Sunday, 23 February 2014

Fiacaill Couloir

A very snowy Fiacaill Couloir

Yesterday was my last day with Peter, Paul and Dave, so we opted to have an experience and grab a route.  We pushed through the wind to find shelter on a busy Fiacaill Buttress, which was in great condition.  The Couloir was quiet when we went up, after a team had just retreated due to a big fall.  All ok though.  All the guys did really well, despite a little moaning and throwing of toys at the back.  We avoided the Goat Track, which was receiving a fair bit of new wind blown snow, and journeyed around the corie to 1141m and down the ridge.  Good views and manageable wind made for a great last day.

Steeper ground

Zac on the Seam

Nice walk out

Friday, 21 February 2014

Cairngorm Success

We ventured out again today, with a plan to ascend Cairngorm in the wild winds.  A cunning plan to shelter through the ski area to the restaurant worked well.  The more consistent winds, rather than gusts made it easier to manage.  That said, the winds were strong as we went from our shelter behind the restaurant up to the summit.  Everyone managed really well, and made consistent progress to the top.  We had the full winter experience as we descended, and found a nice drift low down to dig some emergency shelters.  A good day despite the forecast.

Happy Summit Team
A nice but windy walk off
Emergency shelter practice

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Windy Cairngorms

I have been out for the first day of a 3 day skills course for The Outdoor Hub on the East.  After a wet start it dried up, but the wind was pretty strong.  We had a good footwork and sliding session on the side of the Fiacaill Corie Cas, then had an attempt at walking up the ridge with the aim of Cairngorm.  Unfortunately, the wind was getting the better of the guys today, so we bailed into Sneachda and did a tour of the coire doing more footwork exercises through the boulders.

Hopefully we can have a summit of something tomorrow.

Smooth As Silk

Yesterday I met up with Elliot, Beth, Steve and Jacob.  All are just getting into winter climbing properly, so the aim was to give Elliot and Jacob and taste of something tricky, whilst Beth and Steve climbed together.  We went to Creagan Corie Cha-no so I could have a look for the first time and see if would be suitable as a work venue.  Also there are a couple of VII's to have a crack at.  We went to look at Smooth as Silk VII,7, which was absolutely buried.  The first pitch was straight forward, but there snow, ice and crud was hard to clear.  This led us boldly to the belay, and an even more buried second pitch.

Setting in to quest
I spent a good 40 mins to an hour clearing up to the crux roof section, but did find good gear for my efforts.  At the roof though, the crud in the offwidth was impossible to shift, and useless for an axe.  After a few forays upwards trying to clear, I decided there was enough thin ice under the snow/crud on the steep ground above the roof to commit.  A technical sequence on icy hooks and tiny crystal footholds led around the roof to the ice.  It was then a case of questing upwards for approx 20m before getting another runner.  Thankfully before the awkward cornice exit.  It was an engaging route, and felt more like VIII,7 in it's current condition..

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Orient Express FWA

Today I was up the Ben with Dave who wanted to have a rematch with Orient Express E2 5c.  He had backed off this a week ago due to poor ice/snow and poor gear.  The gear was not much better this time, but a higher terrier and some ice to aim for made the difference today.  That said it was extremely committing moving around the steep bulge into the upper groove.  Thin hooks and very poor feet made it hard to reach the ice, then hard to step up.  Dave did well to stick with it and work out the best sequence to commit to the moves, as falling off was not a good option.  Even the belay was a creative one.  The pitch was pretty nice to climb with the rope above you, thin, balancy and technical.  Not your usual pumpy winter route.  I then led through up the continuing groove which went on thin ice.  A short steep section took me to easy ground, but even this pitch was a bold affair.

The line of Orient Express
Dave picking his way up
Contemplating what's ahead
Heading into steeper ground and thin, but good ice
Psyched, Orient Express IX,8.  Due to the bold nature of the climbing we feel this reflects the route quite well.

Pics to come.

There were many teams out today.  Tower Ridge saw many ascents, New beginnings Right Hand and NE Buttress sore a few ascents also.  Mike Pescod climbed Observatory Ridge, but found very little gear.  I'm sure there were many other routes being climbed today as well.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Ice Climbing Coaching and North Buttress

It has been a tricky week with the weather and meeting the variety of aims Ambrose had.  One of those aims was to look at ice climbing and improve his technique.  The only way to do that was in the Ice Factor, so we headed there yesterday.  Ambrose said he found this an invaluable part of the week, and he showed real progression through the session, climbing his hardest line as the last route of the session.  We then spent some time refreshing belays, before doing a little bit of rock climbing and throwing in some coaching there.

