Friday, 3 February 2012

Scottish International Meet

Well, the week started with a bang for me...on the head! But I'll get to that later. 
The International meet was something I was really looking forward to. The idea of being immersed for a week amongst 80 other climbers doing nothing but climbing and talking about climbing is my idea of heaven.
The check in at the lodge was 5pm on the Sunday, which meant we had the whole weekend to get some climbing done first. (you've got to take every opportunity you can with Scottish winter). So Saturday we walked into Lochan and back out again. Sunday we did the same, this time with slightly more success. The plan was to try and repeat Snow Pimp just to the right of Hookers Corner. Unfortunately after climbing the steep groove to get to the base of the crack, Dave dropped a crucial hex and with the crack well iced it was game over.
Rather than descend we decided to move right into the next corner and climb this up to a narrow chimney slot in a pillar. This turned out to be steeper than it looked (aren't they always) to gain the chimney recess above. Moves up this — making sure you didn't get too jammed in — then a reach out left, allowed a chockstone to be hooked in a groove, that led to the belay. The next pitch led quite straightforwardly to the top and seemed to match the description of the route Conundrum, VI 7.
After checking in at the lodge Dave Garry and myself headed to the bar where we met the guests we would be taking out for the next couple of days. I was pleasantly surprised to find we had been paired up with the Slovenians Urban and Matej, so game on.
Monday morning was an 8.30 start, so most people including ourselves, headed to the northern corries. Not knowing too much about Matej's abilities on mixed ground I headed for Hookers Corner, a VI 6 on number four buttress. After despatching the first pitch and setting up the belay Dave arrived on the ledge next to me. He'd done the first pitch of the Hoarmaster which shared the top pitch with our route. This wasn't a problem as you could climb it on the left or right at about grade five. So with plenty of lighthearted banter flowing and everyone enjoying themselves, Urban and Matej headed up pitch two.
After about twenty metres Urban shouted down to warn us that the block — about the size of a microwave — in the groove he'd climbed was loose. No problem, we'd keep an eye on it, although it slightly worried me that the ropes were running against it's right hand side. While this was going on Nick Bullock was just starting up pitch two on Pic n Mix. I turned side on to watch briefly. Looking back now its like my mind has reconstructed a memory of what happened next. I know there was a shout, Dave told me. I know I raised my shoulders up to my ears , cowered into the rock and tensed up. I could work that out after, by the angle of the impact on my helmet and the damage to my right arm, just above the elbow. I do remember the blow, like someone creeping silently up behind you and hitting you over the head with a baseball bat. I went down. I don't know how long for - Dave reckoned about twenty seconds — then I staggered to my feet in an intense state of shock. 
When people say their life flashed before their eyes, I now understand. 
It must have been when I was down. I remember seeing my kids and girlfriend and feeling sad, but I wasn't going down that route, not today anyway. 
The next thing I remember is Dave asking me where I lived. I think I got the answer right after some serious digging, but it wasn't easy. I started asking myself questions. My longterm memory seemed ok but I was struggling to remember the Slovenians names, although I was mostly struggling to work out how the fuck I was still alive after being struck by such a big rock.
I was dazed but otherwise seemed ok, just scared. Scared I was suddenly going to drop dead from a brain haemorrhage and that would be that. Matej had reached the top and taken in the ropes, so in a massive state of shock I got on with seconding the pitch. I asked Dave to climb next to me. I don't know why but it gave me a sense of security and in the state I was in, having people around was what I needed. As I climbed I noticed the impact marks where the rock had ricocheted on its journey to my head. Thats why I was alive...if it had been a direct hit this would have been an obituary.
I took the walk out nice and slow and Dave drove back to the lodge where George McEwan gave me the once over. He didn't think I was concussed but to be on the safe side recommended I not drink alcohol for at least 12 hours until the risk of concussion had passed. Damn, I really felt like a drink that night! 
Later, I spoke to Clare on the Phone. "You sound really happy" she said. "Is that because You're getting loads of climbing done?" "No" I thought. "Its because I'm alive".
Tuesday was an enforced rest day for me. My neck had stiffened up and if I wanted to get anything out of the rest of the week I needed to sort it quick, so I booked a massage and headed into Aviemore and the nearest chemist, to buy every kind of treatment I could find! 
It worked! By Wednesday morning I was feeling good, but unfortunately the weather wasn't and with freezing levels way above the summits we headed to Newtyle cave en masse, where Greg the beast gave us a consummate display of dry tooling. That boy is good!
For the last three days I was to be climbing with Takaaki Nagato, one of the infamous Giri Giri Boys from Japan. I was looking forward to this as I'd heard from Will, he was solid. So next stop Lochnagar and the VII 8 Where Eagles Dare. Since seeing the inspiring guide book photo I'd wanted to get on this and it lived up to my expectations. Its all about the final crux pitch really but the setting right at the top of the crag and the approach up the buttress below, really adds to the atmosphere of the route.
Taka on the (vertical!) headwall (Where Eagles Dare)
