Sunday, 20 March 2011

Stob Coire nan Lochan - 19th March '11

I haven't written anything in the blog for ages as I've been so busy with Uni work and taking RB to comps that I'm home after climbing, so tired, then too busy the next day.  I thought about ditching the whole thing but I kinda missed the writing and D reckoned I should keep up with it.  So, what have I done since I wrote last, um........can I remember now!  Andy and I spent a day in Coire an Lochain in the Cairngorms where I led the crux pitch of Milkyway and Andy led the 2nd pitch.  We then downclimbed the Couloir and Andy led the 1st pitch of Ewan Buttress and I led the 2nd.  That was a nice day and good to get out and do something quick and easy as I only had the one day.  Even though these routes are tiny, it's worth going in for a day to do a few routes, they're quite nice.
The week after that, D and I went hillwalking in Glen Lochay to bag some munros I hadn't done before.  Most of the snow had gone from lower down but there were still soft patches on top.  Again, that was just a day trip as I was short on time.  I think it was either the day before or the day after that RB had the 1st round of the Youth Climbing Series which took part at the Stirling Wall.  She got 1st place for that round, after not managing the hard boulder problem but making a comeback on the final route.
Last weekend RB had the MCofS's School Climbing Comp final in Glasgow where she got 2nd place, being beaten to the post by Rachel Carr of the British Climbing Team on the final route, which went at 7b.  Beks did really well on that route, getting just over half way up, she can't quite onsight 7b yet.  We're in the process of building a 30 degree wall and a 45 degree wall in our garage at the moment (courtesy of Ali Robb) so some extra training should see her hopefully onsighting 7b in the near future.
The day after the school's comp, H and I drove up to Bridge of Orchy, keen to check out the crag on Meall Buidhe, and have a look at a route called Echo Edge in particular, a ** grade III.  We arrived at Achallader carpark in good time and it was looking snowy and was snowing, but not as windy as forecast.  After skirting round some boggy ground we made it to the start of the Crannoch woods and cut off up hill to cross the railway line.  This is where the going got tough and after ploughing up hill through knee deep to thigh deep snow for an hour and not really getting anywhere fast, we decided to bail.  The hill was shrounded in mist and I wasn't sure how steep the ground was beneath the cliffs and the snow felt like it would be dodgy if the ground was steep enough to go.  Sod walking up all that way only to have to turn back.  Gutting though as I hadn't climbed in ages.
Not to worry though, as yesterday H and I drove up to Glencoe to climb and were successful in me onsighting my 1st IV lead and H climbing her 1st IV route.  I'd been wanting to lead a grade IV last winter but it never really happened and then it wasn't seeming to happen this winter either what with one thing and another!  I knew with the up coming forecast and time constraints that this was probably going to be my last chance of the season to grab that elusive IV.  I had been toying with Fingers Ridge or Opening Break in Coire an t-Sneachda as my 1st IV but the pictures of Raeburn's Route on Central Buttress in Stob Coire nan Lochan had really caught my eye.  I'd heard it was a good choice as a first IV lead and that the crux was well protected.  And it was probably going to be better suited to me rather than the reachy, udgy style of Cairngorm Granite.  My only worry was the amount of snow still around and whether conditions were going to be dodgy getting to the base of the route.  Only one way to find out!
I picked H up in Dundee at 5am and we drove up to Glencoe after a garage stop, arriving around 7.30am.  The walk in to SCNL was a slog and I really struggled carrying a full 60m rope and half a full winter rack but I wasn't minimising my rack when I was pushing my grade.  Thankfully, folk had been up there all week and there was a trail through the knee deep snow into the corrie and the boulder were folk were gearing up.  There were 8 people in before us and I was sure someone must be going for our route as it's a classic.  But all 8 people were going for the infamous Dorsal Arete, a route that I shall refuse point blank to climb out of principle!  H and I dumped a sack at the boulder, donned crampons and harness but bunged the ropes and gear into the other sack and set off up hill.
