Sunday, 31 May 2009

Glorious weather!

The hot and sunny weather is bringing walkers, climbers and sightseers to Glencoe in their droves, so we bar staff are rather busy at the moment! Despite this, on Saturday morning myself, Isi and James found time to get a route done on the east face of Aonach Dubh. After a few false starts we located the beginning of Bowstring, a delightful long Diff line climbing slabs and walls almost to the summit of the hill. The rock was of good quality and it made an excellent chilled-out solo.

The descent, on the other hand, proved a little more exciting. I foolishly led us down the wrong col for Dinnertime Buttress, aiming down the North Face of Aonach Dubh by accident! Some sketchy downclimbing on loose steep rock eventually led us to the terrace beneath the upper tier of the face, which we traversed easily until we finally reached Dinnertime Buttress. This is a route I dislike due to its relentlessly steep grass slopes and poor quality of scrambling, not to mention the crux chimney, which I got stuck in on one embarassing descent in foul conditions. However, it is the most direct route back down to the pub.

We made it down fifteen minutes before work, and were almost immediately plunged into one of the hardest bar shifts I have ever experienced--certainly the busiest day in the Clachaig since New Year, and in many ways harder than New Year's Eve. A knackering day all round, but the mountain route in the morning was more than worth it.

Photos from yesterday

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

A slightly damp trip to Polldubh

Today we had a Clachaig staff trip to Polldubh, including myself, Paul, Jack, Ewelina and Morag. Ew and Morag had never climbed outside before, so I led up the Gutter and belayed both of them up the first pitch--much fun was had by all! The climbs were a little damp after some rain in the morning, so some of the ledges had puddles in and there were some wet seeps, but generally conditions were okay.

Jack and I also climbed Scratch VS 4c at SW Buttress. It was a very bold lead for Jack and felt very delicate on second. As my first ever VS it felt like an achievement even though I didn't lead it--I don't think I'd have the guts to lead a route with an unprotected crux like that!

We finished off by doing Tyke's Climb and finishing up Repton Ridge, one of the best Diffs in the glen after the Gutter, and my third time on the route.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Grade-pushing at Polldubh

With more sunny (but windy) weather, Isi and I decided to spend the morning at Polldubh with the mission of pushing our grade a little. We had previously climbed one Hard Severe together at Reiff, the corner route Meikle Neuk (Isi's lead). Today we went to the delightful little crag SW Buttress, about 45 feet high with excellent belays at the top, and after soloing the Diff line we had a look at some of the slightly harder routes.

The first (Fred's Delight, Mild Severe) did not follow an obvious line and Isi tried out various options on lead, including a difficult move over an overlap that turned out to be the crux move of an E2 5c route--we didn't know this at the time! Isi finished the route proper, but on second I resolved to try what I believed to be the 'true line'. Unfortunately the rope was pulling me to one side, which would have resulted in a hefty swing, so I didn't commit to the 5c move; however if I'd have had a top rope above me I might well have given it a proper go. All goes to show how much our perception of whether or not a move is possible is influenced by the given grade.

Just for a laugh, I had a go at soloing the Hard Very Severe line on the crack, a technical diagonal traverse. I found the first four or five moves okay, but after that the footholds ran out and I wussed out! It wasn't a serious attempt, but it's amusing to say that I had a crack at soloing an HVS.

Our next route was Tear, a one-star Hard Severe, my lead (and my first at the grade). The lower crack was easy, and after placing an obscene amount of good gear in the crack beneath the overlap I tested out the awkward layback crux move. It took a few goes to get the sequence right and the move was very committing, although the gear was so good there was no risk from a fall. The upper moves also weren't easy, but all in all I found the route entertaining and technical without being worrying.

After that, we went over to do Pine Wall, a route we have both wanted to do for some time. Isi lead it; it turned out to be surprisingly easy, albeit very run-out and obviously serious. I can see why (as Peter says) it was VDiff at one point. It is now graded Hard Severe but based on our experience of Severe-graded routes, we reckoned it was more typical of a Mild Severe route in terms of technical difficulty.

It's strange to think that we can now look back on a Hard Severe and think it straightforward. A couple of months ago we never would have contemplated attempting the route at all. Makes me wonder what will be possible by the end of the summer ... I am pretty confident we will be trying our first Very Severe before too long.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Aonach Beag and Ben Nevis ... Alpine style

Yesterday I headed into Glen Nevis with my tent, two days' worth of food, and my winter gear. The intention was to explore, guidebook-free. After chatting with three blokes who were doing the Grey Corries ridge, I camped in the wild corrie encircled by Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag, and when I awoke at 5am I saw that my boots (left outside) were frozen hard. A good sign! The sky was also crystal clear without a cloud to be seen.

I approached the North Face of Aonach Beag and searched out a potential line. The overnight frost had hardened up the snow nicely, and in fact the whole situation was reminiscent of an early morning in the Alps. As I started to climb my chosen gully, the sun hit the face and almost immediately ice chips started raining down from above. Another reminder of the Alps!

Since I had no guidebook, I had to do a fair bit of wandering to and fro to find the best route. I ended up climbing two steep pitches of perfect snow-ice at around Grade III standard, but it felt stiffer due to my heavy pack. The line I followed corresponds to the Grade III route 'Dragonfly'. After climbing the very steep final snow pitch, avoiding the drooping cornices, I followed the ridge down and back up again towards Carn Mor Dearg. The three chaps doing the ridge were ahead of me, breaking trail in the softening snow.

A tiring ascent on snow-covered slabs finally brought me to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg and its superb view of the North Face of Ben Nevis, for once cloud free and draped with ice and snow. I followed the long narrow arete from CMD to the summit of Ben Nevis, which was awash with the usual hordes of walkers ... not an ice axe to be seen! In fact, one bloke noticed my crampons and said 'He's cheating!'

I descended rapidly, 1:50 hours from the summit to the pub. As luck would have it, the three blokes I had met at various stages on the way over the ridge were already getting the drinks in and were kind enough to buy a much-appreciated pint of Blaven for me. Next time you're in the Clachaig I will return the favour!

Taken altogether, the past two days count as some of the best I have ever had amongst the Scottish mountains. What a fantastic way to end the 2008/2009 winter climbing season.

Photo album

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Rain and more rain!

It has been raining more or less non-stop for days now, putting a halt on any hill action for the intrepid mountaineers of the Clachaig. Days off this week have been spent sleeping, visiting the Ice Factor, and other such indoor activities. Reports from the Ben indicate that there is a chance some mixed routes may come back into nick for a brief spell if things turn cold again, but looking out of my door at the dreich weather I'd say there is little if any chance that any more winter action is to be had in Glencoe.