You can't come all the way from Japan and not climb on the Ben, so that was the destination for Friday. It seemed like everyone thought the same, as it was four full mini buses that headed west that morning, although having the key to the gate — making an easy walk in — might have added to the attraction!
I'd been thinking about a new route possibility. A direct line straight up to the belay — under the final chimney pitch of Babylon - with the option of moving right, for a final pitch up the big corner. So we headed up Number Three Gully to check it out.
It was busy, with teams on Sioux Wall, Babylon, Darth Vader and Gargoyle Wall plus the photographers snapping at us from all angles! 
Time to start climbing. I pointed Taka at the first pitch. A blocky groove just left of Winter Chimney that led to a big ledge. Like a ninja, he floated up it. Precise, accurate and efficient. Watching him climb was like an education for me and I'm sure my own climbing improved.
Sake P1
Now we were standing 25 m below the final chimney of Babylon, at the base of a steep slab and it was my turn on the sharp end. I racked the gear and looked up. Small features appeared on the wall. If I could just link them together everything would be fine. 
This style of climbing requires a methodical approach. Clean the wall to find the first hook, clean for feet, step up and repeat, then look for gear. A rock 3 appears. Step up and repeat the process. Another good wire. The moves blur. A small side pull gains some more height, then a small flat edge gains some more, before my mind clicks back into protection mode. There is none. I don't want to come off here. I do a quick assessment. Ledge about 10 m below and gear about 4 m below. More gear needed. Above me is a small triangular recess. Maybe some there? No, but a hook to my left  will take a bulldog. Now I can relax again. One more move up and the holds disappear. 1 m to my left is a crack that leads to the delicate traverse rightwards on Babylon, I take it and the climbing eases to the belay. Not quite as direct up the wall as I was hoping but still great climbing. Now its Taka's  lead. He opts to try the steep corner to our right and is soon well established. Delicate bridging on tiny smears see's him slowly inching his way upwards. Again I'm impressed by his steadiness on lead. As he nears the top James Dunn raps into position for the glory shots and I just know there's no way Taka's failing now! Sure enough he pulls over onto easy ground and all I've got to do is second it, then its drinks in the bar tonight!
Sake P3
I try to copy his footwork as best I can and it's working, until I get to a good foot ledge at the half way point and place my axe on a sloping shelf, only to watch it slip off, hit my foot and disappear. Damn, I was really enjoying it as well. Luckily Dave Almond is watching and gets Taka to lower his axe down for me to continue. The rest goes smoothly and I'm soon looking at the face of a very happy Giri Giri Boy and discussing what he'd like to drink that night!
Sake VIII 9
Me seconding Sake P3. (Dave Almond)
With the end of week party on the Saturday night, it was unlikely we'd be climbing on the Sunday but Dave Almond was keen for a rematch in SCNL. So we hatch a plan for Saturday. The Giri Giri Boys can climb Unicorn as a team while Dave and me get back on the route to it's right, Scansor. This way we weren't neglecting our guests and they would get to climb a mega classic with us close by. 
As with last year, Dave got stuck into the first pitch and although the weather was miles better the pressure to succeed was much greater. In the Bar yesterday I'd told anyone that asked, our plans for today, in the hope that mentally it might give us the extra drive to get up the thing. 
Yet again, after the first pitch we both commented on what a fantastic piece of climbing it was in its own right. If the route just stopped at the belay it would be worth doing! But it doesn't and that would be avoiding the issue. We weren't about to do that! 
Approaching the crux on Scansors first pitch. (Dave Almond)
The next pitch is intimidating. You look up at a seemingly featureless wall and every part of you is saying, "It doesn't go, give up". It didn't help that I'd heard the night before, that someone had attempted it last winter, gone back and climbed it in summer, then said they were no longer interested in trying it again. What did they know that I couldn't see from here? Only one way to find out. 
I hammered in a pecker then found a good nut before hooking my way up the initial groove to gain the ledge on the left. The only problem with this was I didn't want to leave it! The next twenty minutes were spent scraping around until I'd arranged some gear that I felt happy with.
Then there were no more excuses. 
I had to get in the water and swim with the sharks. 
Place the axe, match and pull on to the wall. Reach up with the right axe to a good flat edge, match and survey the new terrain. No more gear to be found so reverse the moves back to the ledge and recover. I repeated this about four times, each time getting slightly a highball boulder problem with a bad landing, until I could get my axes on the ledge, up and to my right. Then I looked down. The ledge below me was looking closer and the gear was looking a long way away. "Good effort" said Dave, but something in his voice didn't sound right. Worry. "That's not like him" I thought, and started to reverse downwards. My foot couldn't find the hold. I felt the panic rise and the energy drain with it, then my foot was on and  the door closed, but my attempt was over for now.
A foreshortened view just below my high point. (Dave Almond)
One metre of climbing to unlock and I can't get it out of my head. Every waking minute I'm reliving the moves and adding a different ending. I've got to go back.
As for the international meet, role on the next, as I for one, can't wait! 
Giri Giri Boys after Unicorn (Dave Almond)

