Sunday, 13 November 2011

Padaidh the Deerhound - 13th November

Nothing much to report on the blog front.  D and I did go and bag my last Crianlarich hill which was nice.  I've lost about 10Ib in weight and boy it makes a difference in dragging myself up a hill!  Not been out hillwalking for a good couple of months now and it showed in my stamina levels as I felt quite tired after just 6hrs!  That's half of what would normally tire me!  I'm eager for winter but half dreading it as I'm so unfit.

Not been doing any hill running whatsoever, in fact, I've not been doing much of any running at the moment.  I'm up at 6am every morning for the drive up to Aberdeen for 9am starts at Uni and I've so much coursework work at the moment that I'm knackered by the time I get home and just don't feel motivated to run.  However, D and I are now the proud owners of a Deerhound pup called Padaidh.

D was very reluctant to get a dog, but I feel that it would be good company for him during the day and although he always said he couldn't be bothered with the responsibility, I think it does him good.  And Padaidh is the most adorable pup in the world and is going to grow up into a big, gentle giant.  We had some initial hesitations about getting a Deerhound as a hill dog but I've been told by actual Deerhound breeders that people saying they can't get over fences is bollox and they'll easily clear 5 foot from a standstill.  These are Scottish dogs, bred for chasing deer!

Still, hillwalks are a long way off.  Pads is only 9 weeks old today and it will be some time before he can manage a full day on the hill.  However, I can't wait till he's had his second jabs and I can take him out for longer and longer walks and have him out for a run with me.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Ben Challum and Scottish Bouldering Championships - 19th Sept &24 th Sept

Went up to visit Mel and Ed in their new hoose in Kinlochleven, was good to be back up there, even if just for a night, forgotten how ace it is to have mountains on your doorstep!  Mel and I were supposed to go for a hillwalk on the Saturday, but I brought up 2 bottles of Sauvignon and seen as I've not drank so much in around 5 years, I had a horrible hangover, bleurg!  Still, we had a stroll up to Blackwater dam and that sweated it out.

Drove down to Dalrigh on Sat eve to meet D, with the intention of heading up my final Mamlorn hill, Ben Challum, plus a couple of the Corbetts the next day.  Well, decided that a late start was needed as I needed to catch up on my sleep (just can't handle booze like I used to!) and then decided that I really couldn't be arsed going up the Corbetts as well as Challum, so went for the lazy option of Challum only (although once on the hill it was tempting to go round them all in a circuit.)

Think we started around 10ish, by driving down to the old St Fillans ruin and then started the hill from there.  There wasn't a path so we just ploughed our way up the hill, meeting up with a path eventually after a bit of bog trotting and bracken wading!  Going up this way is quite grassy/knobbly but the ground soon evens out and then it's just up over a few false summits and finally up onto the top.  The way up was pretty unmemorable but we decided to take a short cut down which ended up on steep ground, wading across a river and me getting shocked on an electric fence!

We went down into the Coire nan Each which although wasn't massively steep, it was steep with that sort of grassy ground that your foot sinks into one minute and then doesn't sink into the next, with the grass long enough that you can't really see where you're putting your foot.  Exactly the sort of ground I hate, where I'm sure I'm going to go over my ankle at some point.  Finally it was less steep but I was beginning to think coming this way was daft as we had the river to cross and then had to go back up hill to meet up with path going down the Gleann a Chlachain.  D had veered off to the right, angling his way downwards but I decided to plough straight onwards as the section of uphill to meet the path was at it smallest here.

Unfortunately, I came to a section that was all fenced off due to some birch saplings.  There was a double fence, the first fence being about the height of my waist.  Hmmmm, that looks like an electric fence to me...........So, rather than just crawl under the first fence, and being a bit dim, I decided to test it to see if it was electric.  Gave it a quick tap with my hand, no shock, gave it another quick tap with my hand, no shock.  Okay, maybe it's not electric then.  Grabbed the wire with my hold hand and ZAP!  Oochy! It's not sore at all, just a shock that goes right up your arm to your shoulder, gives you a bit of a fright and a jolt more than anything.  Okay, so it *is* electric!  I crawl underneath and then clamber over the second fence, mindful not to fall back onto the first fence!

The ground through the saplings becoming increasingly long grassed and boggy and is slow going, no sight of D anywhere now and as I approach the river I can see there is no way of crossing.  Bloody knew it!  Oh yeah, 'it'll be fine to cross as it's so high up.'  Well, D found a crossing lower down where he was, but getting down to him would have meant traversing a steep section about the river or going back uphill towards the fence.  Screw that!  The river wasn't massively fast nor massively deep and my feet were wet in my holey trainers anyway from all the boggy ground.  So I just waded across, cursing as I went at agreeing to take this stupid short cut! Then of course, because I'd had to head downstream to try and find a place to cross, I was away from the shortest uphill section to the path and then had to plough up hill through the deep grass, saplings and bog and back up to the path.

