Saturday, 31 March 2012

Dry as a bone on Aonach Dubh's West face (posted by James)

The West face of Aonach Dubh, and another dry day in Glencoe

Today was our 9th consecutive day of dry weather and high pressure in Glencoe. It seems almost too good to be true. With warm temperatures and dry rock for days, today my chance to go and see to some unfinished business up on the West face of Aonach Dubh in Glencoe.

The West face has featured a fair amount in this blog over the last 4 years. I suppose it's only natural….it is the view from my bedroom window, the towering cliffs that are so imposing and seen so well from Clachaig.

The Amphitheatre (in shadow in centre), and F Buttress upper tier.

It's somewhere that first my brother Alex and more recently myself have repeatedly visited to explore, as until the last few years there were a surprising number of unclimbed routes on the West face.

The approach up lower B Buttress is the key to gaining the Upper Rake, the ledge that splits the face and allows access to the climbs on the rhyolite crags above. It's a very steep approach but I did it quicker than I've ever done it before, pleased with the fitness that I've gained over the last couple of months.

The Upper Rake takes you through tremendous surroundings. The Amphitheatre behind E Buttress is a stupendous place…a huge hidden arena flanked by sheer and echoey walls. And the drop from the top of E Buttress is truly terrifying, quite the biggest vertical drop in Glencoe,

The "Great Cave" in the Amphitheatre

Usually the descent down into the amphitheatre is on wet loose slopes that are fairly murderous. But it was amazingly dry today, a confidence-inspiring thing for a climber.

Old snow on Bidean nam Bian

When I got to F Buttress upper tier I dithered a bit about what to do. Although I was temped to repeat the superb "Shrike Ridge" (first climbed by my brother in 2009), I wanted to do something new so I climbed Archie's Ridge (Moderate) to its left instead. In today's dry conditions it was a pleasant route and the downclimb off the exposed pinnacle at the top wasn't too difficult.

Looking down on the pinnacle on Archie's Ridge

After Archie's Ridge I headed to the Pinnacle on the South West face of Stob Coire nan Lochan. So far nearly all the routes on this pinnacle are unrecorded and likely unclimbed, so after climbing "East Wall Route" (Difficult*) I set about the task of finding a route up the unclimbed West Wall.

East Wall Route (Difficult*) climbs up to the obvious corner at the top.

The best looking line up the wall is too hard for me to solo. But I found a good-looking route to its left that I thought I could do. But it was steep and I couldn't justify soloing it without some kind of safety margin - so I set up an anchor and abseil rope at the top in case I needed to retreat.

After a short step you are immediately at the crux of the route, a vertical crack that I found pretty awkward. I climbed it by a mixture of a lay-back and foot-jam, and it felt distinctly committing without being belayed. After this a ledge and then a vertical wall which I climbed on beautiful clean rock and good holds.

The crux was V.Diff, but as the route isn't very long I've given it a Difficult grade overall and called it "West Wall Route".

"West Wall Route" (Difficult) - first ascent James Roddie 31/03/12

I'm pretty pleased…I've been after this route for a while and it didn't disappoint. And there is something unique about the buzz you get from climbing an unrecorded route with no knowledge of difficulties. A great end to a very good month for me.


Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Amphitheatre Areté and more Cuillin sunshine (posted by James)

"Amphitheatre Areté" (Difficult**), my route today

Every year I've lived in the Highlands we seem to only get about 4 or 5 periods of stable high pressure to relieve us of the seemingly permanent drizzle that threatens the hills. I spend a lot of my spare time keeping myself fit so that when the high pressure arrives I can squeeze as much out of it as possible.

This week has been one of those weeks. With unbroken sunshine for 5 days so far, I was willing to do pretty much anything short of actually quitting my job to get spare time so I could make the most of it.

More unbelievably good weather. Looking towards Rum.

After having a brilliant day in the Cuillin last thursday I was itching for more, so despite fatigue and the price of petrol I left at 4am yesterday morning and headed to Skye again.

Back to Skye again...

The Cioch Face of Sron na Ciche is tremendous, a giant face of jagged rock and superb routes of high stature. I really wanted to climb a route up amongst this thrilling natural architecture, and yesterday I went to do just that.

The Cioch Face - look very closely and there are some tiny climbers on top of the Cioch itself.