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Scottish Starters

After waiting and waiting for conditions to arrive, then not being free to take advantage when they did I was champing at the bit by the time it got to Friday and couldn't wait to get stuck into the action. 5pm saw Dave Garry, Pete Harrison and myself enroute. Dave Almond - keen as ever - had headed up the day before and already bagged a new route with Duncan, whose floor we'd be sleeping on that night.
I awoke at four in the morning to a very unhappy Pete. It seemed my snoring had kept him awake all night and all thoughts of climbing had left his mind, so after driving to Lochnagar we left him in the van to get some sleep while we headed to the crag.
After breaking trail through collapsing crust we started the day with some exploration. Probably not the best idea for the first route of the season...anyway more on that later.
By the time we'd finished messing about it was 11.30 and Dave Garry's enthusiasm was waning, but as always, Dave 'the machine' Almond was still wanting action, so Dave G headed to the car while 'the machine' headed up Tough Guy.
This route provided a good reintroduction to the Scottish way with a mix of everything: Steep pulls through roofs, interesting run outs and some technical moves...I even got to reattach my crampon while leading the crux!
Sunday we drove over to the Northern Corrie's and I climbed Open Heart with Dave while Pete and Dave Garry went up Ventriloquist.

After, I got to thinking about some of the ingredients that make up a successful trip.
They're not all required for every recipe but if you mix at least three you should get a tasty dish!

Climbing partners: Useful for holding your ropes, motivating you, taking turns at the sharp end, general banter and discussions about quantum physics.

Inspiring climbing destinations: Plenty of these in Scotland. Here's one from Saturday. The Tough Brown Face, Lochnagar.

Exploration: This time not very successful but good fun, although a new pick was required after falling from a couple of metres above here and shock loading the axe lanyard.

Success: Not essential but very rewarding when you get it, as seen here on the main pitch of Open Heart. 
My heart was in my mouth watching Dave lead the crack pitch of Ventriloquist with a massive runout, but he got away with it and as usual, we climbed the last pitch in the dark!

Right, now its time to head back to White Goods with a clearer picture of whats needed.
                                                                    Must get stronger!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

How thick is the skin of my teeth?

True adventure has to include some form of suffering. Of course it’s impressive to climb something hard but unless it pushed you close to the edge, the memory will never be as strong as the trip that did. You have to accept that escaping by the skin of your teeth (or maybe not as the case may be) is always going to stand head and shoulders above all the other climbing stories. Just look at the history. Mallory, Tony Kurtz, Doug Scot on the Ogre, Touching the Void and Everest in 1996. Although for some they were one way tickets, the level of suffering elevates these experiences beyond the sphere of climbing and into a wider human consciousness. Of course, I don’t want to die, but I do want more from my climbing than an enjoyable, technical day out. The problem is when your talk like this, people think you’re slightly crazy, or you have some kind of death wish. The idea, that it’s a thirst for an intense life experience that drives you into the realm of suffering and fear is completely incomprehensible to most.