Finally!  I did think about stopping for something to eat and D could just bloomin well wait, wondering where I was, but decided I better go catch up with him.  Found out, he'd just traversed around the fence, not needing to cross and had found an area to cross the river also.  And he said he'd heard me cursing on a couple of occasions.  Probably the time I got a shock off the fence and probably when I stepped into a boggy section that went above my trainer.  We were on the path though and it wasn't long to get back to the car, stopping at the graveyard by the Priory for a nosey.


Saturday the 24th saw Beks and I drive up to Transition Extreme, the wall in Aberdeen, for the Scottish Bouldering Championships.  Normally it's open to those who have come 1st-5th in the Scottish Youth Climbing Series, but I think it's an open competition to all now, atleast I think it is.

It was a great comp, and all the boulder problems were well thought out, although I think it was only really the last few problems which were really hard. Beks and her friend Kristy went round all the problems together, with Kristy beating RB by 2 points and Rachel coming in 1st place by 10 points.  Beks fell off on her 1st go on one problem where you had to use just one foot hold to get onto the wall, grab a ball shaped volume and then smear up the wall, mantling onto the ball then getting both feet on and standing on it, with no hand holds above.  Just don't think she smeared up enough the first time so was trying to mantle from too low down and not enough power, but she got it on the 2nd go, putting her 3 points behind.  She then managed to scrape back a few points by holding some bonus holds in control on the harder problems.

Problems 22-25 were much more challenging for the girls.  Both Beks and her friend got no 22 on the second go which involved some steep and balancy crimping and heel hooking. Problem 23 involved a steep and long stretch out to a massive sloper.  The hold above the sloper was the bonus hold but the problem was that they kept latching the sloper and cutting loose with their feet and then swinging off.  Beks finally got her feet really high so she wasn't as stretched out as much and this meant that she didn't ping off completely once latching the sloper.  She then managed to top out on her 4th go but this still only gave her 1 point, just the same as if she had only got the bonus hold and not topped out, which seemed a pretty daft way to work things.

Problem 24 involved lots of heel hooking on an arete, and using horrible steep, blocky holds and RB didn't manage to top this one, but she did get the point for the bonus hold.  Then the final problem was hideous and even the boys were having trouble topping out on this one.  There was a  pocket to start, then up to an long overhanging pinch.  You then had to heel hook the pocket and make a huge reach over a roof to an edge on top of a big hold.  It was a huge reach though and Beks finally sussed that she could use the edge around the side of the roof to slap against with her palm and thus enable her to work her feet a little higher and grab the sloping bottom edge of the big hold over the roof.  She then managed to hold this for long enough to get her other hand up and over onto the better top edge of the hold.  It was then a case of cutting loose and swinging a foot out to the left and then locking off and stretching up and slapping for a huge, horrendous sloper.  The sweet point was over the top of the big sloper and there was no way RB was getting up that high, she just didn't have the power for it.  But she did really well to get the bonus hold on her 5th go.

The top 4 went into isolation and were then given 4 minutes per route to onsight 2 boulder problems which were nails!  The first one started under a roof and crimped it's way under and over, then from the lip of the roof, you had to get a really high foot up onto the wall to propel you up to the next hold which was miles away and only one boy managed to top that route it was so hard!  You were allowed as many goes on the problem as you liked within the 4minutes and once they called 'time' you were allowed to complete your go if you had already started.  So timing was of the essence, imperative to give yourself a wee rest in between goes so as not to get too pumped.  Beks managed to get over the lip of the roof, held the holds in control but then fell off.

The second problem involved horrible slopers, including the previous one from problem 23.  You started on the side wall, moving diagonally across an overhang on slopers, making a huge move to a slug round a corner, then from the slug you were to go diagonally up on big, flat edges and up into another corner.  All the girls bar one and most of the boys only made it as far as touching the slug.  Beks was trying all sorts to get to it, involving some crafty heel hooks above her head!  Rachel managed to hold the slug briefly before falling off each time and only 2 boys got past the slug, with one nearly managing to top out.

So that was RB in 2nd place by just one point which was pretty impressive.  All the hard work she's put into bouldering recently has paid off.  Time to start getting more routes in for the BLCC's now!

Thursday, 8 September 2011


Duncs and I used the oppurtunity of RB being away at a school residentual trip, and the fine weather, to go out for a days hillwalking.  The plan had been for me to 'bag' my final Mamlorn hill, Ben Challum and do a wee horseshoe by going round the 2 nearest Corbetts also.  The alarm was set for 6am for a nice, early start but the whole plan went kinda pearshaped when I switched the alarm off through the night and decided that a nice lie in was a better plan.  D had been up through the night coughing and rather than wake me (he already had) he tried, quietly (and unsuccessfully) to head down to the spare room.  That was me awake and just sleeping in fits and starts through the night.  The bed became cold with just me, the room was too dark with just me (yes, I'm sure I've admitted to it before, but I'm scared of the dark!) and I was thinking that because D had not come back upstairs, then he must be feeling poorly and would appreciate a lie in.  So the alarm was switched off and although I had hoped to enjoy a leasurly lie in bed, D came up at 7.30am proclaiming that we'd missed our 6am start.  Oh well!

