Sunday, 25 April 2010

ANGEL'S RIDGE - 24th April '10

I'd been wondering for days what to do at the weekend, whether to go for a long, scrambly day or to head away cragging for the weekend.
I fancied a day in the mountains however, but the conditions didn't really seem great for mountain routes and I'm short on keen partners for the mountains, so I decided on going for Angel's Ridge in the Cairngorms as it's a route I'd always fancied.
I wasn't entirely sure whether it would be in winter garb or summer garb but having been told a foot of new snow had fallen on Cairngorm, it convinced me that crampons and axe might be best, thinking the route might be in Alpinesque condition.
D wasn't sure he wanted to go when he realised I only intended to go for a day trip, I forget that other folk arn't as keen as I am to travel and walk miles for an objective and to explore new areas.  D decided to come along in the end and we were up at 5am and setting off from Derry Lodge near 8.30am.  D was off in a shot on the bike and I was lagging as usual, but I managed to cycle all the way to the Lodge without stopping to push, which is an improvement on last time.  Once we were at the point where you cross the Luibeg Burn, we decided to take the quicker option and ford the river rather than the long option of the bridge.  I mistook how fast the river was flowing and it pushed against my foot as I took a step, knocking me off balance and splash! into the river!  Foot soaked and leg soaked from foot to hip!  Och well, if the forecast sun came out then it would dry off.  As it was, it drizzled and rained all the way from the carpark until the point where the path meets with the Lairig Ghru. 
D wasn't enjoying the walk in at all and looked pretty demotivated.  I asked if he wanted to wait for me at Corrour but he said he would continue.  I was going well though.  My hill fitness felt good, my legs fast and my lungs open.  It was all pretty much flat ground though, so the going was really easy and I was as happy as larry to be out and about in the hills.  We decided to cut off the Lairg Ghru at the point where the Allt na Lairig Ghru and the Allt a Gharbh choire join to become the River Dee.  It meant we had to cross 2 rivers but we reckoned the crossing would be easier there, than crossing the Dee.  We managed across the Ghru just fine and the Gharbh was just a dry stream bed surprisingly so that was fine too.  Then it was a long slog off path, up to the Garbh Choire 'bothy'
We were on the hunt out for the Lochan Uaine and upon seeing a bowl shape to the west of the bothy I was really puzzled as the map showed the lochan being pretty much due south of the bothy.  It took a moment, but D realised that the lochan was actually really high up and consulting the map, he was correct.
Then it was time to figure out the best way up there.  We had the choice of following steep rubble and rocky steps to the right of the waterfall falling from the lochan, or heading up either further right, up snowy ramps broken by rocky bluffs.  We decided on the later option as I wasn't keen on ascending steep boulder fields and I reckoned the rocky bluffs were steeper than they looked.  Whereas if the snow was good enough, we could just romp up.
As it was, the snow wasn't that great at all.  There was avalanche debris in many places, lots of fracture lines and really iffy looking sections.  On occasion, I had to cross first, getting D to watch my back, lest I go for a ride.  I felt extremely naked without my helmet and decided that I would always carry a helmet in winter regardless of how easy the scramble I was doing.  I decided to cross a patch of loose stone to reach a snow ramp and that bit was precarious but safe from the dodgy snow.  Once on the snow ramp it was a case of threading up between rocky bits where the snow would be more anchored to the slope.  Some places were less rocky and at one point D set off a small avalanche behind him, which was a bit freaky!  We got to an impasse where the only option was to traverse rightwards for a few steps to a rocky patch, but crossing above a section of recently avalanched ground.  The fracture line was really deep and the snow above didn't look stable at all.  I perched on a rock, looking at it, unable to decide whether to cross or to take the other option of going directly upwards, up an open snow field.  The snow field was only around 20 metres long, but if that went, it would spell trouble, just as much trouble as the snow on the other choice going.  It was only the 1st 5m that was steep enough to pose a problem but I couldn't decide whether traversing a few steps was better than exposing myself for 5 metres.
