Saturday, 27 August 2011

Rained off the West face of Aonach Dubh (posted by James)

The weather closing in on the West face.

I had plans to spy out an area on the upper tier of F Buttress on the W face of Aonach Dubh this morning, but as is sometimes the case, the weather intervened.

We'd had about 48 hours of generally dry weather in Glencoe, so I thought it worth my while going and having a look at the West face. It's odd, but quite suddenly I've reverted to climbing mode after an extremely prolific summer of hillwalking. Maybe I've done enough of that for now and I'm needing the more intense experience of climbing….after all, you can have too much of a good thing.

The standard approach I use for the upper tier of the W face is to go up the lower tier of B Buttress, traverse right under the Pinnacle Face into the narrow buttress to the left of No.3 Gully and then climb up to the Upper Rake.

The Upper Rake is a fairly straightforward traverse in dry conditions until you reach the Amphitheatre of No.4 Gully, and here you make a hair-raising descent down the back of E Buttress in order to reach the level terrain of the Rake again. But in wet weather the loose and seldom trodden terrain would be extremely unpleasant.

A moody Stob Coire nan Lochan

So I found myself nearly at the Middle Ledge on the approach up B Buttress, when a god-almighty squall hit me. All of a sudden, without much warning, and with brutal effects. The steep terraces of the West face were transformed within minutes from being merely unpleasant to being down-right nasty. And from this point upwards, descending is a more serious proposition than topping out, so I decided to continue upwards towards the narrow ridge leading upwards from No.3 Gully.

This isn't a difficult climb by any standards, but in the conditions it was becoming more and more unpleasant by the minute, and finding safe or stable footholds was becoming challenging.

So I climbed quickly out of the top of No.3 Gully and then traversed the huge bowl at the top of No. 2 Gully and found a loose and grim escape chimney up to the left of No.2 Gully Buttress.

Hopefully the promised short period of high pressure next week will improve things and I'll get another chance to get out in the dry.


Thursday, 18 August 2011

Midgies and Brocken spectres on D Gully Buttress (posted by James)

The Rannoch Wall and Crowberry Tower, even more intimidating that usual.

The cliffs of Buachaille Etive Mor were on fine form this morning. They are impressive at any time, but when they appear suddenly, briefly revealing themselves though gaps in the fog, they are spectacular.

I've quite suddenly changed back into "climbing mode" again, so this morning I headed towards D Gully Buttress (Difficult/Severe) - the steeper and meaner neighbour of Curved Ridge. I made very quick work of the walk-in, simply to avoid the clouds of midgies intent on eating me alive.

D-Gully Buttress

I was slightly worried at the amount of mist around as I was soloing a route I'd never climbed before, but slowly things were beginning to clear. And it turned into a morning I'll remember for quite a while.

The route itself was a really enjoyable solo - perfect Buachaille rock throughout with sustained interest, some nice exposure and in awe-inspiring surroundings. But it was what started to happen with the light and mist that really made my day.

Big exposure.

Fog thinned to mist and haze with the sun shining down through it. And for a few brief seconds, I witnessed something that I've never seen before in all my time in the mountains. A small loch on Rannoch Moor was reflecting the sun so brightly through the mist that it was projecting it's own circular rainbow towards me from below. Almost like a Brocken Spectre in reverse, but projected by a loch instead of by the sun. Incredible.

An incredible "solar glory", reflected off a loch on Rannoch Moor

After by-passing Hell's Wall (didn't fancy soloing a pitch of Severe with a name like that…) I made quick progress to the traverse onto the top section of Curved Ridge and finished to the summit. As I arrived at the cairn, my Brocken Spectre appeared. Always a special experience.

Brocken Spectre

The chimney to by-pass Hell's Wall

I become fonder of the Buachaille every time I climb on it. I've often been guilty of ignoring it slightly, always preferring the allure of the world-class winter climbing on Bidean nam Bian and the Three Sisters. But it can't be winter all the time…and for climbing in the summer months in Glencoe it doesn't get better than the Buachaille.

Finishing off up Curved Ridge


Monday, 15 August 2011

On the last lap of the summer (posted by James)

Mid august…already. I am often surprised at just how quickly time flies, but this summer has simply gone in a flash. And as time flies when you're having fun, I can say without hesitation that this has been the most enjoyable summer I've spent in the Highlands.