I snuggled under the covers again and promptly fell back asleep, determined for my glorious long lie!  I got it in the end, rising at the slovenly hour of 9.30am to be greeted by a faintly autumnal, glorious sunshine.  Not wanting to waste a day of sun, I suggested that we head out after lunch and go up the 2 Grahams I had left to do in Angus, Corwharn and Cat Law.  It had been my intention to do both of these Grahams seperately and keep up my tradition of running up the Grahams.  But I've having a lot of problems with my neck at the moment, that running is on the hold for just now.  My neck and subsequent nerve pain in my arms has been really behaving itself all summer but an awkward fall on the bouldering wall last week, followed by lugging a heavy sack up Eagle Ridge (and climbing for the first time in ages!), then a day at the gym doing weights, followed by some training on my 45 degree wall in the garage *and* 50 ice axe pull ups, has somewhat irritated my cervical spine again, so I'm suffering from muscle spasm, horrible shooting pains in my arm, burning shoulder pain and numbness.  Boy it's all so familiar, here we go again!   And I've tried to get out running but all the pounding is just not agreeable.  However, I did have a wee sneaky run on the hill today until my neck gave an almight spasm and said STOP!

So we started off at Balintore and walked up Corwharn first.  This starts along the really pretty Glen Quharity and then cuts off up Milldewan Hill and Cairn Corse before reaching the summit.  The sun was beaming and it was a vest top kind of day and I felt light and unburdened without a rucksack and just my running bumbag on with a jacket tied round my waist also.  Maybe secretly, I really wanted to run.  Even without the sack though, my neck and arm protested, I think my back just doesn't like going uphill when it's at it's sorest.

We went off path after this, down to the path to Glen Uig and I certaintly didn't feel like running here as it was just too heathery, interspersed with long grass, total ankle killing terrain!  It was the next section where the running started.  There's a really, really steep pull up to Tarapetmile with 200m gain in height, short and sharp!  Though it didn't feel short on my wee leggies that's for sure!  D commented that this would be a nice, wee section of hill to do hill reps on and I commented that it was probably far too steep for me, but then of course had to try it!  I think I managed just over 30 secs for my first stint, stopped for breather, with D still behind, then managed another couple of 20 second stints with longer breathers inbetween and D catching up.  One more 20 second stint and I had to stop and wait for D as I was slowly dying!  I managed to persuade D to have a go and I think he managed about 10 seconds before giving up.  I had another couple of 20 second stints but then had to go down to 10 seconds and by this point, my recovery intervals were so great that D was overtaking me.  Time to walk!  D wandered off in the wrong direction and this gave me the oppurtunity to give one final push at a run and beat him to the top.  That's when the mighty neck spasm from hell put pay to that!

It was all horrible and heathery again but a good path soon followed and I was sorely tempted to start running again, but I'd told D that I was just out to walk and besides, I wanted the company.  I did have a point when I was walking pretty fast, like a train D said, between Cormaud and Monthrey, but this section is only slightly uphill.  The pull up to Cat Law was crucifying though!  I'd decided not to take my poles with me, going for the light option and wanting to toughen my legs up a bit for winter!  But before long we were up and having a quick bite to eat.  A very quick bite to eat!  Rather than have my salad for lunch, I'd splurged out on having a sandwich, so I presumed that I'd not need to eat anything on the hill and thus hadn't taken any food.  Well, I was having sugar lows on and off all day and was having moments of horrible shakes, so thankfully D had brought some cereal bars which I munched on happily.  Fish finger sandwiches are not good hill food!

We took the South West spur off the hill, using the sun for navigation and picked up the path down to Balintore.  D had been up these hills before and had mentioned that when he was here last time, he had seen people working on Balintore Castle, to renovate it.  It's an old Victorian Castle that has lain in ruin until someone bought it, but we didn't know who.  I mentioned that I'd like to see it so we went for a nosey before heading back to the car.  Now, I'm not normally a fan of castles or stately homes but there is something moving about this castle, though what that is I'm just not sure.  But I felt pulled to see it and to wander around.  There were 'Danger' signs and I wasn't sure that I should be wandering around but we weren't actually going into the building just peering round the outside.  Though I did have a wee peak at the Northern side which looked like it had been worked on more, having glass windows.

So, I'm sat back at home now and one of the first things I did once on my pc was to google Balintore Castle to see what I could find out.  A guy called David Jones now owns the castle and is in the process of renovating it.  It's so nice that someone has done this as it seemed so sad to have that castle sitting there becoming more and more ruined.  The dude, David, has a blog about his ongoing story of the renovation and it's very interesting to follow.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Eagle Ridge - 4th Sept '11

Since coming back from our rather disastrous trip to the Alps, I've been absolutely gagging to get out rock climbing and becoming really grumpy after being let down by partners either not wanting to get out as it's too cold or becoming ill.  Not grumpy at my partners, just grumpy with the lack of climbing!  So after another bail at short notice, I put a post up on the Dundee climbing facebook page and managed to find a partner for the Sunday.