A discussion followed and in the end we both decided that neither of us were happy to traverse those few steps but D was happy to try going upwards.  I asked him to go up as far as the 1st rocky section on the skyline and I'd watch him.  Then he could watch me coming up.  As it was, the snow was a bit soft to start off with and I could feel it slide under my feet a little, but once we were higher, the snow seemed more bonded and better consolidated.  Don't think I've flew up grade I snow plod ground as fast before!
Good timing, the mist had cleared from the tops and there was our ridge.  The 1st section is just a walk really, with little steps in places that you can make as interesting as you like.  There was so much snow however, that any little steps were pretty much banked out.  Up above we could see a wee steepening at the top.  From the distance it looked like a bit of a snowslope at the very top, topped off with a cornice.  But that was an illusion, there was a small snow slope, broken by a rocky step, but there was no cornice thankfully!
It wasn't long before we were at the steepening.  There was one rocky step that you could go around, but I decided to go up it instead for interest and that got the adrenaline going a bit as it was a bit on the slabby side.  As we neared the top, the ground got more and more exposed.  There was a section where D let me go first and I just trusted myself to the snow, pretty hairy but it worked!  There was evidence of avalanches on either side of the steepening and I was happy to stay off the snow as much as possible.   The last moves at the top though, the step was enough to worry me a little.  I moved up, didn't like the move or the snow condition.  I had to trust my axe in that soft snow and that the snow would bear my weight.
At exactly that point, we heard a loud rumble like thunder.  It was a chilling noise that got my heckles right up and looking across at Garbh Choire Mor, we could see a small avalanche slowly slide downwards.  It seemed to move slowly, hit a point where all hell broke loose, and the whole lot careened down the cliff edge, gathering speed and mass.  WHOAH!!!  I'd always wanted to witness an avalanche and my wish had just been realised.  That was mental to see!  I really didn't like the noise, it was really quite spooky, reminiscant of the time that Andy was trundling rock on Beinn Eighe, cleaning a route for us. 
Back to the route though.  I moved back downwards and tried shuffling under an overhanging bit of rock, but that felt really precarious.  I moved back to my original position, cleared some snow away from a rocky bit to make a good ledge for my foot, cleared snow away from above so I could get a good axe placement, always on the back of my mind that I was knocking snow down onto the snowy slope that I was precariously stood on.  Stepped up some more, grabbed a rounded rock, got my foot on my unburried ledge, sank in my axe, and moved up, praying that the snow would hold my weight.  It did, woohoo, what a rush!  A few more plunges of my axe and kick a few more steps and I'm there.  Think I exclaimed a few more woo's and got my breathe back!  D had decided that he didn't like the look of my way at all, and went round the other side of the bulge.
That was it done, a route and a munro in the bag.  Then it was off to Cairn Toul.  I seemed to tire going up and by the time I was on the summit, I was feeling really quite dizzy.  I had a drink and something to eat and D donated his sandwich of which I ate half.  I then put another layer on to block out the wind.  That didn't seem to help though and heading up Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir, my legs just went all wonky.  I could barely lift them off the ground.  It reminded me of the time when my lower spinal nerve root was being compressed and I had to really think about how to walk as I seemed to lose the automatic funtion of walking.  I had to really concentrate on walking, moving one foot ahead of the other, and my legs seem to respond with a slight shuffling and upward motion.  It was really quite worrying and unbeknown to me, D was worrying too that he was going to have to carry me off the hill.
We decided under the circumstances that going up Devil's Peak wasn't a great idea and we should just get down to the bothy so that I could rest.  Once on the way down though, my legs seemed to recover and I'm not sure in the slightest whether it was anything to do with my myelopathy or whether my legs were just tired from all the walking, adrenaline and lack of food.  We were down at the bothy in no time and had a stop and another bite to eat.  It was hard to get up and carry on once we'd sat for a while but once on the path I just put my head down and kept on going.  D gave me the keys to the van and the bike padlocks as I was moving faster again, all leg weakness passed. 
After crossing over the Luibeg, the path back to the bikes seemed to go on forever and ever and so sure was I that every corner I turned would bring Derry Lodge into view, only to be disappointed.  Into view it did come eventually though and by that point I was slowing enough and D moving faster, that he'd caught up with me.  He shot off on the bike and I didn't get a chance to make him a coffee and have it waiting for him back at the van, but it was the thought that counted.