In 1907 Norman Collie climbed a large slabby buttress/ridge on the Western buttress and called it "Amphitheatre Areté". I'd seen photos and it looked great - the professor always seemed to find good routes. From afar it is a distinct feature, but as I approached up towards the Sgumain Stone Shute, all I had was doubt in my mind that I was heading towards the correct route.

The view from Sgurr Sgumain

I did a lot of climbing around, up and down and side to side trying to convince myself I was on the right route. Eventually I found some unmistakable features so I started climbing with intent.

The Cuillin rock was about as dry as you're ever going to find it yesterday, but the first slabs were still streaming with water and were a bit of an exercise in delicacy and balance. It was certainly comforting to reach the dry and rough slabs above and to climb onto the main part of the areté.

Here the drop started to gape and the exposure made itself known, and it was a great place to look over the magnificent rocky panorama below me. The areté became narrower and the rock more broken, and I was enjoying the climb a lot.

Looking down the slabby first half of the route. Big exposure!

Up to the final and slightly intimidating tower. The security of a rope would certainly have been welcome here, but I took care and without much difficulty broke onto the easier ground above and onto Sgurr Sgumain.

Even at 11am the heat of the sun was slightly startling! A haze smothered the island, and there was a real feeling that it was going to be scorcher of a day. And it certainly was. I skirted round Sgurr Alasdair and the T-D Gap and climbed Sgurr Dubh na Da Bheinn and Sgurr Dubh Mor, bumping into Guy Steven doing the ridge traverse.

Coir' a Ghrunnda

After that down and up to Sgurr nan Eag, my 160th Munro. By the time I reached Coir' a Ghrunnda I was feeling distinctly sunburnt and dehydrated and the clear waters of the loch were a treat.

The clear waters of Loch Coir' a Ghrunnda

Today I'm a bit knackered after a very full week - many thousands of feet of ascent, lots of driving and very little sleep. But it has been so refreshing to feel the sun on my face again and to climb on dry rock. Now I'm going to get some rest, and enjoy the totally contrasting sensation of doing nothing. I hope everyone else has managed to enjoy the sun.


Sunday, 25 March 2012

Summer come early in Glencoe (posted by James)

Warm skies and dry rock on the East face of Aonach Dubh

What a beautiful few days it has been! Warm temperatures, dry ground and surprisingly hot sunshine since thursday…it seems far too good to be true.

My brilliant day on Pinnacle Ridge on Skye last week has really wetted my appetite for summer climbing again. I forget during the winter months just how much I enjoy the gymnastic and satisfying movement of rock-climbing, too focused on the thrills of winter climbing instead.

Summer come early.

This morning I wanted to get out but there is a lazy atmosphere in the glen today, a distinct feeling of being a mid-summer day, so I decided to go and do something that suited my mood.

A team on "Curving Crack", Severe (I think...)

I've been up to the superb East face of Aonach Dubh a fair few times. It's a great place to climb but only when it's been dry and warm for a few days. Walking up Coire nan Lochan this morning, it looked as dry as you are ever likely to find it.

I headed up to the Far Eastern Buttress and soloed the pleasant "North East Nose" (Very Difficult). After this I climbed to the top of the buttress via the top half of "Farewell Arete" (Very Difficult).

My routes today took lines immediately left of the shadows

It was quite nice to have a change from my usual and favourite kind of summer climbing, i.e soloing long Difficult-grade mountaineering routes. It was great to be climbing without a rucksack and in a relaxed atmosphere, without the usual stresses and commitment of long mountain routes. Though it's only something I like to do occasionally, cragging isn't my cup of tea really.

A very dry Stob Coire nan Lochan

Warm rock, hot sun, a cloudless sky and climbing in a t-shirt. So very different from the late-season winter climbing I'm usually doing at this time of year. Roll on more sunshine….when you live in the West Highlands, every minute is precious!


Thursday, 22 March 2012

Sunshine, climbing and the Northern Cuillin (posted by James)

The Pinnacle Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean - my climb for the day.

The Pinnacle Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean belongs in a fairy tale. Huge airy spires and improbable cliffs thrust into the sky, mist performs dances over the slopes and the silence is only broken by the loud rumble of an occasional rockfall. If dragons existed, I dare say this is where you'd find them.

It is a beautiful route. It forms one of (the?) most impressive mountain profiles in Britain, and it has inspired me with its shapely grandeur since I first saw it.