Where to go?  I was thinking that I'd be absolutely crapping myself having only gotten out trad climbing once this summer and only a couple of times the summer before.  I thought perhaps Ballater and I could lead the V.Diff and the Severe before jumping on Giant Flake Route to see if I could still lead a mild VS/HS.  Or perhaps Hawkcraig followed by Limekilns (the tide looked good for the former.)  However, my partner had bigger ambitions and suggested Eagle Ridge at Lochnagar.  Ooooooooh!  It hadn't even dawned on me to go and do a mountain route, so eager was I to get out simply cragging and to see if I still could lead anything without turning into a gibbering wreck!

We eagerly checked the forecast on Saturday and both agreed that it looked do-able, maybe a shower or two due in later in the day and the route might be a bit damp in places from the rain on Saturday.  But it was decided.  I threw my stuff into the van and drove down to Dundee to pick up Nikolay, the crazy Russian from Moscow.  I then drove us up to the Spittal carpark, I dossed in the van and Nik dossed in the visitor centre, which he said was warm and comfy enough.  The carpark was mobbed with cars which I found quite odd at after 11pm in the evening and I was hoping that there wasn't some sort of club meet on with loads of folk wanting to climb Eagle Ridge the next day.

We were up at 6am and off by 7am, with only one team ahead of us as they had cycled in on bikes.  Can't say I fancy cycling up that path as it's far too steep and rough for me!  And the 2 guys weren't too far ahead of us, just approaching the bottom of Douglas Gibson Gully as we were at the first aid box in the Coire.  It took 1.5hrs to walk up to the col, but a little slower up to the route, due to the boulders coming down into the coire, although the walk down is loads easier in summer than it is in winter!  We thought the 2 guys ahead of us were climbing something different to Eagle Ridge as they had started up a slab and corner further up the gully, a different start to Eagle Ridge I wondered and I was curious to consult the guide once I got home to see.  But they ended up bailing after a short while, as it was hard and they had actually thought they were on Eagle Ridge.  So that put us first on the route.

Nik led the first pitch and the climbing gets you right into the swing of things!  The initial groove is okay just a little rounded in places and with just a thoughtfull move or two and it wasn't too long before I was up and we were swapping the gear over so I could lead the 2nd pitch.  This started off really easily and then came to a steep groove, where the guide said to take the right rib.  The rib started off okay but culminated in a corner with a crack up the middle and a blank wall either side.  Hmmmm.  2 cams in should see me okay and now I have to figure it out.  I peer over to the right, but it's all minging and grassy that way, not right!  The only way is up the crack and the only way I can figure to do it is to layback.  There is an okay, rounded flake on the left for one hand and the crack for the other hand.  I try the move and walk my feet up but the crack needs a good  jam and then thins right out at the top.  I can see a good edge higher on the right for a handhold, but I'm scared to work my feet up higher incase they slip.  I reverse the move and come down.  And breathe.  And try again, and come back down, and breath and try again and come back down.  The guys behind us have caught up and are trying a different way, going directly up the groove itself.  Okay Sonya, get on with it and commit to the moves!  Grab the flake, grab the crack, work my feet up, hand jammed in crack, feet up higher onto the slightest of edges on the slab, other hand higher onto the rounded flake which feels horrible now, work feet up higher yet.  Stretch up, stretch up a little more, don't stretch too much or your feet will slip!  Got that edge, woop woop!  And I'm off again, following the rib which is again much easier.   The rope drag is getting pretty bad now though and I decide to stop at the bottom of the corner at the top of pitch two and belay from there.

I can hear that another team have started on the route and just as Nik appears, the leader of the second team is arriving.  We decide to let them past as they seem to be moving quicker than us and the leader carries on up the corner, stopping for a while at the top as he is climbing with big boots on and perhaps the top of the corner is a bit tricky.  We wait for quite a while for the leader to set up a belay higher up and bring up his second and then Nik sets off up the corner and then has to stop at the top and wait for the first lots leader to head off.  He manages to set up a belay and then I can climb the corner, which is very nice climbing and poses no problems at all.  But there's no room for me at the belay and I wait on a ledge below, tied off as we wait for the team above to move on, starting to regret letting them go on ahead of us.

The next pitch looks hard!  And I'm watching the leader above climb the first tower of the crest of the ridge, and then Nik later and nobody does it with any grace!  Some more steep moves above and everyone seems to be getting a high foot and belly flop over a big block higher up.  The team below us have now caught up and the first team are taking ages on wherever they are, so again Nik is having to wait to set up a belay.  Myself and the leader below were sat waiting for an hour, getting colder and colder and colder.  By the time I was able to set off I was seizing up a bit from the cold.  But it didn't take long to warm up as the next pitch was desperate!  This was where the fun began!