I've climbed less and walked more this summer, simply because for the most part that's the "mode" I've been in a while. I'm quite suddenly feeling myself wanting to start climbing more again, but I'm very glad I've spent the summer the way I have. I've explored areas of the Highlands I didn't even know existed until very recently, and in doing so found some hills I will certainly will be returning to in the future. And I've collected the best set of summer photographs I've taken in Scotland.

My main interest and strength in the hills is winter climbing. And I can already feel the pangs starting….lusting for the time when the snow arrives again, when the hills transform into mountains and I can start playing the unique and wonderful game of another winter climbing season in the Highlands.

I'm in the unusual position this year of approaching the end of the summer at almost my winter fitness level. Usually it slips during the summer, but I've managed to clock a fairly huge number of hill-miles in the last 3 months and I'm feeling strong.

I had 3 main goals for this summer, two of which I have achieved already - to climb the Great Ridge of Garbh Bheinn for the first time as a solo, and to reach the mid-point through the Munros.

I won't reveal what it is just yet, but watch this space for news on the 3rd goal, the one which I really don't know if I can achieve quite yet. If I get a good day of weather to coincide with one of my split-shifts at the Clachaig in the next few weeks I might just give it a go…..


Monday, 8 August 2011

A landmark day, and a changed perspective (posted by James)

A blustery and cold day above Glen Lyon

Glen Lyon's Meall Buidhe is by no means an interesting hill, but it is significant for me as it marks my mid-point in the Munros.

I've done a fair bit of thinking in the last 3 months as I've hurtled full-throttle to the top of almost 60 of the buggers, and now would be a good time for me to share my thoughts on the Munros.

My attitude towards "Munro-bagging" has changed a lot since I moved to Glencoe in April 2009. Then I was all about improving my climbing, single-pitch cragging…and I suppose I shared many climber's arguably snobbish view of Munroists. At the time I couldn't really see the point - I saw it as ticking a list and little else.

But I've come to realise that I wasn't doing much different whilst climbing. I was ticking my climbs in my UKC logbook, I was trying to improve my grade.

As humans we love to collect things. It doesn't necessarily matter what, but we feel a sense of achievement in collecting something that is a challenge to attain. Is "Munro-bagging", (a term I have mixed feelings about) so very different from any other hobby?

And it is a hobby that has countless positive attributes. It takes you to wild, beautiful places. It teaches you patience and perseverance. And it requires fitness and determination - it is a hobby that must almost become a life-style if you intend to complete all 283 in much less than a decade.

From my own perspective, I enjoy it as what I do during the summers. Although it is obviously still very energetic, for a few months I like the contrast that I feel from the often extreme physical and mental challenges of solo Scottish winter climbing.

I have a simple philosophy - that we should all enjoy the hills in whichever way we see fit. I gain far more satisfaction now that I mix between winter climbing, Munro-ing and scrambling than I ever did when I was still looking down on Munro-baggers.

I think only now that I'm half-way through have I truly realised the sheer vast scale of the undertaking of doing all the Munros. My hat goes off to everyone who has completed them all.

Whether you are only a grade-pushing trad climber and nothing else, or only a winter-climber, only a skier or only a Munro-bagger….or if you are a little bit of each ….then if you are enjoying it, carry on. These are all hobbies that require commitment and risk-taking, and I think all of them can be equally magic.


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Rockfall at Tower Gap: an important update (posted by Alex)

Recently most small updates have been put on the Facebook page instead of the blog, but this is a fairly important development that might affect many mountaineers in the West so I thought it would reach a larger audience being posted as a main blog article.

Following a recent rockfall at Tower Gap (Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis) it would now appear that the crux downclimb of Tower Ridge is both more difficult and with more loose rock.

A full report with photos has been posted on West Coast Mountain Guides here. Here is the gist of the situation, quoted from the linked webpage:

"This report from Spike Sellers today on Tower Ridge. The two photos have been taken five days apart and show a considerable reduction in the amount of solid material at Tower Gap. A few years ago a significant block took flight on the uphill side of the gap and now the winter frosts have dislodged another ‘bomb’. It is clear that care will be required in this area and that the step down into the gap will now be harder than in the past. The advice from Spike is sound…….”Climbers heading for Glovers chimney might want to review the stumps of the pedestal we have directed folks’ feet onto in Tower Gap before this weekend’s accident. A little more trundling (with a lookout in No4?) after a longer step down required before the winter crowds perhaps. You might even want to leave a runner behind;)”….."

Needless to say, extra care should be taken on climbs of Tower Ridge until the loose stuff has been shifted.