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