This October’s alpine adventure started in Chamonix as usual, but with unseasonably high temperatures it was feeling more like August, so we headed over to Point Lachenal to acclimatise and soak up the sun, while enjoying the superb crack climbing on the Contamine route. The big plan this year was to warm up on something in Chamonix then head over to the Eiger for the 38 route, so next we needed a challenging objective. Something that took advantage of the good rock climbing conditions and was inspiring enough to be our main prize if the weather took a change for the worse later in the trip. We set our sights on the Tournier Spur Direct. 500m of rock to a bivi, then a further 600m of mixed rock and ice to the summit of the Droites. Tasty.
We started the walk in from Argentiere and were going well until we made the mistake of trying to climb the glacier icefall direct, losing well over an hour, so it was 2pm by the time we reached the spur. Loose rock led up rightwards to ledges where rock shoes replaced mountain boots and the climbing started. The route headed back left along a vague ramp line and through an overhang to join the ridge proper. It was this section that made us realise conditions weren’t exactly perfect for a fast ascent, as the shady north side of the ridge had a fair covering of old snow and verglass. At 6pm with about 300m climbed we made a bivi. The weather forecast was good so one extra day on the route didn’t matter too much.
The next morning we started climbing at 7.30 but hit a problem when the route description said 'move rightwards along ledges for 20m to the obvious chimney'. We’d already moved 30m rightwards and could see no sign of an obvious chimney but after some indecisive forays back and forth, I continued rightwards for a further 20m round a corner, to find the line, where a quick change into rock boots saw us making good progress again. The climbing was fantastic and we both commented on what a great route it would be to drytool in winter, definitely one to come back for. 
It was 4pm by the time we had climbed the last mixed pitches to reach the breche and the weather had completely changed. It was snowing lightly and spindrift was already pouring down the face above.
It was time to make a decision. Up or down? Dave was leaving the choice up to me. This is ok, but I’m the one with egg on face if the weather was great tomorrow and we’d bailed. Still, this weather definitely wasn’t forecast and there was no saying it wasn’t going to carry on all day tomorrow. Equipment wise I was on the light side as well, with no belay parka, a very lightweight Yeti down sleeping bag that was already wet, just softshell with no thermals on the legs and a lightweight salomon running jacket to protect me from the wind. This would have been on the light side for a night out in Wales, midsummer, never mind an autumn storm in the Alps!
With Chamonix calling, we set up the first rap and started down. 
The first few went well. Yeah we were getting pummelled by the constant spindrift avalanches and were soon soaked to the skin as the snow melted on us, but we were finding the anchors and making progress. It wasn’t to last. Somewhere along the way the anchors disappeared and darkness descended.  These two small changes compounded by the lack of any obvious rap points in the compact rock started to slow us down. One point was particularly memorable. After digging out a parallel sided crack, I managed to hammer in a rock 2. I gingerly lowered off keeping as much weight as possible on my axes, trying to down climb rather than weight the rope, but when the ground turned vertical there was no option and I just accepted my fate. There comes a point in a situation like this where you can see the look in your partner’s eyes that says “yeah, this is getting a bit close to the edge”. We were both starting to become hypothermic as the wind bit through our wet clothes, but it had to end eventually and after about ten abs we were off the face.
So, just a crevassed slope then a 5 hour walk and we’d be sleeping in Chamonix. Little did we know, a monster crevasse was spread across the whole slope below, and in the dark there was no way we were getting across it. After traversing back and forth for about an hour we admitted defeat and settled in for the night under the base of a small serac. It was 11.30. Initially getting out of the wind and in to my bivi bag felt great, but it wasn’t to last and I knew it.
Seven hours of suffering, before daylight would allow us to get the hell outa there.
At what point does the body succumb to the cold?
Is survival just a case of willpower?
The stories of past pioneers go through your mind. The ones that broke free of their frozen night to continue and others that slowly froze to the bone to become a part of the mountain.
The idea that I may not wake was enough to kill any thought of sleep and any movement caused me to hyperventilate until I put my mouth to the air hole in my bag. The other problem was the spindrift. We were slowly getting buried. I was sitting, and when the snow reached half way up my upper arm, I would stand up, to allow the soft snow to fill the hole my body had left, and then sit down again before repeating the whole process over again.
Finally after much watching, the clock hit seven and it was time to move. This was the moment we’d been dreading. The thought of getting out of the bag, into the maelstrom and putting on boots was only slightly more attractive than doing nothing, which didn’t seem like a viable solution long term! So we moved, raked through four feet of new snow to find our buried kit and headed down to the serac.
As usual daylight changes your view of things and after moving leftwards towards the rock, I found a point where one 60m rap could get us past all the difficulties and on to easy ground below. At this point we were cold, the rope was a frozen mess and we didn’t want to hang around making V threads so I placed a screw and we rapped. Five minutes later Dave joined me on the easy ground, just as the distinctive roaring sound of falling ice filled the air. We turned and watched as the line of our descent was obliterated. Close one. The value of the ice screw seemed insignificant after that, compared to the extra time a V thread would have taken.

Back in Chamonix our future climbing plans were looking uncertain. With 40cm of new snow in the mountains it would be days before conditions improved and just hanging around hadn’t been part of our plans. The forecast for Grindelwald was looking better and the walk in to the Eiger would be easy, even with fresh snow, so we headed over, arriving that evening as the cloud cleared the face, to reveal the mountains history before our eyes.
The sound of heavy rain woke us in the night and it wasn’t letting up. If anything by the morning it was even heavier. Waterfalls were pouring from the clouds and the river running down the valley was black and swollen, even the locals seemed to be watching it with interest!