Saturday, 17 April 2010


RB, D and I have been enjoying the last of the Easter holidays in the sunshine.  We took a trip over Loch Lomond way to check out potential wedding venues, followed by a walk up the Cobbler.  Neither D or RB had been up the Cobbler before so we went for a walk into the corrie, past the South Ridge, up to the Centre peak, then descending by the North peak.
It was another gorgeous sunny day on the hill and after the horrible slog through the Ardgarten forest it was nice to be in the open with the views of Ben Arthur above.  The Cobbler really is a gorgeous wee hill and someday I must climb on it.  I've always been put off by the fact that the rock is schist and I'm wary about having enough gear.  Sure if I just did the classic V.Diff or Severe then any lack of gear shouldn't be too off putting though.
I pointed out the S.Ridge to D and RB, that I'd meant to climb with James, Kirstin and Mikkel several years ago, which we bailed from due to wet and slippery rock.  It looked like a doddle in the sunny, dry conditions and even the downclimb at the top of the South Peak didn't look too bad.  Though I'd probably want a rope as there is a lot of grassy sections which would be dire and slippery!
Before long we were at the top of the hill, with just the short moderate scramble up to the top of the Centre Peak.  You have to crawl through a hole, walk along a narrow and exposed ledge, scramble up a slab then then pull up over a bulge on massive jugs and up onto the pinnacle.
The narrow ledge was much wider than I remember it being and the downclimb off the top just as hairy, blindly trying to find a foot placement.
We then sat enjoying the sun, and RB and D went back up the pinnacle whilst I took some pics.  Then it was a quick dash back down via the North Peak path, looking out for the entrance to Cobbler Cave route, a V.Diff pot holing route which I must do this year!  We then went for tea at the hotel in Crianlarich, sat beside a stuffed fox which was a tad disconcerting.

On Friday Jonathon, RB and I went out for our first rock climbing session of the season.  The original plan was to head to Rosyth Quarry and do a few easy routes each, followed by a trip to Limekilns to lead some VS's and lead/toprope some harder stuff.  Well, of course I'd forgotten just how time consuming trad climbing is, so we only managed 7 routes at Rosyth and never made it to Limekilns.  I picked Jon up at 10am and we arrived at Rosyth around 11ish.
RB led first, doing a V.Diff called The Sickle, which was my very first trad lead back in 2004.  I soloed up the moderate next door which is often used as the descent route to check out her anchor set up.  Ropework was time consuming, with it being our first time out.  Another team were using the stakes, so we just used a big tree further back.  RB got her belay plate muddled several times, and this was after borrowing mine, having dropped her own down the cliff face!  First trip out of the year, full of faff and bumbledom :oD
Jon seconded RB and then went on to lead the Severe called Drizzle, which both RB and I seconded. 
I wanted something easy for my 1st lead and something I hadn't done before.  There was only one Severe left that I hadn't done, so I went for a V.Diff called Andy's Route, which I found a bit minging!  A bit awkward and off balance and with a start that felt hard for V.Diff and took a bit of figuring.  Both RB and Jon seconded and by the time we'd done a route each it was well past lunch time so we stopped for a sarnie.
A couple of guys were trying the Severe called CND.  The second couldn't manage to complete the route and the leader was hesitant about abb'ing down for gear, so I offered to second the route for them to clean the gear.  And that would then free the route for RB to lead as she had her eye on it.
RB flew up with no problem whatsoever and then Jon had a wander about, not sure what he wanted to do.  He had his eye on Heathy, but there was folk already on it, so he decided on Grenville instead.  It's a VS I'd wanted to onsight, but I wasn't really that bothered.  Jon flew up with ease and RB seconded no problem.  I had a bit of a pause at the crux, and had to climb up a couple of times to figure it, finding a fingery undercut hold that I could use to get some height.  I enjoyed the route, though it was a bit of a one/two move wonder.
I wasn't sure what I wanted to do next, but nothing testing as my guts were playing up something awful.  I had to force myself to climb anything at all as I didn't want to sack the day having only led one route.  I just ended up doing another V.Diff called Jack's Route.  My poor old body felt really stiff and awkward and I had a bit of trouble getting my leg up high enough onto a hold at one point, requiring a bit of grunting!