The snow was deep but it seemed stable enough and I didn't once feel jittery or unsafe even when it got deeper and deeper than deeper still!  All trails to Central Buttress had been blown in and snowed over and we were wading through knee deep snow from the word go from the boulder.  As we got higher, we were sinking down to our waist and in a few places I was up to my chest in snow.  That's the deepest I've ever waded before and it was hard work!  The walk up to the routes is short though so it didn't take too long before we arrived.  We had been advised by a friend of mine and manager of The Ice Factor, that getting as close to the climbing as possible would enable us to run out the full 60m of rope and get up onto the ridge to belay.  Only problem was that gear was a bit sparse there!  H managed to unearth a big hex placement and I reckoned that would do as I could get gear in once moving up and a few moves up I could see some insitu tat.
We had a faff with my new ropes which were all knotted again.  They are a pair of Tendon ropes which I bought from Tiso and so far they have been a tangle of knots and kinks!  But they are slowly improving.  Another couple came up behind us as H was untangling the 2nd rope and I warned them that this was my 1st IV lead and I might be quite slow.  The guy said it was going to be his first IV lead too.  I had thought about asking if he was competent at leading IV and offering them to go first, but sod it, we had done all the hard work breaking trail that I deserved to go first, no matter how slow I was going to be.
I was so nervous!  A part of me wanting to back out of it, it was going to be too scary, I was kidding myself that I could lead IV!  I didn't want to hang about too long and talk myself out of it, so I started off tentatively.  After the 1st move up, I got my crampons caught in my powerstretch tights, aaaaaaarrrrggggggg!  I'd stupidly forgotten my overtrousers but there was no way I wasn't climbing so decided just to climb in my thermals and tights and suffer if it was cold and windy.  I'd ripped a big massive hole in them when slogging through all that snow and now my crampon had snagged in the hole.  Shit and botheration!  I had to balance with one crampon and one axe to untangle myself and start off again.  If I felt nervous initially, I was crapping it now!  Deep breath, tell myself to chill and off I go again.  Get myself into an okay position and get my first bit of gear in.  My calf is hurting though and I keep having to shake it out.  It makes me even more nervous that I'm not going to manage this.  After a couple more moves though, I'm relaxed and enjoying it.  I can do this, oh yes!
Reach and check out the insitu tat.  One bit looks pretty much brand new so I clip in and move up.  Things get interesting.  The first pitch involves going up a chimney to a cul de sac and then breaking out right of the chimney to follow a groove up onto a ridge.  The chimney has some really nice climbing in it and is well protected.  In fact, the whole first pitch has more gear than you can shake a stick at and I don't think I've ever placed so much gear on one pitch before!  At one point I was wedged into the chimney for a nice rest and decided this was the point where I should break out right as there was only steep rock above and no snow.  Getting out of the chimney was the crux of the first pitch and it felt really balancy and committing and it took me a while of resting and thinking about things to go for it.  I ended up on a ledge, decided that I didn't like the look of the snow between the ledge and the upper groove, so manage to downclimb onto a lower ledge and precariously make my way across and up to the groove.  Those moves felt all a bit sketchy due to the snow being so deep.
The next part up the groove was easy enough just very time consuming due to the snow and also because I was getting a lot of drag on my ropes.  I'd extended one of the ropes with a sling before traversing out but in hindsight, I maybe should have extended both ropes as it was getting to the point where I was having to pull up lots of rope before I could move off again.  I eventually got up onto the ridge though and found a belay further along.  Woohoo, I'd done it!  The rest should be easier now, hah!  Fat chance, the next bit was desperate!
