Friday, 24 July 2009

The Amphitheatre Escape Route, Grade 3 scramble (ish!)

The weather has not been very inspiring this week, with big showers and low cloud being a fixture most days. However, spells of tantalisingly good weather have been making an appearance in between showers, and today after buying a new waterproof in the Fort I decided I could finally justify a hill day whatever the weather! My old jacket was starting to leak like a sieve, making hill days in the rain not really an option.

I headed up to the West Face of Aonach Dubh once again to further my explorations of this mighty cliff. My intention was to find an easy route up through the great Amphitheatre and onto the prominent North Ridge that I have noticed from the glen. Once again, this was a guidebook-free expedition and I aimed to have as little knowledge of this area of the face as possible before starting out.

I began by climbing the lower tier of B Buttress, which is (together with Dinnertime Buttress lower tier) the only feasible way of ascending the lower cliff. I then traversed the Middle Ledge beneath the enormous dripping overhangs of D Buttress as far as No.4 Gully, which leads up to the Amphitheatre itself.

It soon became clear that there was an easy rib of broken rock directly to the right of the gully bed, climbing up amongst impressive rock architecture. Above me towered the enormous unbroken face of E Buttress, the only cliff on the face with a significant concentration of summer rock climbs. The rib I followed proved to be straightforward, although there were a couple of exposed moves: I would give it a Grade 2 scramble rating.

I then entered the Amphitheatre itself, an enormous hanging corrie carved out of the rock of the mountain. No way up lay ahead: I knew of an escape to the right, the South Ridge which I had climbed with Rachael last October. However I wanted to make an escape to the left, without going all the way back along the Rake that is, so I ended up ascending the incredibly loose Great Slab. This is an enormous slab of rock, scoured by ice and covered in the most precarious grit and rubble. Climbing up the slab is like climbing on ball bearings. It is technically easy but the chance of a slip is always there, and for this reason it is the most serious point in the route. It is also where most of the avalanches originate that sweep No.4 Gully over the winter.

My hope had been to climb the North Ridge, a fine crest of rock that made the natural continuation to my route. However, as I began scrambling up to the crest it started to rain heavily, and I decided to find an easier route up.

The shattered ridge to my left looked promising. It proved to be broken and mostly easy, except near the top where there were several steps of Moderate climbing.

All in all it was a good exploratory route through fine rock scenery. My eyes have been opened to just how much potential there is for new scrambling routes on this face.

Photos from today

Friday, 17 July 2009

Three days in Skye

We have now returned from our holiday in Skye, and despite questionable weather on the first two days, we had an amazing time! Our campsite for the trip was the Glen Brittle site, on the beach and beneath the towering Cuillin. On the first day we pottered up into Coire Laggan, playing on the boulders as we went, but climbed nothing of consequence due to the low cloud and threat of rain.

The second day was similarly iffy, so we headed North towards the Trotternish escarpments and the crag of Carn Liath. This surprising crag is home to a deep cave which we explored, searching for a VDiff route called Mummy's Church. The torchlit exploration of the cave was fantastic: it had several deep passages, the main one leading to a steep abseil at the bottom of which was a chamber illuminated by shafts of light from above. Apart from an ancient rusty piton, it really felt like delving into unknown! Our route followed the back wall of the chamber, bridging up between the walls of the cave towards a narrow skylight nearly a hundred feet above.

Isi attempted the lead, but it was cold in the cave and her hands became too numb to feel the rock. I then tied in and led the pitch myself, finding it tricky at one point but well-protected. Loose rock and slime added to the exploratory atmosphere, and after much struggling I emerged back into the light at the top of the cave. Isi and Rachael followed without difficulty. A highly unusual route all round, one of the best short routes I have done in ages!

The following day seemed more promising, weather-wise, so we headed to Sligachan with the intention of climbing the Pinnacle Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean, one of the best mountaineering routes in the country. It proved to be everything we hoped it would be: sustained, committing, yet easy enough to enjoy (we did not even have to rope up). In character it was very much an Alpine route that would not be out of place on a peak above Chamonix or Zermatt. One particularly sensational abseil added a touch of seriousness to the outing. We summitted Sgurr nan Gillean to be rewarded by perfect views and an uncomplicated descent down the normal route--a rock climb in its own right, although easy.

