Sunday, 29 May 2011

Finally climbing again after an injury (posted by James)

Getting back into the swing of things again

As I mentioned in my last post, a few weeks back I took a fall whilst out running in the hills and badly sprained a wrist. This combined with over 3 weeks of poor weather have equated to a very dull month for me….usually May is one of my favourite times of the year, but all I've managed until last friday this May is 5 easy Munros in the Cairngorms.

In the last week my wrist has been feeling much better, so on Friday I decided to put things to the test and see if I was ready to start climbing again.

I headed towards Buachaille Etive Mor in Glencoe to see if the strong winds had dried off any of the rock, and I was in luck.

About 2 years ago Alex and I climbed North Buttress, a long, sustained and lovely route which I really enjoyed. Knowing that the route increases in difficulty with height and that you can easily retreat off the lower sections, I decided to put my wrist to the test and try and solo it.

North Buttress from below - you can see the chimney line at the top

As I started up the lower scrambling section, I couldn't believe just how good it felt to be moving on rock again…that constant stretching and gymnastic movement of climbing that we all know and love…I have really missed it for the last few weeks. And I was feeling good, as my wrist wasn't giving me any problems at all.

The first steep bit

North Buttress represents one of Glencoe's finest attributes, in that it is one of many ingenious mountaineering routes which take you through astonishing rock scenery and landscape without pushing into higher grades. So whilst you are still climbing, you don't have the added stresses of higher grade climbing and you're able to concentrate more on enjoying the place itself.

Climbing lovely high quality rock

The top half of North Buttress has got to be one of the best routes of its grade in Scotland. You climb steep chimney after chimney in an almost unbroken straight line for hundreds of feet to the top of the buttress. If taken direct without diversions around any of the chimneys, North Buttress is certainly harder than the Moderate grade it is given….the crux chimney in my opinion being harder and steeper than anything found on Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis.

One of the many steep chimneys on the direct route

I was elated when I topped out from the route onto the summit of Stob Dearg. I find soloing rewards more on so many levels than pitching a route such as this - you are moving constantly throughout and you get an arguably clearer idea of the route's qualities and difficulties than if you are stopping for pitches.

Looking down one of the steep chimneys

Above all, it just felt amazing to be out there again and doing what I enjoy the most. Now I'm just praying for a longer spell of good weather so I can get stuck back into things.


An angry sky over Rannoch Moor

Monday, 23 May 2011

The wildest of days in Glencoe (posted by James)

The Coire nam Beithiach waterfall starting to blow backwards in the wind

I awoke with a sore head this morning, a little rough after last night's celebrations for my birthday. I was a little disoriented, and for a few seconds I couldn't work out just what on earth the awful noise coming from outside was.

When the bothy then started to shake violently, I quickly worked it out….

I looked out the window, and the Achnabeithach waterfall was being blown vertically upwards into the air by the wind. An 80ft high waterfall, not touching the ground because the wind is so strong.

A member of Clachaig staff moves his car to a different bit of the carpark, and seconds later a large tree collapses onto where he'd just been. And then, a traffic jam outside the pub, because trees have fallen onto both the back road and the A82.

I've not seen a day so wild since living in Scotland. And although it could be seen as depressing, it is certainly quite a spectacular thing to witness!

There's rumours of 130mph gusts being recorded at some of the ski centres. Fingers crossed for no bad news from the hills tonight, I hope you've all been safe folks.


Thursday, 12 May 2011

Wet weather musings… (posted by James)

The weather in the Highlands never seems to do anything in half measures. After almost 2 weeks of continuous sunshine to end April, we've since had nothing but strong winds and downpours.

I've been very unlucky for the last 3 weeks - the longest stretch of spring sunshine I've seen in Scotland coincided with the hardest week at work I've ever done and as a result I only got on the hill once. I did a wonderful dawn crossing of the Aonach Eagach on a perfectly clear morning and got some cracking photos which I've posted at the bottom of this blog post.

But whilst running on the way down from the ridge I took a large stumble and landed all my weight on my left wrist, resulting in a nasty sprain and a lot of swearing.

It is feeling a lot better now, but it feels significantly weaker than it did before I took the fall, so I don't think I'm going to be climbing for at least another 3 weeks. Maybe the wet weather is something of a blessing, otherwise i'd be looking out the window at lovely dry rock and cursing my luck?

So down to work, rain and an injury, I've hardly been on the hill at all for 3 weeks now. And as much as I'm champing at the bit to get out again once the weather improves, there is just something about rain and grey summer skies which make me lethargic. I haven't even been able to motivate myself to get out running at all.

It really does make me realise, work and injuries aside…so much of my life is determined by the weather. From a photography point of view this type of summer greyness is unquestionably pretty useless. And in terms of climbing, most of my goals for this summer are going to be fairly bold solos (for me anyway), so I can't think about attempting them unless I've got dry rock.