Coming up the first pitch

Living the dream with a face full of spindrift
Today we finally had a nice day to wrap up the week.  We climbed an extremely easy going North Buttress IV,4***, but not before I had to put all the steps back in to the route as they had disappeared from Chris Thorns efforts yesterday.  We opted to ab after the tricky pitches to cover retreating.  This worked really well as Ambrose was feeling the efforts of the week.  Despite the great weather, there was the odd batch of spindrift to remind us we were in Scotland after all.

Getting stuck into the crux crack, that is pretty much hero snow
More Spindrift

Friday, 14 February 2014

Sometime A Gamble Doesn't Pay Off

With a good forecast we opted to escape South to the cobbler hoping get on something steady and swing leads.  When we arrived we were a little surprised to see the cloud base so low.  This was fine as we walked up the lower path, but as we came out of the trees visibility was poor.  With reports from friends of a considerable amount of snow about, we cut off and headed to the SE Ridge III.  This proved hard going through knee deep snow to get over to the broad ridge before heading higher, whilst navigating in the white room.  The theme continued all the way to the buttress, with the snow getting deeper and no features to nav with other than the compass etc.  It took us over 3 hours to plough our way to the buttress which was buried in it's lower section, which made identifying any routes very difficult.  The temperature had risen to, so the slopes leading to the base of the SE Ridge felt a bit too interesting.  I attempted to climb across via the Grassy Traverse III, but this seemed to be leading to no man's land after the distance it suggested it would meet the SE Ridge.  Getting late in the day and with the weather forecast to come in, we opted to retreat.  Only 150m from the summit, even the grade I option around to the right of the face felt out with the way the snowpack was getting heavy.  Disappointed, we made our way back down, bt with good learning points to take away from the experience.

It was clear the temperature had had an affect through Glencoe as we drove back.  The snow had retreated up the hill side and thinned out considerably.  Matt and Tim had success today on the Ben, climbing Shadow VII,6*** on Carn Dearg.  Good effort boys!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Windy On Dinnertime Buttress

Ambrose and I ventured up onto Dinnertime Buttress II today to look at some mountaineering ground and anchor selection.  The wind and occasional heavy snow shower made it an engaging experience throughout.  This worked really well, and we descended the route as well to save the deep slog through SCNL.  Forgot to take any pics today, as I was too busy staying upright.

Thanks to Abrose for this image showing the wonderful weather today

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Wild, Windy and Minging in Glencoe

There has been a massive amount of snow over the last couple of days.  This has made getting to any climbs difficult, and potentially dangerous.  With another day of snow and high winds, Ambrose and I went to the Zigzags to find a few different pitches to climb.  The day started off ok, with a wade up even though the team in front were breaking trail (good effort Scales).  As we kitted up, the wind started to make an appearance every now and again.  By the time we had waded around the first zig, the wind had really joined the party.  Ambrose and I exchanged leads up the Zigzags I, and then Zigzags Direct III as the weather continued to worsen.  By 13:30 it was starting to feel apocalyptic, and all teams in the area bailed rapidly.

As we got back the path we saw a sizeable avalanche come down the North West Face of Beinn Fada and into the gorge.  We then heard another shortly after.  It was another challenging day on the hill.

Zigzag Direct

Everyone bails

Wild as we walk out

Monday, 10 February 2014

A Couple of Days on the CIC

I have been up in the CIC hut Sunday and today with Alex, enjoying some of the wild weather and ridiculous amounts of snow.

We walked in on Sunday and dropped our kit at the hut and had a brew, before heading out for a route.  The conditions dictate staying low, so we chose Gutless IV,5** on the Douglas Boulder, which is a bit nippy for the grade.  An easy snow/ice pitch took us quickly to the first belay.  Then another steep ice step led to the chimney proper.  This was a real thrutch fest.  Not one to do with a rucksack.  The exit out the chimney is interesting at the moment, with 85 degree snow, leading to a soft finish to reach the belay.  The rest is straight forward to the top.  It was a wild day and Alex had a raw winter experience again.

Approching the belay after the chimney of Gutless
Pitch 1 of the Curtain

Approaching the 2nd belay.  Check out the buried hut on the right
Today we grabbed a short route as Alex was suffering from a couple of days of really poor sleep.  We cruised us The Curtain IV,5**** which was in good condition.  The first pitch is it's usual snowy solo, but there were good screws to be had after that.  There was an unusual amount of snow on Ledge Route where snow and spindrift has settled.  Add this to the metre of snow that fell on the summits last night, which would have had an impact as well.  It took a fair bit managing to get back into No.5 which was no different to a couple of days ago.  With more snow on the way, it's only going to get more interesting.

