway.  All it was lacking was a roof (but the tents would suffice for that)
There had been a Scouts van in the carpark so we assumed the tents were theirs.  Looked like a good spot to camp and nice to see them out there.