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.