I can see I'm going to have to work a bit before I'm back to climbing and leading VS with ease. 
RB didn't see anything else she fancied leading, so Jon had a go on the HVS called The Waullie.  He totally cruised it!  I can see Jon breaking into the E grades this summer, no problem, he's got a real natural talent there.  RB seconded the route with no problems, just a little shaky on figuring the crux.  But she managed it no problem whatsoever.  My guts and body had had enough for the day and by the time we were back at the car it was around 6pm.
A successful day out for both RB and Jon.  I didn't feel too great, but then it always takes me a few sessions out on rock to get back into the swing of things again.

Monday, 12 April 2010

SUNNY GLEN SHIEL - 10th/11th April 2010

I have been hankering after doing the Forcan Ridge for quite some time now, oooh around 5years.  I got as far as half way up to the Bealach na Craoibhe at that time, for a winter ascent, only for it to uttery lash it down with rain.  We turned back that day, preferring to keep it for clear weather to enjoy the positions and situation.
Finally managed a traverse this weekend in the most superb weather ever.  I deliberated on whether I should take a rope or not, memories of my fall on the Aonach Eagach several years ago on my mind.  The Forcan has a steep downclimb of Moderate standard and it was this section that was concerning me.  I decided in the end not to bother with the rope.  I reckoned that the ridge wouldn't be in winter nick, I had more experience of downclimbing since the Aonach Eagach incident and I needed practise of scrambling without a rope for a trip to the Alps this summer.
D and I went up to Shiel in the van on Friday evening and stayed over.  We set off at around 9am, the first on the hill and upon reaching the Bealach I was blown away by how the view of the Forcan just opens out, in it's almost Alpine splendour that day.  It doesn't take long at all to reach the start of the scrambling and it was poles away and hands out time.  The scrambling starts off really easily, more like scampering upwards than scrambling.  There is a steeper, awkward section above and then the ridge narrows out weaving around and over blocks, narrow paths between blocks and a couple of sections where you have to hold on to the ridge edge to use as a handrail.  The footholds are massive at these points and it's really easy and nice to be moving so freely. 
Here and there, we need to watch our step as there are patches of solid neve in places and soft, slippery snow in others.  It's not long before we reach the point of the downclimb and I've been feeling more and more nervous of the prospect.  Conditions are very similar to my day on the Aonach Eagach, though not wet like that was.  I'm praying that there won't be patches of ice or snow to make the going more difficult.  My prayers are answered and the wall is devoid of snow and is completely dry.  D goes down first and once he's half way down I tentatively start lowering myself down facing inwards.  My heart rate goes up some and I tell myself that I've downclimbed things far, far harder than this when I've been attached to a rope with no problems whatsover, so I can downclimb moderate without any hassle.
I get to a slabby bit and just can't see where to put my foot at all!  There is a big ledge but it's miles away and I'm finding it very hard to judge whether my foot can reach it or not.  It does, but only just!  And I'm left with my other foot up near my chest and I have to lean right out from the rock face to remove it from its stuck position.  The next problem is a wee chimney/groove near the bottom where again I'm having trouble reaching down with my feet.  I manage to swing my foot across onto another block though and another move or two and I'm down. I did it, hurrah!  We move up to a spot where we can stop and have a bite to eat and D moved back to the downclimb so I could take some photos.  We realised that it was much easier to go down the right hand side of the wall when you're looking down from the top, rather than the left side which is more slabby and less blocky.  Not sure I'd have liked to downclimb that wall in winter, going down a gully and avoiding it, or abseiling down would seem a better option to me.
The rest of the ridge is straight forward enough and there is just a snowy crest to cross where we put our crampons on just incase.  They wern't necessary in the end as the snow was pretty soft but it was nice to have them on and just move up the final crest without having to concentrate too fully.  The views from the top were stunning!  You could see South to the Ben, west to the Knoydart Peninsula and Skye and North up to Torridon.  Beautiful! 