It started off up a short, dirty groove and up to the crest of the ridge, where you peer steeply down the other side.  The crest takes you to a steep tower where the first leader was finding it tough going.  I didn't find this bit too bad, very steep and committing and you had to trust your feet to a high step onto a sloping ledge but the hand holds were good once you found them.  The next bit was brilliant, a very steep wall with massive jugs and not reachy at all.  But the next section was horrendous!  Looking at pics, I think this was the section that was to lead into the sentry box.  Well, I just couldn't do this bit at all!  There was a big massive block barring the way and I tried tackling it from all sides and from all angles but I just couldn't get my hand over the top of it at all!  And there was nothing whatsoever below to use and nothing to use as a foot hold to reach higher either!  Stumped!  And the worst of it was, was that there was no gear placed up there and if I fell trying to jump for something over the block, then I'd take a nasty swing rightwards and crash into a wall on the right.  I was there for ages trying to figure it out, but in the end I decided to move down and to the right, following the rope which took me to an overhanging crack where I decided that I would either have to shunt the rope or be hauled up.  I detest being hauled with a passion so I went for the shunt option.  Wrapping my prussic round the rope, I realised that I could use the krab clipped into it as a handle and thus as a handhold so i wouldn't have to shunt or be hauled.  I explained what I was going to do and with a very tight rope indeed, I bridged out across the corner, jammed one hand into the crack and hauled with all my might onto my handle, shouting at Nik to pull and take in at the same time.  I then had to sit on the rope and repeat the process 2 or 3 times to surmount that overhang and by that point I was knackered and my heart was pumping with adrenaline!  Nik was laughing his head off at my panting sound effects!

Next there followed a really steep corner which you had to layback and I found this desperate too!  The rock felt greasy and just a bit damp and I was finding it hard for my feet not to go skiting!  There was a chockstone jammed in the crack and I eventually managed to grab it but then it was all rounded horribleness above and having to get high feet and rock over.  This brought you out into a whaleback with a small tower blocking the view of the ridge ahead.  Having found that last pitch so difficult, I gave up on leading anything else, so scared of finding another reachy section and getting into trouble and I was exhausted after the overhang and layback.  Nik led off round the tower and up the steep corner of the next pitch and onto the crux of the route.  The corner was lovely, this was my favourite bit of the whole route.  You were able to bridge out most of the way up and there were always small edges for your feet and good palming to be had.  This brought you up onto a sheer knife edge and the exposure once up there was crazy!  The knife edge arete ended at a steep wall.  There was an edge on the wall to the left and a small foot hold on the right.  Higher up on the right was a big, sloping edge and it was obvious that was the way to go.  However, once I had my feet on the lower holds, and using a big undercut hold, I found that I couldn't reach over to a crack and I just could 't get rightwards at all to get onto that ledge.  Stumped again!  I decided just to aid the damn thing and got out my prussik and krab.  Tying the prussic was really entertaining, teetering on top of a knife edge, leaned into the wall and no hands.  Got it tied and heaved across to the right and up onto the ledge.  A bit of scrabbling and grunting and trusting feet on nothing got me up and over.

I could see the team ahead on the plateau waving at us, they were quick to finish, obviously didn't have any problems and we did the right thing by letting them past in the end as although they were very slow to start with, they were faster overall.  We decided just to follow the winter finish as time was ticking on and we were getting eaten alive by midgies and I just couldn't face anymore reachyness and thuggery.  Even the winter finish isn't that easy and involves a few reachy moves.  It finishes up a steep slab, then an easy bit, then a massive reach up onto another slab which I ended up having to aid yet again!  And that was it, done and dusted.

I found the route really difficult for severe as expected.  I thought I might struggle with it, as I often do on the Cairngorm Granite.  It's not a very forgiving rock when you are only 5'2" and can't reach the holds as many times granite just doesn't have intermediate holds of any type.  And as well as my short ass stature, I have very limited flexibility so can't throw any funky moves and get my foot up to my ear!  It was a great day though and Nik was brilliant company and I think he found my antics most amusing!

Nearly 8 hours on the route all together, with just over an hour of that on sitting about waiting for belays, and then probably half an hour added for me faffing on the second pitch and having to aid several moves.  A lot longer than the 5-6 hours I was expecting it to take us!  The walk from the plateau back down to the col went quickly, but the walk from the col to where it joins the main path seemed to take forever, with the last being going quickly too though.  We were back at the van just as it was dark, sorted gear, drank the best cup of tea ever and ate lots of chocolate on the drive back home (or atleast I did!)  Nik was probably eating potatoes which seemed to be his staple diet that day.

Sunday, 14 August 2011


Finally, at long last, we went to do the Dent Parachee today.  But I’m ashamed to say we didn’t make it to the summit due to an attack of nerves on my behalf (which I’m kicking myself for now!)  The title above shouldn’t really be mountain of doom, but mind of doom as I just got to the point again where I really couldn’t be doing with exposure on top of loose and chossy rock.

We weren’t able to get booked into the Dent Parachee refuge which was just as well, as when we went path reccy’ing later that day, the hut looked really full and boisterous.  Instead, we stayed at the La Fournache refuge which was really nice.  Privately owned and smaller than the dent rufuge, but just nicer.  We were in a small room, just 5 of us and I actually slept quite well.  Food was okay, delicious soup for starter, boeuf bourguignon  and polenta for main dish (discovered that plain polenta is the most boring dish EVER!  Then cheese and bread *and* some sort of weird blancmange thing (which was disgusting – I gave mine to D)  Breakfast consisted of white bread and jam and honey, the best cup of tea in the whole wide world and a glass of fresh orange (which gave me indigestion from the word go, knew I shouldn’t have drunk the damn stuff!)