Blue haze over Bla Bheinn

The winter has come to an abrupt end in Scotland, so this morning I was feeling the need to find some rocky steepness to climb. My guidebook's description of Pinnacle Ridge made the decision for me - "an obvious and compelling challenge, with around 1000 metres of fall-off-able ground". It sounded like just the job.

Starting Pinnacle Ridge

The Cuillin were shrouded in fog when I arrived at Sligachan at dawn. Despite a perfect forecast I was discouraged. The Cuillin is not a good place to be when the cloud is down.

But I decided to take the risk. As I climbed up above the Basteir Gorge onto the first pinnacle, the cloud was showing no sign of budging. But I was feeling lucky and continued climbing…and I'm glad I did.

The cloud starts to break over Coire a Bhasteir

In the space of a few minutes the cloud started to break. Game definitely on. With that worry removed I set about enjoying the Pinnacle Ridge - not a hard task as it was great. A long section of climbing led me to the summit of the Third Pinnacle, and I was confronted with a 90ft abseil from a pretty sensational and exposed position.

Starting the 90ft abseil.

I'm very confident when it comes to abseiling, but for a soloist it felt like quite an intimidating place to be. Once I lowered myself over the edge however it all felt fine again and I enjoyed the sensation of dropping down into the silent and dark chasm below The Night's Peak.

The Inaccessible Pinnacle above the cloud

The Night's Peak…further adding to the fairy tale atmosphere of the route, and what a great name! Beyond this summit the climb up to the top of Sgurr nan Gillean looked a bit intimidating. But once climbing I found myself cruising it, pleased that I hadn't lost my rock-soloing "mojo" over the winter.

Am Basteir - "The Executioner"

Topping out onto Sgurr nan Gillean was wonderful. A few fragments of cloud remained below the summits and a glorious blue sky and hot sun shined above, the Cuillin Ridge looking awesome stretching into the distance.

The ridge to Am Bastier and Bruach na Frithe

I'd only intended to climb Pinnacle Ridge, but I couldn't waste the sunshine. So I continued down the West ridge and up to the magnificent summit of Am Basteir, climbing up the "Bad Step" on the way down and then under the North Wall to Bruach na Frithe.

Am Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean in the background.

A superb mountaineering day, in every sense. Pinnacle Ridge is a grand route in all ways. It is not hard for a Difficult graded climb - the Great Ridge of Garbh Bheinn was a far more testing solo. But is an easy candidate for the most beautiful route in Scotland…and for me that matters far more than difficulty or grades.

A climber on the summit of Am Basteir.


Saturday, 17 March 2012

Some photos from Skye (posted by James)

"The Needle", Quirang, Skye.

Something a wee bit different today. I've just spent the last two days exploring some of Skye's North coast with my girlfriend, and despite a disheartening weather forecast we were lucky and got some stunning views and even a little bit of sunshine.

Whenever I go to Skye usually I'm on climbing trips to the Cuillin, so it was refreshing to go somewhere different this time. The landscape of Trottenish and the Guirang is spectacular and bizarre in equal measure, like something straight out of Tolkien and unlike anywhere else I've been.

So here's a few photos from our trip - shame I didn't manage to get a shot of the golden eagle we saw at close quarters!


A sun halo over Meall na Suiramach

The pinnacled landscape of The Quinag

The Old Man of Storr

The view from Fir Bhreugach.

Crashing waves near Neist

Nicole and the cliffs at Neist

Neist point lighthouse

Monday, 12 March 2012

An incredible cloud inversion on Ben Nevis (posted by James)

A cloud inversion on Ben Nevis today.

The winter that is now coming to an end has been a very good one for me. But there is no denying….the last few months have been very short on sunshine, to say the least.

Usually I cope fairly well with the lack of sun during the winter months, but in the last couple of weeks I've found myself craving Vitamin D. I needed a sunshine fix - and today I got it….with spectacular results.

Yesterday's weather forecast pointed towards the chance of that most special of things, a cloud inversion. I've seen a fair few since my time in Glencoe and they are always incredible experiences, but they are elusive and some people climb mountains their whole lives and never see one.

The Ben.

But I had a strong gut feeling last night as I packed my rucksack that today would be special. So at 5am I was walking the boggy path up towards the Carn Mor Dearg Arete to see what would happen.