Crampons off, we zoomed down the soft snow and down to Lochan Bealach Coire Mhalagain and then it was a steep and upward slog up to the col between Faogoch and Sgurr na Sgine.  The walk up to the summit of Sgurr na Sgine was really pleasant and we briefly discussed whether going back to Faogoch or descending via the NE spur of Sgine.  Going back seemed the best option, the NE spur was do-able but seep and requiring concentration.  As it was, the descent off Faogoch was pretty steep too and my knee was aching by this time.  At one point it locked completely, sending a jarring pain into my joint and that was it in pain for the rest of the descent, which made things slow and tiresome, so relentless was it.  A couple of hours later we were sitting in the Claunie Inn having vegi haggis and fish and chips.

Sunday dawned fine and bright again and having discussed plans the previous evening, we had decided on bagging the Corbett Am Bathach, followed by the munro Ciste Dhubh.  If we felt energetic enough we would add on the munro Aonach Meadhoin too.  Jeeze it was hot, hot, hot!  I knew the forecast had been for fine weather but I thought it had said around 6 degrees at 900m.  It was much hotter than that!  I was struggling, having only packed my Powerstretch tights which have a fleecy inner and my black fleece.  I could have really done with shorts and a vest top, something to cover my head and a pair of sunglasses.  It didn't take long for D to start ploughing ahead of me, so oppressive was I finding the heat and sun.  I contemplated taking my top off for quite some time.  Hmmm.  Should I or shouldn't I?  There was nobody about bar a couple who started up the Corbett behind us, but showed no sign of catching up.  It was always possible that we'd bump into folk at the top, or up on the munro ahead.  I got so hot though, that it got to the point where I simply didn't care, the top was coming off!  It felt a bit weird walking with rolled up fleecy tights and a bra on, not the best look in the world, but phew it felt so much better!
D commented that as soon as I took my top off, I sped up instantly.  He was right, I move so much better when I'm cool and not too hot.  After descending Am Bathach, I shot up towards to the top of Ciste Dhubh, my legs feeling good and strong, my hill fitness coming back at last!  Again, it was gorgeous up there and we sat for quite some time, enjoying the views and the peace and sunshine.  I had to take some painkillers though as I could feel a migraine coming on, too much sun on my head and in my eyes!  Moving again, after sitting so long was a bit of a struggle and I could feel my legs seizing up a bit.  My quad muscle on my good leg was pretty sore, probably from over compensating for my painful knee from yesterday!  Ignore the pain, try to keep my leg relaxed and try to move it normally and the pain settles and becomes easy to forget.
Back to the Bealach Choinich and the slog up to Aonach Meadhoin is hard, hard work!  I think we are both feeling it in the legs, and weary from the heat.  Up near the top of Sgurr an Fhuarail we bump into a guy coming down and I feel a bit sheepish at my state of undress, but quickly shrug it off and ask about the condition of the snow above.  Soft he said, but narrow enough to need concentration.
I ponder whether to put crampons on up to the summit of Meadhoin but we decide against it.  They're not needed right enough, but the concentration is.  It's not far though and before long we're at the top of the munro.  We don't hang about for long however.  That's 3pm, still got a long way back down and a long drive back home.  Back to the summit of Sgurr an Fhuarail, down to a col, up to another top and then we drop down the SE spur.  It's a slog!  We can see the Inn all the way down and damned if it ever gets any closer!  Of course it does though and we're finally there, followed by a walk along the road for about a mile or so back to the van.  A short drive down to the view point near Invergarry to stop to cook and give D some shut eye before the long haul home.
It's been an utterly fab weekend though.  One of those special ones that you'll always remember and that make you feel so glad to be alive and so lucky to live in such a stunning country.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

LOCHNAGAR - 8/04/10

I think this was my last day to try and get out winter climbing and I'd been in touch with Rob the previous week about getting out today.  We decided on an early start and meeting up at the Loch Muick carpark to climb on Lochnagar.  I'd seen a photo of the cliffs on the SAIS website and it looked to me that with freezing levels hovering at the 1000m mark then the turf might still be frozen on Central Buttress.  It was hard to tell from the photo how white/black Central Buttress was as the pic of that area was obscured by trees, but I thought that Pinnacle Gully 1 might go if the buttresses were too black and both were routes I'd like to do.
