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!

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