A fine drizzle fell from the sky. A strong gust or two of wind would send a chill through my body, grey fog and low cloud billowed around me. In short it was a pretty grim morning, and I came close to turning around and not bothering. But past experience told me that such moments are exactly when its the most important that you do carry on.

Suddenly a hole appeared in the cloud. I could glimpse something shining in the distance….the cornices above Tower Gully on the Ben. The hole in the cloud closed, but it was coming, I could feel it.

The North East Buttress suddenly appears through a hole in the cloud...

And then, on the summit of Carn Dearg Meadhonach, it happened. I broke through the level of the cloud and Iwalked into heaven on Earth. The dawn sun cast a warm glow through the cloud below me, I looked behind and my "Brocken Spectre " was staring at me through the mist.

On Carn Dearg Meadhonach, realising what was about to happen.

The walk over the Carn Mor Dearg Arete is a very familiar one, but today I shall remember for a long time. My Brocken Spectre followed me the whole length of the Arete as the clouds poured over the ridge like candle smoke.

A "fog-bow" and a Brocken Spectre

Quite suddenly I was in the cloud again, only the occasional magnificent glimpse of the sunlit North face of the Ben to tempt me higher. But as I broke through the cloud a second time I could hardly believe my luck at what I thought was about to happen.

The Carn Mor Dearg Arete and the North face of Ben Nevis

I was correct. The cloud had risen slightly, leaving the summit of Ben Nevis the only peak in the Western Highlands that was still above the inversion.

I stood there in hot sunshine and under the clearest of skies, alone on the highest point in Britain as a sea of cloud billowed beneath me like waves. I was the only person in the West Highlands in the sunshine. Pure and utter magic.


Monday, 5 March 2012

The East face of Stob Coire Sgreamhach (posted by James)

The East face of Stob Coire Sgreamhach. I climbed a snow and mixed route up this face this morning.

Over the last three years I've mentally noted a considerable amount of information about the obscure nooks and crannies of Glencoe that look worthwhile exploring. It's only during this winter season though that I've really started putting that knowledge to good use.

One of the most impressive but infrequently visited places in Glencoe is the East corrie of Stob Coire Sgreamhach, the wild area above and to the West of Sron na Lairig. A huge snow and rock face towers above the corrie below, an arena of continuous steepness that goes all the way to the summit.

Sron na Lairig.

The recent long thaw took a heavy toll on the snow cover in Glencoe, but the East face of Sgreamhach is one of the few areas that survived relatively unscathed. So with much colder temperatures and a good forecast, it was my time to go and explore this unfrequented place.

The walk-in to the face is magnificent. Suddenly you are looking down into the Allt Coir' Eilde Gorge, and it is a truly impressive place. Old snow bridges block the waterfalls and the roar of the river echoes off the tall rock walls to each side.

The Allt Coir' Eilde Gorge.

After a rough walk I arrived at the lower snowfield. The face above was a blank canvas to me - few people have climbed here and I don't know of any named routes. So I set about the thrilling task of climbing a mountain face without knowing what obstacles I'd encounter.

I started up a right-slanting snow gully, and was amazed by some of the crevasses that have opened in the old snow pack. With cracks going up to 20 feet down into the snow, this was certainly a place for concentration.

At almost the end of the snow gully I found two options….either an easy traverse right up steep snow to the top, or a left-slanting shelf that went into the unknown. I agonised for a while about which route to take…. but I was here because I wanted a challenge. It was the unknown shelf for me today.

"The Shelf" - the snow line slanting up right.

Snow and turfy ground above delivered me to another decision. I could keep following the shelf which looked to head straight to the steep snowfield above, or I could try and reach the snowfield by climbing direct through steeper rock and mixed ground to my right. Again I found myself choosing the harder option. I was just having one of those days.

Climbers on the South East ridge of Bidean nam Bian

A rocky groove and an awkward pull over a small chockstone, and I was at the base of the top snowfield. And the next few minutes was something straight out of the Alps….climbing perfect steep nevé directly to a summit, under the glare of a warm sun. Perfection.

Pulling over the small chockstone in the final groove

Perfect nevé on the final snowfield to the summit

Today might be the end of this winter climbing season for me…I don't know. But if it is I'm happy. One of those days that ticked all the boxes.

My route today. "East face via The Shelf" - (II*).