With four days left, the temptation to just get in the van, call it a day and head home was at the front of my mind, but more on autopilot than anything else we drove back to Chamonix for one last attempt to get up something. With the depressing advice from the guides office that we were basically wasting our time, we agreed on a plan. We would head across to the La Fourche hut with everything we needed to climb the Cecchinel Nomine on the Grand Pillar D’Angle, but if conditions were too slow getting to the hut, we’d dump the kit, climb something on the Triangle Du Tacul then go home.
Heading down onto the Valley Blanche I was pessimistic, but it was misplaced. In my wildest dreams I didn’t imagine conditions would be this good; it was like walking on solid concrete! Getting to the hut was going to be a doddle. My pessimism was replaced with optimism; nothing was going to stop us now!
The La Fourche hut is a fantastic spot, giving a grandstand view of the Brenva seracs that hang above the ‘bowling alley’ approach we’d be taking in the morning. Dave was keen to take Jon Griffiths advice and head over to Col Moore to check out the raps onto the glacier but I was feeling rather lethargic and not in the mood for exercise so he headed off while I concentrated on relaxing in the sun!
2 am saw us waking, well I say waking but for me it was more like just standing up rather than lying down as I hadn’t actually slept! Just after 3 we started the raps down to the glacier and quickly reached Col Moore. Four more raps that went quite slowly in the dark, led to the final part of the approach, under one of the reasons I’d not slept. The hanging serac’s of the Pear and Route Major. Here we took Jon’s advice and moved across low down to reach the buttress and out of the fall line. Next a pitch of Scottish 5 saw us over the giant shrund and up to the face proper. Some uncertainty over where the route started caused us to lose time and it was 7.15 by the time we were climbing.
Dave led the first block up to the aid pitch which I led on the insitu pegs. Then more icy gulleys through spectacular rock scenery, led to a rightward ramp and a further ice field to below the final big exit pitch to the summit slopes. For us the exit pitch proved to be the crux with vertical icy grooves that had to be crossed diagonally before a further 10m of 80 degree ice led to an easy ramp and belay on the summit slopes.

Cecchinel Nomine Route
We reached the top of the buttress at 4pm and cut out a couple of ledges for the night. With us both feeling the altitude and high winds blowing across the top of Mont Blanc De Courmayeur, food, a nights sleep and the warmth from the morning sun seemed like a good idea before tackling the last 600m to the top.
The next morning with the winds slightly lighter and a belly full of porridge we made the long plod up to Mont Blanc. This was the first time for Dave, who was pleased to have achieved his aim of climbing it from the Italian side. We’d decided to descend via the Gouter hut down to Les Houches which turned out to be a tough old slog, but it did guarantee we’d be in Chamonix for beer and food that night which made it worth it! Particularly pleasing was the old gent in Les Houches that gave us a lift back to the van. Thanks mate!
So the perseverance paid off in the end, turning what would have been a true adventure into a truly successful adventure!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Moving house and being off line for a while has meant no updates, but that doesn't mean I've been up to nothing, in fact climbing wise I've been quite busy, although converting busy to successful is a different matter!  In fact looking at the numbers, for twenty one days out I've climbed eleven routes, failed on six (one twice) and had three turnarounds due to conditions, so for this year I'm achieving just over a 50% success rate. I don't know how that compares to others but I suppose it would depend on how high you're aiming and a bit of luck.

So time for a recap of the last month.

12th Feb saw Pete and me attempting Don't Die Of Ignorance on the Ben. An enlightening experience as neither of us had much idea what technical 11 would feel like. Initially there's a lot of apprehension stepping onto a route like this, that takes Dave Macleod six attempts or something and develops a mythical status, I mean how could I ever consider it possible to climb a route of this difficulty? Pete set off along the traverse, finding the good gear, until he reached the nose, where he rested before making the big move for the stienpull, matching and swinging for the ice. Unfortunately it would seem the ice is key for this move and this time it wasn't there, so although he tried again it wasn't happening, but the moves round to the stienpull were wired and the gear got well tested!
The next day we walked in to a buried Corrie an Lochain but with the slope under Ewen Buttress slumping and cracking with us on it we cautiously retraced our steps and headed home.
Pete on the nose

27th Feb. Back for a rematch this time with Dave Garry in tow. Pete went back out to his high point but with no ice the result was the same, so after Dave had his bit of fun, we rapped off, rapidly loosing motivation for the route. Its a long way to drive for the chance that a small piece of ice might be there when Scotland's full of far more reliable options.