I met up with Rob at 7.30am, half an hour later than planned as I'd stupidly set my alarm for 5.50 am instead of 4.50am!  And poor Rob hadn't realised that Lochnagar was only an hours drive from Aberdeen, as he'd normally come from Edinburgh area, and had been waiting since 6.30am!
Driving along towards Ballater, I could see that the cliffs looked pretty black looking so I thought it more likely that we'd be climbing a gully.  The walk in was easy going and it seemed to take hardly any time at all to reach the Col.  We could see straight away that Central Buttress was a no go, and that every other buttress was completely stripped of snow, bar spots of translucent ice stuck to the rock as if by magic!  From the Col, it looked like even Pinnacle Gully 1 looked in dubious condition.  The route starts up a rib/groove/ramp and that was pretty much devoid of snow, bar a few patches and would have to be climbed on rock and bare turf.  We thought it might just go if the turf was frozen enough and lead us into the gully proper above which would surely have snow in it.
Passing by Douglas Gibson Gully we could see that had a large and steep rock step at the very top.  Parallel A Gully was falling down as we passed by, with streams and waterfalls of ice raining down the gully, looked quite horrific and didn't bode well for our route!  Raeburns Gully was the leanest I'd ever seen it and looked impossible at grade II.  What thin ice was left would peel away for sure.  Pinnacle Gully was most definitely not in condition and ice was raining down the side walls of the Black Spout Pinnacle itself.  The rock here was so bare that given a couple of days drying time, it would be inviting enough to go rock climbing on.
We decided to go up Black Spout Gully Left Branch and see if the gully Crumbling Cranny was in nick.  On peering into the left branch and seeing how bare the walls were on the left side, and the ice still raining down the side walls, we decided against it, and just slogged up the main branch of Black Spout itself.  The ice step in the left branch was fully banked out and non existant and I'd been up that branch anyway, but never the main branch.
The snow ran out near the top, bar a wee thin cruddy line which looked ready to collapse.  We took the mixed option on the right and over rock and turfy steps and up to the right side of the cornice.  It was easier to drop the axes and use hands for the rock step.  Then it was into the gusty wind and showers of graupel blasting my face. Up to the summit to shelter from the wind and pack our harnesses which we'd put on where the first aid box used to be (where has that gone?) in the vain hope of climbing.  We'd thought to traverse round to Dubh Loch as the day was yet early but since it was so windy, showery and the clag was down we decided to head straight down the NE spur instead, contour around the bottom of the Pap and back to the path.  This seemed to take forever as it involved boulders and soft snow fields where even laid back Rob gave a couple of growls of frustration at falling into hole after hole.
Home now with my knee and back sore, but eagerly looking forward to a weekend of good weather out in the hills.

Sunday, 4 April 2010


Andy was working this weekend and I was keen to go out and climb an established route, particularly keen to do either Central Buttress on Lochnagar or Pinnacle Gully 1.  That wasn't to be though as I couldn't find a partner for the East coast, bar a timewaster.
I did manage to get in touch with a guy called Eugine that I'd met a couple of times via other folk, and who I'd meant to climb with before now, so that was nice to finally meet up for a route.
Euge was climbing on the Ben on Sunday so was keen to do something in the West.  A quick phone call to friend Jamie and we made the decision to give Glencoe a miss and head up to the West face of Aonach Mor, meeting at the car park at 9am.
Driving up in the morning, it rained pretty much the whole of the way up the A9 and across Laggan and I was highly dubious, it seemed so mild.  Another wash out of a day?  However, the rain had pretty much stopped by the time I arrived at the carpark and by the time Euge arrived and we were organised, it was around 10am and had cleared up nicely.  We were now faced with the problem that it was late in the day, would we make the last gondola back down the hill, or have to do the 'walk of shame?'  The woman at the ticket office said the last ride down was at 5.30pm whereas the board at the top station said 5pm.