We were off by 4.50am, walking up past the Dent hut and onto the path into the corrie.  The guide description mentioned an ever moving ‘punishing’ scree slope, followed by a 35degree angled scree couloir exposed to rockfall (helmets necessary, and it took a bit of persuasion to get D to wear a helmet)  Basically I told him I didn’t want to have to clean his brains up off the ground and we didn’t have the insurance to cover it anyway!  (who says romance isn’t dead)

I’ve been told that there used to be a snow slope leading to the Col where the ridge starts (and it may be that we were too late in the season.)  Hodges book mentions a permanent snow field at the bottom but there was no snow to speak of anywhere.  All the snowlines and glaciers are receding in the Alps I am led to believe.  So the climb up to the col was punishing indeed!  It started off by each foot step sliding down before stabilising and this became hard work.  In the middle it was better, with bigger stones and rocks so felt more secure.  But the top couloir was hideous!  All the scree had pretty much vanished and all that was left was shattered bits of rock and mud.  I had to go on all fours at several points and it became like climbing a slab of mud and rock, not nice!  And I put my helmet on before this point as it did feel quite exposed to possible rock fall.

Past the horrible bit, the angle eased a little and it looked easier going but was still quite steep and muddy.  But higher still and the mud had frozen slightly so it was more stable.  We finally reached the col and the view of the Vanoise Glacier opened up and looked brilliant!  I hadn’t been nervous about the climb up to the summit at all, thinking it would be similar to what we’d done previously in the Alps, like the NW ridge of the Balfrin via the Gross Biggerhorn or the WSW ridge of the Lagginhorn, ie wee scrambly bits of nice rock with easier bits inbetween.  Well, it was sort of like that but the scrambly bits were more like scrabling about on shite rock, where as the other ridges I’d done last  year were mint in comparison as regards the standard of the climbing (and the Lagginhorn has a reputation for loose rock, but it was solid as anything in comparison!)

So when I looked up from the col at all these crumbling spikes and bastions of rock, my heart rate rose more than it was already from slithering my way up that scree slope!  The first pinnacle was bypassed on the left along a narrow ledge of shale and rubble which got narrower and narrower and more and more rubbly and exposed and scary.  Until we came to a bypass and realised we’d gone too far.  We backtracked, my nerves doubled by this point by the chossyness and found some crampon scratches going up a short rubbly groove.  There were plenty of good holds underneath all the crap, but some felt dubious to trust and much gentleness was called for.  This took us to the crest and a narrow path above which felt fine, just a little rubbly.  Then we came to the bottom of a gully and Hodges guide suggested climbing the gully itself by a zigzagging path (don’t do this!)  We crossed to the bottom of the gully easily enough but the ‘path’ up the gully was scrabbling on mud and dubious rock, taking some time to search for more solid and reassuring areas.  

The top of this gully met at a narrow point ledge of rock with a steep gully dropping down the other side and a steep and horrible muddy slope above.  All our guides (Hodges, the French one and an old one from the 1980’s) mentioned a slip from this point having fatal consequences.  As I tentatively inched my way up the mud, searching for solid little nubbins of rock to place my feet on and to balance on gently I was ever aware of this drop below and the guide descriptions and I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that I was hating it and crapping myself!  I made it to the top with my palms sweating and my heart racing though.

Every so often I had been looking back down the way we had come up and thinking to myself, ‘holy shit!  How the feck are we gonna get back down all that steep rubble and mud?’  The higher up this mountain we got, the more nervous I became about all the objective dangers and how hard and awful it was going to be to descend!  I think once at the top of the slope above the gully this is where my nerves about going back down got the better of me.
The next section was okay, just more walking along on a narrow ledge of rubble, the drop down the North Face, all though not as sheer as the cliffs of the South face, were steep enough that the thought of slipping on the way down was compounding to my already nervous state.  Another little section of scrambling upwards brought us out onto the crest again and into the full sun.  The sun was glaring and blinding and squinting upwards all I could see was this steep narrow section, with ribbons of hard snow in places, not enough to need crampons on, but enough to warrant great care to avoid!

That was me, too much!  I just kept thinking the icy patches were going to make things worse, I was tired of the constant need for utter concentration, the sun blinding me (and the fact that I can’t seem to see very well with sunglasses on and feel almost suffocated when I wear them ) and these thoughts that I might find the descent too difficult and dangerous was enough to make me stop and sit perch myself on the crest of the ridge.  Bad mistake!  Once I sat down, I got a little gripped and just didn’t want to carry on, I just wanted to get down and get off this awful, rubbly hill!  I think if I’d just swallowed my fears as I normally do and hadn’t stopped and just kept going then we would have gotten to the top.

As it was, I told D I wanted to bail.  I said that I would sit here and wait for him to go up to the summit and come back down but bless him, he didn’t want to leave me to get cold while I waited (it was pretty windy and cold up there, just before 10am by this point)  So down we went and apart from one little bit above that steep gully, the descent was a total doddle!  I was utterly kicking myself!  When I had been looking back down on the way up, the path that we had taken seemed to be really hidden and all I could see were these steep, rubbly slopes of doom but in reality, the easy way down became obvious as you approached it.  In fact, we could see where we had gone wrong on the way up!  The slope above the steep, dangerous gully had more solid rock to the left on the way down, with just a very exposed and loose step right at the top of the gully.  And the gully that we had climbed up, we climbed down on its left wall also, which was LOADS more solid and much easier!  By the time we’d gotten to the bottom of the gully, I was regretting my decision to turn back and by the time we got to the col I was utterly kicking myself for being such a wimp and letting my nerves get the better of me!