The next day we headed in to Corrie an Lochain to have a look at Happy Tyrolleans, but with it looking rather black we changed plans and moved across to PicknMix which looked in great condition. Guy Robertson and Pete MacPhearson were going for a new line on the right hand side of the buttress and with a bit of a crowd it made for a good craic and plenty of photos. I led the first pitch up the icy groove with a wild swing round the arete and up to the belay, shared with Guy, who'd just completed the very steep first pitch of what would become "The Gathering" for obvious reasons! While Pete and Guy climbed leftwards for their second pitch, Dave headed up and rightwards for pitch two, and despatched it in about thirty minutes. He's good is Dave!

Starting the traverse right on PicknMix and Guy on The Gathering

Me seconding P2 PicknMix
Guy and Pete trying to take the corner direct. The Gathering took the icy wall on the left.
Thinking the conditions were going to last the week I decided to stay in Scotland and arranged to meet Dave Almond on the Thursday, but after walking in to Creag Meagaidh on Tuesday and climbing a thawing Glass Slipper I wasn't so sure, Then on Wednesday I walked up Aonach Mor and with the temperature at plus two I called it a day and drove home. At least my hill fitness was ok.

Next up, 11th March. Dave Almond and myself headed up on the Thursday evening and climbed Darth Vader on the Friday. In cold windy conditions its a good route choice as someone gets to have the sheltered cave belay, that'll be me then!  The climbing was good fun, with interesting climbing on all the pitches and made more exciting by a collapsing cornice pouring over the buttress to our left. From the plateau I belayed Dave to the edge of number three gully where he bashed a hole through the lip and we descended quickly.
The next day, thinking the wind was going to be lighter and there may be clear spells we went for our main target. An ascent of Scansor in Stob Corrie nan Lochan. An E2 5b that hasn't had a winter ascent yet. Dave headed up the first pitch while the snow fell and the wind blew. After about three hours he made the belay and it was my turn. The climbing was fantastic, a steep groove, climbed on small edges led to a resting ledge before the main event, a cracked wall led to an overhang, where a couple of moves up and a delicate traverse right led to the arete. The strenuous and technical moves up this proved to be the crux and with pumped forearms and numb hands I thankfully hooked the finishing jug. Once the hotaches had lessened and the pump had gone I moved leftwards to look at the second pitch. From the top of the belay block, a blank groove led up to a ledge on the left, then the wall steepened and looked thin from my position. After scraping the groove and finding no gear I made the decision, that in the current conditions I wasn't getting up it. The uncontrolled shivering was setting in and even with my belay jacket on I wasn't keeping warm. Dave wasn't sure, so after swapping leads he moved up to satisfy himself. It took him less than a minute before he was convinced. 
We baled.

Dave on Scansor
Moving up the wall before the delicate traverse.
Shaking out before the crux moves up the arete.

Although we weren't successful this time, we both felt it was the best pitch of mixed climbing we'd ever been on with fantastic, varied climbing in a spectacular position overlooking SC Gully and if/when it goes it will be one of the best routes in Scotland.
The fun wasn't over yet. descending the slope under the buttress, there was about a metre of fresh powder and each step produced a small slide in front of me. Next I heard a shout from Dave and turned to see a wave of snow rushing towards me. I tried to jump sideways but when you're up to your thighs in soft powder its not easy to jump and the wave took me. I started swimming, conscious that I didn't want to drop my axes as they'ed be a bugger to find after! Fortunately after about 30m the slide stopped and I stood up, a little shaken and stirred but otherwise fine!
With winds forecast at 80mph on the Sunday we took a rest day in Aviemore, thinking we'd get out in the Northern Corries on Monday, but with about a foot of fresh snow in the town and the ski road closed we headed back West Monday morning, to Bridge of Orchy and the route Messiah. This turned out to be a good choice with the snow well scoured off the ground making for an easy walk in. I ran the first two pitches together, up the ramp with interesting moves leftwards on the hand traverse, then on up a groove to the final ice pitch. A nice varied route for a short day.
The traverse on P1