There was a pillar that you had to climb behind and then go up a narrow chimney.  That was really good fun, so funky!  Then there was a gap between the pillar and a wall.  I took the easiest break on the left of the wall and moved up.  Hmmmm, this isn't easy!  I was a few metres up the wall, with one nut placement in a well worn grooved crack so I knew I wasn't off line.  But damned if I knew where to go next!  I thought about heading left and shuffled along a bit.  There was nothing for my axes that I could find at all and I recalled the guide book mentioning that the 2nd pitch was hard under snow.  They weren't joking!  I was there for ages, pondering and wondering the best way to go.  There was a bottomless groove to my left that looked okay once you got into it.  But how to get into it?  It would have involved a swing around a bulging bit of rock and I just couldn't find anything at all for my axes to make that move with and that nut placement didn't seem so great anymore.
I dug away the snow from the wall above me, blank.  I dug away the snow from the wall to the right of me. Aha!  I found a small edge that I could precariously hook one axe onto.  I then dug away the snow and tried to flatten it with my foot, balancing as I had nothing up above to hold onto.  The snow was falling away beneath my foot into the air below, eeeek!  I could see gaps of air and light through the snow and knew it wasn't very stable.  But I didn't have any choice!  I checked out my fall options.  If I fell, I was going a few metres onto a big snowy ledge before so at least I wasn't going to die and my iffy bits of gear might slow me down too.  Oh well, it was now or never!  I slithered across, heart in my mouth when the snow crumbled away beneath me then held again!  I hooked my left axe on that tiny edge, stepped over the dodgy, airy bit of snow and scraped in the snow praying, praying, praying for a good purchase.  Not great but it would have to do!  I moved across and bingo, got my other axe into a better placement!  And relax!  That was the hardest thing I'd ever led before and at no point did I know what the outcome was going to be, it was pure and utter commitment!  Wow, who'd have thought I could do that and keep calm and collected!
It wasn't over though.  I had to dig away some ledges for my feet so I could get up and over the wall on my right as I just couldn't reach properly over the edge with my axes.  I managed to unearth a big blog of turf and hammer in an iffy bulldog.  It might not have held but it sure made me feel good!  Then it was a case of digging out the snow on the edge of the wall, getting my axes secure, moving up on those foot holds I'd found and then I had to mantle on my axes.  I'm sure I gave a woop once I was over as I could see easy ground ahead.  It was a sheer, 'thank feck for that' moment!  More snowy ground followed with lots of digging, so tiring!  I came to a good spot and rather than go ahead up the easy finish, I decided to bring H up, where I could hear how she was getting on with the scary bit and give a tight rope and help if need be.
I'm sure she squeeled a little on the scary bit as the snow was giving away and she said she didn't enjoy it too much once she was up.  It was pretty horrible and insecure!  Poor H had an awful headache too and didn't look well at all.  I said I'd lead the last easy pitch so she didn't have to as she was in pain and again it involved more clearing of snow, but no desperate ground thankfully, just a few big steps but they were easy enough.  H had said that the guy below had poked his head over the ridge and gone back down and they'd abbed off.  I'm unsure if it was whether we were being so slow or whether it was due to the conditions.
I was soon up at the top and ended up setting up a belay and sitting down.  Bad mistake!  By the time H came up, my bottom was numb with cold and the wind was picking up and I was freezing.  We quickly sorted the ropes and headed back down into the corrie for the other sack.  The light was going that dull way as we got into the corrie and I knew it was going to get dark soon.  I was in no rush though, happy to have done my much lusted after route and in no mood to rush as my feet were now hurting going down in my new boots.  We kept crampons on for a while and I gave H the keys for the car as she was moving much faster.  My knee was giving me a bit of grief and my legs felt like jelly.  Now that I'm home I discovered a massive bruise on my knee, joys of winter climbing and udging up on knees.  My toes were hurting in my boots but not as bad as they have been.  I still cursed and grumbled my way down the hill though, stopping to take crampons off and jacket off, and hat, gloves and buff, then my windproof too!  It was really mild.  It got dark just as we were approaching the bridge and I thought the carpark wasn't far from the bridge.  But there was still a wee bit to go and then an evil, evil, evil up hill bit!  Getting back to the car was bliss and taking off my boots was even better.  I joked to H that sod the actual routes, the only reason I go climbing is for that orgasmic relief of taking your boots off at the end of a long day.