Neither of us fancied going back up though, too far now!  To go back up would have taken another hour and half to get to the summit I think, then an hour back down, and there was still the scree slope of hell to contend with, then the slog over the moraine and back to the hut, then shove all our stuff into sacks and back down to the van, and still the scary drive back down to Aussois!  No, that was it, I felt quite ashamed!  In the same way that backing off a route due to loss of bottle has me kicking myself for day afterwards!
And I’m still kicking myself for it today, but you live and learn!  I now know, that I’m perfectly capable of downclimbing steep, loose rock and that looking at things from directly above or below make them seem steeper and scarier than they actually are in comparison to viewing them in profile.   A friend mentioned to me yesterday (you know who you are…….) that it took him a couple of Alpine seasons to get into the swing of things and discover what he was capable of etc.  This was good for me, and I think I have realised that as much as I love being in the Alps, I’m not so keen on soloing rubbly and terribly loose PD routes.  I don’t mind typical alpine looseness like we found on the Balfrin and Lagginhorn, but when it’s just sheer rubble, then I’m not keen.  I prefer snow slopes and atleast rocky ridges that feel stable and reassuring, but there’s definitely got to be snow involved!  The whole experience left me deflated and really wishing that the whole holiday had gone to plan and that were in Gressoney and tackling the glaciers around Monte Rosa and Liskam area, my eyes specifically on Castor and Pollox.

I even checked the weather forecast, thinking that we could get the van fixed today (Friday) then zoom across to Italy on Saturday, up to the hut on Sunday and climb on Monday, rest on Tues before heading home.  But not to be as all the forecasts I could find said rain, rain, rain for Italy on Monday, gutted!  Nothing was inspiring me here anymore.  Even the thought of going up Rochemellon which I had been keen to do, wasn’t enough to motivate me, more shitty crap I reckoned!  I’d been keen to head up to the Vanoise hut to try and do the normal route on the Grand Casse but I’d heard bad things about the conditions come mid August and the forecast wasn’t looking promising anyway, with high winds and cloud again.
That’s it, enough!  As much as the Vanoise area that we had seen so far, was stunning to look at, as far as the climbing was concerned, it’s not for me, not in August anyway!  I can image just how much better things would be with more snow, and that it’s really a destination that’s much better for climbing when there is more snow and it would be great for ski touring and for the folk that like doing walks from hut to hut. 
Still gutted about my attack of nerves though!  The view from near the top of Pointe Fournache where we bailed was stunning, you could see Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, and the Barre du Ecrin to the South.  D is keen to get a guidebook to this area and go here next summer.  I’ll have a look into it, but I want to go back to Italy and the Monte Rosa seen as we didn’t make it this time.  And I’ve only got 2 long summers as a student left before I qualify as a Radiographer and hopefully start working.

Anyway, we decided this morning, rather impulsively that we’d had enough of crumbly mountains and after the van was fixed we would start heading home, visiting a few places on the way.  Unfortunately there was a mix up at the garage and they didn’t order our new DPF.  So we’re having to drive all the way home with a knackered DPF.  One person has said that there is a danger of the engine going on fire (eeeeek!) but according to most people, the engine will go into ‘safe mode’ whereby you can only drive it at 60mph.  This we don’t mind, quite happy to sit at 60 on the way back!

So I’m sitting typing this from a campsite in Troyes and we’re going to explore this ancient town tomorrow.  We’re also going to spend a couple/few days in Paris doing touristy stuff like climb the Eiffel Tower and visit the Louvre.  Not usually my cup of tea, but I’m quite looking forward to it, though I’m sure all the hustle and bustle of Paris will be stressful in its own way.  And I’m very curious to see the hotel which only charges 50 euros a night for a double room in the centre of town, it’s gotta be a seedy shithole!  Can’t wait!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

RIDGE OF DOOM - 11th August

Up earlier than usual (but still no need for Alpine starts!) to do the Point Signal du Mont Cenis (3162m) by its North ridge via the Col des Randouillards and the Pointe de Cugne.  This route goes at PD- but in this case the PD stands for POO Difficile rather than Peu Difficile!  Okay, it wasn’t quite as minging as the traverse of the Lessieres the other day, but the other day was just minging, but not particularly scary.  Today was scary!  

We were following the guide book written by Andy Hodges and this boy really needs to get a grip with his imagination!  He described Lessiere like the Aonach Eagach which was a load of bollocks and he describes today’s ridge like a torridian ridge, again bollocks!

The day started off cold and the only time it was warm was on the ascent up to the Col des Randouillards which is a slog and a half.  There is a direct route up to the col up a grassy gully and I don’t know why the path doesn’t go that way as it would be a lot shorter!  Instead, the path zigzags backwards forwards, backwards forwards forever and ever and ever and up to the windy col (gusting 20 today supposedly, though I’m  not sure it felt that strong.)