Our trip to Skye was a great success, and we now have many ideas for future visits, not to mention the beginnings of an epic plan for the Alps next summer.

Photos from Skye

Monday, 13 July 2009

Off to Skye

Myself, Isi, and Rachael (an ex-Clachaig climber and old friend) are heading up to Skye this evening for a few days. We have no fixed plans, but intend to climb some mountains by some interesting routes! The weather will most likely dictate what we do, with big showers being predicted in the afternoons.

Whatever we get up to, it should be good as I have never been to Skye. I will make a full report upon our return!

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Pinnacle Ridge of Garbh Bheinn

For months now, from Glencoe village I have been gazing out over the loch to the mountains in distant Ardgour and Ardnamurchan. Of these mountains, one reigns supreme over all the others in both height and grandeur, and this mountain is Garbh Bheinn.

Today we finally set foot upon this mighty peak, which by virtue of not attaining Munro height was completely empty of other people. Our original plan had been to climb the Great Ridge, a classic Difficult rock climb first done in the 1890s. For that reason we took only a rope and a token minimum of climbing gear. I was wearing my nailed boots and was confident they would perform well on the Gneiss of the mountain. It's all part of the ongoing experiment into period climbing gear.

However, when we reached the corrie it became obvious that the Severe Direct Start to the Great Ridge was the natural line, and it would be a shame to ignore the first pitches of the Direct. For that reason we decided to keep the Great Ridge for another day, and chose the slightly easier Pinnacle Ridge for our objective instead.

As we started climbing it soon turned out that my nailed boots weren't anywhere near as comfortable on the highly grippy, less than positive rock of Garbh Bheinn. I needed smearing ability; to compensate, I had to develop new climbing techniques fast!

The first tower on the ridge proved to be serious, with route-finding difficulties. Our way up was pretty stiff for Moderate. Isi led the corner and steep wall, and I seconded, finding it difficult on the tiny edges and dodgy smears. I feel certain that we missed the Moderate route and found a random variation, at about VDiff standard.

From the top of the tower, an easy but spectacular arete led to the final tower, which fell after some reconnoitering to find the easiest line. A knife-edge arete which I ascended a cheval led to the summit ridge.

The views were splendid, some of the best I have seen from any mountain in the region. We chose a long and leisurely descent ridge, with plenty of opportunity to soak in the fantastic views.

A grand day on the hill.

Photos from today

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Catch up!

For the past few days my net connection at home has been down, but now I'm back online and able to briefly recount my adventures of the past week.

On the Wednesday and Thursday just past we went on a road trip out East, visiting the Dunkeld crags and also Glen Clova. Some nice climbs were done, but I was not on my best form after having failed a couple of routes (Staircase at Polldubh and Cuticle Crack at Dunkeld). Also the weather was extremely hot and sticky and initially I was without chalk. Getting badly lost and scared on a VDiff did not help matters, and I decided I was not best suited to lead anything else. The three classic routes at Clova--Parapet Route, Flake Route and the Central Corner--were all difficult for me on second, as my confidence was shot. However, I did lead the excellent but easy Three J's Chimney as my last route of the day.

Saturday was the main event of the week. My new nailed climbing boots finally arrived, and I took them for a spin up Aonach Dubh. I ended up creating a new half-route by appending an excellent arete of unrecorded rock on No.2 Gully Buttress to the existing climb of B Buttress Ordinary Route.

The nailed boots proved to be superb on 'traditional' mountaineering ground, despite the fact that the nailing pattern is not specifically designed for climbing. I am going to fix a new set of nails around the edges of the soles to make them even better on small holds.

My impressions of the nailed boots so far:

Advantages: Superior climbing performance on wet, dirty or icy rock. Improves your technique. Better edging ability than any other climbing footwear I have ever used.

Disadvantages: Less durable and require more care. More limited lifespan. More difficult to smear or climb on slabs. Slightly less comfortable walking on roads.

All round, I love them and have big plans for them when the winter season comes around again.

Photos from Dunkeld and Clova

No.2 Gully Buttress Climb