Once the weather improves I'm going to have to quickly decide where to concentrate my energy! Photography, climbing or hillwalking? Watch this space!!

p.s here's some photos from the Aonach Eagach, before the weather broke!

Roll on the next spell of sunshine!


Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A permanent change of hands (posted by James)

Me, James, in double figures below freezing somewhere on Ben Nevis

Hopefully many of you will have read Alex's heartfelt "au revoir" blog post yesterday, so you'll know that he is moving on to pastures new.

That leaves myself, James, as the soul author of this blog. As Alex's brother we do share some similar views about the hills, walking and climbing. But we differ significantly, and even though I've been writing a lot of the blog for the last year anyway, this would seem like a good time to "re-introduce" myself!

Many of you will have realised this already, but I am a photographer before I am a climber, any day. It's great to now be getting published fairly regularly, and most of my energy goes into this side of things rather than concentrating on the climbing itself. As a result nearly all of my climbing is soloing, as I've found roped climbing and serious photography aren't easily compatible!

I don't climb hard. I don't think I've climbed harder than Hard Severe or winter Grade 4 before in my life, so if you are after an actual climbing blog you are possibly looking in the wrong place! I have a simple philosophy that we should enjoy the mountains in the way that we each find most rewarding, and for me that is combining photography with solo winter climbing and summer scrambling and hillwalking.

So I don't use ropes anymore, I don't try to push my grade, I don't care about cragging…in many ways I'm far removed from the usual definition of a "climber".

But I have fun, lots and lots and lots of fun. And a great part of the reward is the overwhelming feedback I get from you guys…it is wonderful to feel you've brought the mountains to someone living in a city, even if just for a couple of minutes.

So that is what I'll continue to try and do! I get out into the hills usually about twice a week, and there is almost always something worth while sharing going on.

I'm sure you will all wish to join me in wishing Alex all the very best of luck in his new life away from Glencoe. The place will certainly be different without him!

Anyway folks, I'm usually around somewhere in the Clachaig…so if you are in Glencoe please pop in and say hello, it is always nice to meet you guys who share my passion!

So the summer looms, and I will continue to do my best in bringing you news, photos and inspiration from Scotland's most beautiful glen.

Be safe in the hills this year folks, and most of all…just have fun :-)


Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A fitting farewell - posted by Alex

Back in June 2010, I said au revoir to the mountains of Glencoe prior to my temporary departure for other mountain ranges. This time, it is good bye. I have handed in my notice at the Clachaig Inn and will be leaving next week, never to return as a member of staff.

For my final outing, and also a last chance to have a hill day with Maz before I leave, we decided to go for the classic circuit of Creise and Meall a'Bhuiridh. Accompanied by Darren, we left the ski centre in gorgeous warm sunshine, and even the traverse of the bog around to Creise was bone-dry. Then we climbed up onto the crest of the ridge and began the scrambling.

The first tricky step is a corner-crack climbing up onto a section of rough slabs. Maz and Darren went this way, while I scouted out an alternative line to the left. Delightful romping up Rholyte slabs soon led to the second steep section. It was all much easier and more pleasant than I remembered from my first ascent of this route, almost exactly one year ago: steep rock, but excellent sun-warmed holds and nothing that felt remotely serious.

We scrambled to the summit of the mountain where we enjoyed a lie down on the warm grass for a while, and chatted to some Swiss Alpinists who were on a Munro-bagging holiday. After climbing Meall a'Bhuiridh and descending to the ski centre, it was back to the Clachaig for pints of Red Cuillin and vast quantities of food--then farewell to my friends until an unspecified point in the future when I next come up to visit Scotland!

I think today sums up what I like best about living in Glencoe: good company, glorious weather, easy climbing and the knowledge that food and drink is well-earned at the end of a hard day. I'm glad I have ended my most intensive period of activity in Glencoe on a high note, in the same way that I ended the winter season with my successful ascent of Bidean's Central Gully.

Living here since September 2008 has been a privilege, one I am lucky to have experienced. It has enriched my life beyond measure, and to paraphrase Whymper, the lessons we take away from the mountains make us better equipped to face the trials of life. Now I move on to adventures that have nothing to do with mountains! Glencoe will always feel like a home to me regardless of where I may travel, and I'm sure I will continue to visit the "lonely inn, and the high rocky hill" for many years to come.

Photo album from today

A note on the future of this blog

When I first set up this blog in 2009, it was run exclusively by myself, but last year I added my brother James as a 'guest' blogger. Since then he has contributed some remarkable articles, not to mention the wealth of his photographic talent; and given his current enthusiasm for mountaineering which eclipses my own, he has come to post more stuff than I have. Therefore, it is with no hesitation that I now pass full control of the blog to him in future. Now it's my turn to be the guest blogger!