Dropping down from the Col at Meal Beag there was a bit of a cornice which was completely unexpected!  Someone had dug a trench through however, so we just downclimbed that.  It was only a wee step or two but whoever had dug it must have had longer legs than me.  I lowered myself onto the first foothold fine, but the 2nd foothold was really far down and that left my other leg really high up and wedged in.  So wedged in that I couldn't remove it!  I was stuck!  I had to step back up again and get Euge to come up and point up some intermediate foot holds.  I couldn't kick in as it was too bulgy but eventually I made it.  Bit mental for what should have been a simple wee downstep!
The walk in to the West face seemed to take hardly any time at all and before long we were faced with the decision as to which route was which in the swirling mist.  The ribs here are notoriously hard to pick out in anything but clear weather but as we made our way up to where we knew the routes to be, opposite to the NE ridge of Carn Dearg Meadhonach, and sat up in a little bay, we determined the line of Western Rib, which was the route we wanted.  We'd both done Golden Oldie previously and Western Rib was meant to be slightly harder and a *** route.  We soloed up the easy grade I flanks of the route right up to the start of the first steepening.  There was a wee ice bit on the flanks which Euge had a play on, but I chose to go up a turfy groove to the side of it thanks.  There was still a bit of ice about in the gullys to the left of the ribs which was quite surprising.  What it's quality was like I can't attest to however.
Euge and I roped up at the steepening, Euge taking the gear first and setting off with about 15m or rope between us.  We seemed to move quite fast as a pair which was ideal and there were plenty of blocks and cracks to keep 2 or 3 bits of gear between us.  The first steps were fun, with a few grade III moves but nothing too taxing and there was a really funky wee chimney near the top of the step.  I thought it looked hard and bulgy but right at the top of the snowy groove inside the chimney was a big foothold, then another big foothold on the sidewall, followed by loads of glorious frozen turf over the bulge.  Nice!  Euge had run out of gear so it was my turn to go in front.  The route above was easy going, snowy ramps and blocks took me to more easy ground but I'd run out of slings.  I asked Euge if he wanted to solo but we decided to keep the rope on and just weave it round blocks, either of us jumping off the other side of the ridge if the other were to fall.
I was really glad I'd kept the rope on however, as the easy ground took us to a narrowing of the rib.  It was so narrow that in 3 seperate places I had to sit on a snowy arete, leg dangling either side and bum shuffle along au cheval.  That was hard work!  In other places I had to decide which side of the sharp snow looked more inviting to side step across and at other places I had to perch myself across and over narrow blocks.  At one point I was faced with a downclimb.  Eeek!  I hate downclimbing!  It was much easier than it looked thankfully.  There was a small block on the top and I flung my extendable quickdraw around that.  Then I cleared snow away down below and unburried a nice ledge for a foot.  I dropped an axe and used the upper block as a hand hold and lowered myself down onto the small ledge.  There was a gap at the bottom of the downclimb that was filled with snow.  As I cleared that snow away, there was nothing but more snow beneath.  Hmmmm.  If I stood onto this snow, was it going to collapse underneath me and send me plummiting down into the gully below.  Well, not quite as I had that sling as gear above me.  I gently lowered myself onto the snow and kicked in my foot, solid, phew!  I then traversed around a couple of blocks and onto another snow arete.  I could climb this one by a foot either side but dug into the snow and axes plunged in either side.
By this point I was boiling!  There wasn't a breath of wind and I had my big hard shell jacket on and my thermals!  Total overkill.  I hadn't drank or eaten anything since we geared up and my belly was grumbling furiously and I was really dehydrated.  I kept rubbing snow into my face to cool down and shoving a hard block of it into my mouth to sook on.  The ground got easier again near to the top and I felt twinges in my knee, rats!  My neck had been really sore earlier on, with the bandolier of gear really digging in and causing horrible muscle spasms.  Thankfully, having to concentrate on those narrowings so much made me forget about the pain.  But coming to the easier ground brought it all back.  I was knackered!  I was moving faster than Euge, and kept feeling the rope come tight which didn't help, though did give me an excuse to stop and have a breather.  At the top was a snowslope but it was so misty and there was so much snow, that I couldn't see a thing.  It was disconcerting not knowing where I was going and I kept trying unsuccessfully to peer into the mist to see if I could see the top.  It was a case of take a few steps and stop for a breather and then the ground started to level out and become more wind scoured, I was nearing the top.  Poor Euge was moving much as I was and shouted up a few times, 'were we near the top yet?'