Dave on P2 of Messiah


Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Great things have been happening in Scotland over the last few days (well the whole winter to be precise) and it was inspiring to be up there to witness some of it. The weekends goings on have been well reported elsewhere, so I'll just relate my latest adventure.
I drove up to Scotland on Friday night with Dave Garry and Dave Almond and after a couple of hours sleep in the Northern Coiries car park we met up with Helen and walked in to Lochain.
Although it felt quite mild, by the time we reached the crag the temp was just below freezing and things were looking good. Dave Garry and myself headed up to Daddy Longlegs, a route thats been on both our tick lists for a while now, while Helen and Dave went for War and Peace.
I started up the technical first pitch as this suited my style of climbing, and Dave is the man for anything overhanging, like the second pitch.
Conditions were perfect with not too much ice and just enough gear to keep me moving, and after some thin moves at the top of the first groove, I reached a good rest before moving rightwards into the continuation, where more delicate climbing using a crack on the left led to a piece of fixed gear. Unfortunately at this point I made a stupid mistake. As I pulled the rope up to clip, my hand knocked my axe out of the crack and I watched it fall away, fortunately landing by Dave in the snow. After retrieving it I completed the rest of the corner and the moves round the roof, then moved up, to belay below the final pitch. A bit annoying really, as it was going so smoothly, but hopefully I've learnt my lesson and I'll be more careful in future.
Daddy Longlegs P2
One more pull
The second pitch was a complete contrast and deceptively steep. After pulling on, to place some gear, then moving back down for a quick rest, Dave cruised up it to complete the deception, and it was only when I got on it myself, that I realised how steep it actually was. It was steep! A bag with a belay parka, water and a guide book, never felt so heavy! and after pulling over onto easy ground, it was a good five minutes before the pump had gone from my arms.
Walking back in on Sunday, the wind was about 50mph straight on the nose and it was sapping my motivation for getting on anything challenging, but as we approached the cliff I could see Ines and Charly on Happy Tyroleans and my motivation returned.
War and Peace P1
We decided to climb War and Peace, another route on my list for a long time, with three good pitches up the steep face to the right of Fallout Corner. I led the first pitch and after moving across to the usual belay I continued up to some fixed gear higher up that allowed my to get a good view of pitch two. 
Overhanging ground on P2
This was another steep one for Dave - that can be seen in the photo above - then a squeeze chimney, before the last pitch up a slab, with a final sting in the tail.
P 3
Meanwhile Dave and Helen were climbing Bulgy, and if there was a category for the most protection-less ascent of a route, I think he might have a first. From the last piece of gear he traversed out leftwards through the crux at the stepped roof, then up the groove, before placing a dodgy cam. So about 10m of tech 7 with no pro!
We drove up to the car park again on Monday but with the temperature reading plus 7 we chose the cafe, a mistake it would seem, when I read that Ines and Charly were at it again with a new route by War and Peace. Obviously we're just not committed enough! 
Still I'm happy for the moment! 

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

After visiting White Goods recently and having the usual apres climb grade debate, I started to wonder what the Scottish grades would be for the White Goods dry tooling routes. As sports routes used to get E grades before the adoption of the French system and grit routes have been given sport grades, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to reverse the process and convert the dry tooling routes backwards, hopefully giving people a feel for the type of climbing difficulty that could be expected on a Scottish style mixed route.  Obviously this will only reflect the technical difficulty aspect and the sustained nature of the climb as they all follow a line of bolts, so in relating the two styles, you would have to assume good, easy to place protection. The other thing to remember, is the dry tooling routes are graded for the red point, whereas the Scottish grade should reflect the onsite. As all my White Goods climbing has been worked, its quite tricky to get the conversion right. I've tried to imagine clearing snow off the rock and spending time searching for the holds but some of the moves are so blind, unless you had the strength to hang in there for an hour or two I don't know how you'd onsite them in a Scottish scenario. To put that in perspective a red point ascent would take about three minutes! 
I imagine something like Anubis is graded to reflect the onsite and Dave Mac must have learned a lot from his attempts, making the ascent feel (relatively) easier.

So these are my thoughts. (the numbers in brackets represent the Scottish tech grade ie; the hardest move or sequence of moves)

Left Over Goods D9
Slightly overhanging crack line (8) to a good rest under the big roof, then powerful moves into a fig four and a hard pull to reach easy ground and the LO (11) 
X 11

Doorstep Challenge D8+
As above to the rest,(8) then move right and climb through the roof with powerful moves to get round the lip (11)
IX 11

White Goods D8+
Overhanging ground with some hard moves through the small roofs (9) leads to a semi rest under the main roof, then the obligatory horizontal section with more inverted manoeuvres (10) leads to the finishing crack.
X 10

Jazz D8
Steep climbing, sustained, but with no particularly hard crux, leads to the LO (9)
X 9

Tumble in the Jungle D9
Climbs through four overlaps, while traversing rightwards, on thin, difficult to place torques with some big pulls and no rests (9)
XI 9

Ready Steady Hook D10 
Easy climbing leads to a good rest under the big roof, before launching out with multiple fig fours to the lip, where a dyno gets a good ledge, then footless dangling and heel hooks allow small hooks to be reached and the hardest climbing is over (12) Climb the wall above (8) to a LO 
XI 12
Ready Steady Hook