The route from the col up to Pointe de Cugne is pretty gross, but just normal alpine ridge affair I think and we met another couple up there who only went that far.  It was pretty bloody cold up there and there was rime forming on the rocks and little icicles and patches of verglas here and there where drips had soaked the rock (thankfully avoidable unless you’re a dimwit like me and stand on a bit and have your foot go skiting, giving me an absolute shitter!)

I think the ridge between the two peaks actually isn’t that bad, and I was just in a pretty negative frame of mind, because as I sit here typing this, I can’t actually think of why I found it so scary.   There were a couple of exposed steps and my balance over these wee narrow points isn’t great.  I found a lot of the downclimbing sections quite awkward with massive step downs and not much to trust your feet on.  Thankfully the schist is pretty grippy (who would have thought!)  My hands can testify to the grippyness of mountain schist, being a bit on the shredded side!  As can my favourite red softshell trousers!

So we get to the section of the ridge that I actually thought looked like the easier bit as the rock was cleaner.  Well it was cleaner but it was all fecking slab!  D scampered up the slab like a scampery scampering scamper, I didn’t trust my boots, too slippy for my liking!  So I went up a chossy groove to the side of the slab only to find I would have to climb a steeper wall above with no holds, uh uh, back down I go!  I found a little chimney midway along and decided I’d try and go up that way.  Thugtastic!  Grunts and knees all round thankyou!

There were a few other sections of scampering up easier slabs and short awkward downclimbs but they are pretty nondescript as I can’t remember much about them.  Save to say that Hodges guide says you can go round most difficulties, but going round didn’t look like a fun or safe option to me!
Eventually, after an easier section of steep walking on rock and mud, came what looked like the last ‘pinnacled’ section.  Easy enough going up, a bit on the chossy side but how to get down?  I didn’t actually peer over the edge as by this point I wasn’t really enjoying myself and was eager to be at the summit and at the end of chossville and scaryville so I just took D’s word that it didn’t look great.  I remember there was a section on Lessiere that he didn’t like the look of to downclimb and I went to have a look, going first and finding it commiting but easier than it looked.  I did wonder if this was the case today as well, but D said right at the top of the pinnacle was a sheer drop.  If you went more left there was a lesser drop with holds that he could see but there were overhanging so that you would be pushed out as you downclimbed.  This section was only around 3 metres high but took you down to a very exposed col, whereby if any hold snapped off when you were downclimbing and you weren’t lucky enough to land on your arse on the narrow col then it would be lights out time as you fell off the steep sided mountain.

None of this sounded very appealing to me at all, in my negative frame of mind.  In fact, even had I been feeling more bold, I’m not sure that section would have appealed.  I don’t mind soloing when things feel do-able but as soon as things feel risky, then it’s not for me.  And things can be risky but still feel do-able, it’s when you’re not sure of the outcome that I wouldn’t trust soloing.  Unfortunately, soloing we were and had no rope, otherwise we could have just ab’d down this section (if we could find something trustworthy to ab’ from of course!)

As it was, we tried to find a way around this pinnacle as suggested in guide.  There was a series of seriously steep and chossy mud ledges on the right hand side but that looked like death!  And the left side was too steep and cliff like.  In the end, we just decided to bail, first mountain I’ve ever bailed from and I feel a bit shamed that it was only PD, but better that that one of us slip and I was sick of all the choss and tired of having to concentrate by this point, just wishing the whole thing done with.

We had to back track and getting back down the previous pinnacle was interesting to say the least!  I went D’s slabby way rather than my chimney which I didn’t fancy reversing (and not sure I could have found it from the top anyway.)  So I slithered down the slab until I came to the bottom which involved a wee overhanging corner.  D was able to slither right to the edge of this, use foot holds on the side wall and just lower himself down, but I couldn’t reach anything useful!  In the end, we had to get D bracing himself at the bottom of the corner and use combined tactics to get me down.  Basically, I used his shoulder as a hand hold to enable me to reach my feet down far enough to manage the drop.  Job done!

Another few easier slabby downclimbs saw us reach a section where it looked possible to escape from the ridge, down a horrendously steep scree and rocky slope and down to a path below.  We took the escape option!  As tedious as steep scree and rock could be it was far preferable to continuing back along to Pointe de Cugne and facing an unknown descent down its west ridge which might have been ming.  The scree was good enough in places to dig in with heels and glissade but only for short steps.  Just too steep!  Then you’d hit a bigger boulder section anyway and slip on your arse, sliding down on a sea of moving rocks for a while.  I was trying to zigzag my way down, finding less steep bits and more secure (ish) bits when I slithered down a large rock on my bum and my trousers got caught.  There was the rip to my arse!  Rats!  

The slope wasn’t too bad going, just that 350 metres of it was getting tedious and tiring.  But before long we hit less steep ground, then more grassy ground, then the path.  I’ve never felt so happy to be on secure ground!  Then it was a boring, 2.5hr plod along a track, then a forest vehicle track back to the van.