'Nearly there!' I shouted.
4 o'clock.  Could we make the gondola?  We were both starving!  Stop and eat and miss ride down?  Or tank it and eat once there.  We decided on the tank it option, both of us grabbing a sugar hit as we packed away our gear.  There was no tanking it however as it was just far, far too misty.  I took a bearing due North that should keep us away from cliffs on either side of us.  Luckily, Euge's eyesight is much better than mine and he was able to discern the top of the West face so we were able to use that as a handrail to keep us away from the cornices and cliffs of the East side.  Before long we could see the ski tows peering out of the mist and it was compass away, head down and try for the gondola.  If the last ride was down at 5 then we might just make it, if it was 5.30 then we were laughing.
It was 5.30 and we were down for 5, so were able to relax for a while, have something to eat and get our crampons off.  I was pretty chuffed with msyelf.  Last time I'd come to the West face I'd gotten the early climber's gondola up at 8am, had done an easier route than today and had still missed the last ride down.  Today I'd started 2hrs later, done a harder route and had gotten down with half an hour to spare.  Just shows how a couple of years can make you move faster and with much more confidence.

On the Sunday, D and I had a leisurly start to the day so I could have a nice lie in after yesterdays hard work and also let the showers pass through and clear up.  We left home around 2ish and drove up to Corgarff to bag the Corbett, Carn Ealasaid.  There was more snow left than I thought there would be but no need for crampons as it was all soft, Spring snow.  We took turns breaking trail up the SE spur and onto it's broad top which seemed to go on forever.  Took around 1hr and 15mins and it was time to decide whether to carry on over Beinn a' Chruinnich (or Ben Cornflake) and do a horseshoe, or just head back the way we came and down to the Allargue Inn for something to eat.  It was very tempting to go back down, but I'm thinking about a planned trip to the Alps in July and know that I need to get a bit fitter so we decided to carry on.  The pull up to the top was further than it looked and we cheekily cut a corner and missed out the top, contouring round to the hills SE side instead.  Then it was a case of following the tops of the Lecht ski tows down onto Carn Mhic an Toisich and down the S spur to Carn Meadhonach.  I remembered seeing a bit of a cornice in this area on the way up and wasn't sure if we'd come across it or not.  Come across it we did!  D was infront at this point and stopped at what seemed a dead end in the path.  I carried on for a bit, and the snow seemed to just ripple in waves and come to an abrupt stop before a steep edge.  Hmmm, no this didn't look good.  I recalled seeing a path going leftwards but we decided to go rightwards instead and down a heathery slope towards the Burn of Loinherry.  That was a good call as it was much quicker than following the path.  We then skirted around the corniced area.  Looking back, the cornice was pretty big and you certainly wouldn't have wanted to walk over the edge of that one!
It was just a case of following the burn back to Loinherry, then the track back to the van.  There was supposed to be a Ford at the point where 2 parts of the river met, but there was nothing but a wooden pole across the river and the landowner had put an animal trap upon the pole.  I'm not sure if that's actually legal for them to do so?  There was a narrowing just beside the wooden log and we made it across there.  Just as I was about to get across however, I dropped one of my walking poles.  It seemed to stick in the water momentarily and I tried to fish it out with my other pole but that only served to dislodge it from the river bed and off it flowed down the river.  Rats!  We crossed and then peered into the river as we walked to see if we could see it.  I spotted it eventually, stuck in a wee bay on the opposite bank.  I didn't fancy crossing the river at that point to get it as it seemed to deep and wide but I did spot another point downstream which looked narrower.  I walked down, dumped my sack, looked back and there was D on the opposite side of the river with my pole.  In his moment of chivalry he'd gotten his feet sodden and as I crossed the river at the narrower point I couldn't help but mention that I'd crossed with dry feet which I don't think he appreciated too much, hehe!
That was the excitement over for the day and it was a straightforward, albeit slushy walk back to the van and to the Inn, for some food.