Powerpact D9
A big reach out to the lip of the first roof and powerful/reachy moves up on small edges gain the wall above (10) which is climbed to a good rest under the main overhang. Now a sustained sequence of pumpy moves lead horizontally leftwards to a massive reach off a stienpull (10) then a hard move past a block (9) and more strenuous moves to the LO
XI 10 

The first roof on Powerpact 

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Great Expectations

Last Wednesday evening saw Dave Almond and myself driving up to Scotland with big plans.
In my dream world it went something like this: Thursday; Trail of Tears, Friday; Blood Sweat and frozen Tears, Saturday; The Secret, then an easy day on Sunday climbing Neanderthal.
Now when I have plans like that, its easy to come away disappointed, but so what, aim high and you'll always achieve more in the end. Thats my philosophy and I'm sticking to it!

Ok, now for the reality. After arriving at Duncan's house at 1am it was straight to bed and an alarm at 5 for the drive to Lochnagar. We reached the rescue box at 8.30 and stopped to gear up. It was at this point we realised how cold it was. The wind was blowing like a freight train and with the temp around -7 it was bitterly cold. With every layer on it was all we could do just to keep warm, so we decided to go for Parallel Buttress. The easier climbing would mean we could keep moving, but on reaching the start of the route the wind seemed to have completely stopped. Dave made the right call, "lets stick with the original plan" so we moved rightwards to Trail of Tears.
The 1st pitch was pretty straight forward, a turfy groove led to a belay on the left after 30m. The next pitch looked exciting, continuing up the corner to a small overhang and climbing a thin ice seam up the corner above. The ice in the corner was enough to stop any protection going in, but not enough to make the climbing any easier, and it proved to be a committing, pumpy section for Dave on the sharp end.
At the end of the ramp, which was easy with snow, I decided to carry on and make a belay at a turf ledge I could see diagonally above me. This section was the crux. Hanging off my left axe I moved down and rightwards onto a smooth slab and at full reach gained a small hook in a seam that allowed me to pull across, with my right foot pressing into a small ramp at the bottom of the slab, then a hand swap on the right axe and a placement in a crack at the bottom of the groove to my right, meant I could make bridging moves upwards on thin mossy hooks until the good turf was reached. This was a sustained section, and as I had traversed right then up, with no gear I would have been looking at a nasty fall if I'd come off! Although when Dave seconded it he spotted a peg in the base of the groove. I wonder if this was the peg Andy Nisbet placed by abseil? 
At the belay on the 1st pitch, with the thin ice corner above to my right. ⓒ D  Almond
Above the climbing wasn't over, and seconding in the dark I was glad of the rope above me as any style went out the window, but a final steep pull over a short wall and all that remained was easy ground to the top. I say easy, but in the dark, finding the Tough Brown Traverse and climbing the 3 pitches to the plateau with about two runners would not be the place to make a mistake!
We started the route at 10am and topped out at 8'20 so just over 10hours, but it was 10'30 by the time we reached the car and we still had to get to Aviemore, so a long day overall meant we wouldn't be driving to Beinn Eighe without a rest day. The first example of my reality not quite meeting my expectations!
So after a good nights sleep, where my coughing kept Dave awake and his snoring did the same for me, we got up at 4 on Saturday morning and drove north for Blood Sweat and Frozen Tears. The walk in, up the side of the hill was hard work and the head torches ahead of us had me slightly worried, theres a lot of routes you might go this way for but only one that I really wanted right now. Sod's law say's they'll want it too! I was proved right when we got to the ab point and a rope was in place, Neil and his mates had beaten us to it :-( 
We decided to try Maelstrom. I led the first pitch up an ice fall and a steep groove, with some really good climbing on thin hooks, before traversing right to belay below a steep chimney. Dave led this, and the continuation groove above, until he reached a ledge that seemed the logical place to belay. From here the corner continued up to a big roof and we were meant to traverse left across a slab, to small ledges and gain the groove to our left, but after falling on the traverse and eventually getting across with tension, I found myself looking at an unprotectable, verglassed nightmare and with the light fading, we called it a day. You can't win them all. Looking at the picture below, I now think we tried to traverse left too low down.

Neil Adams at the second belay of BSFT, abbing in. ⓒ D Almond
After descending West Central Gully and climbing back up Fuselage Gully to get our bags we headed down and to the pub for a much needed beer and some food before driving back to Aviemore.
We decided on an easy day in the northern corries for Sunday, and with the weather seemingly to deteriorate, we climbed Original Summer Route but by lunch time the weather had improved massively, and I was slightly regretting we hadn't tried something more challenging. Anyway it meant we were back at the car by one o'clock, ready for the long drive back south, until next time...