Saturday, 8 February 2014


Today I was out with Alex for the first of 3 days climbing and we headed up to SCNL to see what was on offer.  I was hoping to do both Spectre V,6 and Scabbard Chimney V,6, both things were a little raw up there today.  Snow fell all day on a strongish wind, and we had a lot of spindrift piling down on us too.  That said Spectre was in easy condition to climb as it is an ice route, but not a lot of gear though.  I did find good belays.  We did 3 quick pitches then abseiled off and ran away quickly.  The temperature had risen slightly, and neither of us wanted to be on the aprons again.  We cut our loses, having done a nice route and headed down.  It was still snowing as we left the corrie, and then raining as we lost height.  I would expect it to be another interesting day tomorrow finding things to climb.

Alex enjoying himself despite the ming!

We will be on the Ben for the next 2 days, with a night in the hut.  So I'll catch up when we get back down on Monday.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Centurion Take 2

A very icy pitch 1
Matt and I walked back up the Ben today aiming to have another bash at Centurion VIII,8***.  It was clear as we approached the route that it was even whiter than last week, and getting gear was going to be challenging as it was pretty icy.  We opted to take the same pitches as last time, hoping that a bit of familiarity would speed things up.  This definitely worked and we where through the crux pitch quickly.  After consultation with a guide book it appeared I never went the right way on the 3rd after all.  This time I did, and it all went to plan across the thin and bold traverse, as we continued to make steady and relatively speedy progress.  Matt then dispatched the steep crack on the 4th pitch.  We then just ran the rope out up the rest of Route II, which was plastered in a mixture of neve and cruddy ice.  This put us on Ledge route in good time and we walked down that.  It was nice to be back down to the van in day light after a stella day climbing.

As a picture paints a thousand words, here a few.

Matt making speedy progress despite the mass of clearing needed
Still hard going even after Matt had cleaned it
The wild and thin traverse on pitch 3
Matt approaching the belay on pitch 3
Charging up the overhanging crack on pitch 4
A cheecky photo as we reach the easy ground on Route II

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

North Buttress

Today I was back out with Steve and Ed, but no Frankie.  The aim was to get them of a challenging route, so North Buttress VI,4*** on the Buachaille was a great option today.  We arrived at the start of the route at the same time as another party, who kindly let us lead off first.  The climb was in awesome condition after a freeze last night.  First time neve placements and bomber hook meant the guys made short work seconding the pitches.  We switched tactics after the hard pitches, which meant we flew to the top pretty quickly.  There were a few funky pockets around as we made are way to the summit that needed a little care, and there was a lot of snow continuing to blow into those areas.

A bit wintery
Ed loving the stella conditions
After a quick chocolate bar on the summit we picked are way through the partial white room down to the col, before heading up and down the ridge.  This too has a lot of snow on it, but was ok for the most part if you took care.  A good couple of days in good company.

Ploughing a way to the summit

Monday, 3 February 2014

Zigzag Mounatineering

Today I have been working for West Coast Alpine Guides with Ed, Steve and Frankie.  We went for a mountaineering day up the Zigzags and into SCNL, looking at some skills as we went.  Both Ed and Steve have done quite a bit, and wanted to look at looking after a second on winter/scrambling ground.  So they took it in turns guiding Frankie (who was more that confident) to the top.  We added in a few different steps here and there, which meant it was more of a Zig today.
Steve enjoying the way up

Digging machines
 Once on the top we walked along the ridge to the corie before the weather started to deteriorate.  It was more wet snow on a Southerly wind falling.  The snow pack was pretty wet for the first 6 inches, then you got back into dry, chalky windslab.  We dropped down out of the corie and dug some bucket seats and buried axes, before mooching back down.  It was raining at 800m and felt pretty warm.

And relax

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Bolton Boys School Hit the East

I have been working with Bolton Boys School over in the Cairngorm this weekend, with challenging weather and a ski road that is closed.  Despite all this, we have nade the most of the time and managed to achieve a lot of what they wanted.  On Saturday we walked up Meall a Bhuachaille and managed to find some excellent snow to work on.  It was firm enough to kick steps, crampon and slide on.  This meant we could have a great session, then journey to the summit.  The wind was strong, but we where sheltered from the worst of it until walking to the top.  A breezy walk down to the bothy and then a leisurely walk out ended it good day.
Breezy to the summit

Today was meant to be a climbing day.  The weather and conditions on the hill made this a pretty impossible task.  Add in the fact they needed to be away at a sensible time to drive home, and we came up with a session at Newtyle Quarry.  Not quite winter climbing, but as close as we could get under the circumstances.  All the guys managed to climb the M4 and 5 and few did really well on the 5+.  It was a real education for them to see what axes and crampons could do, and discuss how this would transfer to on the hill.