Monday, 25 June 2012

More exploring above Coire nam Beith

Me soloing my route, "The South wall of the Un-named Pinnacle" (Diff*)

One of the problems with soloing new routes with no company is that taking photographs to do the route justice is very difficult. You usually end up taking a photo looking down past your feet or up at the route with no-one climbing it, and a good sense of scale is almost impossible to achieve.

I've made a few pretty good discoveries recently amongst the complex and intimidating cliffs of the West face of Aonach Dubh in Glencoe. Whilst most of the longer major routes were climbed many years ago, numerous small gems still wait to be discovered if you are intimate with this incredible mountain face.

On the South wall of the un-named Pinnacle, and what a place...

Probably the best new route I've climbed in Glencoe is "The South Wall of the Un-named Pinnacle" (Diff*) in a little known area of the cliffs above Coire nam Beith. Although short it is a very aesthetic line on good quality rock in an extremely beautiful place, and I wanted to try and get some photos of it being climbed.

So despite feeling rather unfit after the overindulgence of a long weekend in England, this afternoon I I headed into Coire nam Beith with my camera and tripod to do just that. I shot a few videos of me soloing the route in warm sunshine - the photos you see here are screen captures from the videos.

After this I was feeling on better form, so I headed over to a nearby area of almost totally unrecorded ribs, grooves and corners that have escaped the attention of most, forgotten in favour of the long and scary classics on the main area of the West face.

Diamond and Church Door Buttresses in the shadow.

I found a short but worthwhile route up a groove and broken wall on the righthand side of the crag, not obvious at all and to my knowledge unrecorded. For now I've decided to call it "Hermann" (Diff), named after a German "friendship cake" that I've been helping to look after over the weekend.

The first ascent of "Hermann" (Diff)

During my descent from Hermann I passed a vertical and rather intimidating corner/crack to the left of "Nelson's Slab". It was short, but looked hard. But it also looked very good…

My best discovery of the day, a vertical corner and chimney which I named "Piccolo" (V.Diff*)

The next thing I knew I was climbing it. I just had one of those moments when I felt on good form and not attempting it would have been unthinkable. But a few metres up and I was scared. The handholds were small and sloping, the footholds slimy and elusive. For the next two minutes or so I was entirely concentrated on reaching the small chock-stone jammed in the narrow corner.

I reached it, a big hold at last! But not a moment to relax, the chockstone was moving! A very high left heel-hold onto a narrow sloping edge and a strong pull with my right arm and I was suddenly in a position of relative safety, and I breathed out at last.

The rest of the route went by without much problem, and I stood at the top feeling that unique buzz from climbing un-recorded rock with no margin for error. I've decided to call this corner "Piccolo" (V.Diff*)….as it is small, but doesn't go un-noticed.

"Piccolo" is the obvious corner/crack in the left side of the photo.

The rain and low pressure starts again soon…it seems a long time overdue. Today was probably the end of my exploratory climbing for this summer, I've done all my new projects for this summer already. Now just the wait, a short few months, and winter will be here again.


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Testing my fitness on the North Buttress of the Buachaille

 North Buttress is the mass of rock on the right, the route climbs the continuous crack line that splits it.

Last September I took on what was at the time an apparently unrepeated Clachaig challenge - to climb Bidean nam Bian (1150m) during the 3 hour break of a Clachaig split-shift. I managed it, in 2 hours 9 minutes and 47 seconds but it felt pretty damn hard at the time.

Since then I've been on a mission to push my hill-fitness up a notch or two. I had a very productive winter climbing season when I was out on the hill a lot, and I don't know anything that gets you fit better than winter climbing. And a few months ago I set about the task of learning to run uphill, an initially painful and totally exhausting pursuit which can seem like a hell of a lot of effort.

But I've persisted with it, and whilst I can by no means call myself a proper hill-runner, it has boosted my fitness to a new and unfamiliar level.

So today I decided to put it to the test. With low pressure forecast to start coming in tomorrow, today was potentially my last chance to get on some dry rock for a while. So I decided to take on a challenge I thought about a while ago…to climb Buachaille Etive Mor via it's North Buttress during the 3 hour break in a Clachaig split-shift.

North Buttress is a long climb, indeed it's probably the longest climbing route in Glencoe. It is a personal favourite, its line of steep chimneys seeming to carry on for  ever and with spectacular exposure and views over Rannoch Moor.

The crux chimney of North Buttress

At 3pm when the first half of my shift ended I ran to my car and hurtled down the glen and reached the Lagangarbh carpark in good time. I started the run along the rising climbers track under the cliffs and felt on good form, I could tell that it was my day.

On to the easy scrambling at the start of the buttress, and I started to breath quick. It started to feel a bit more hard work, but I didn't stop for breath until I bumped into two lost souls wondering where Curved Ridge was. After assuring them that they certainly didn't want to be on North Buttress and pointing them in the direction home I set off again, and was soon at the base of the first chimney.

And then it happened, that wonderful thing feels so great when it happened. I slipped into "machine mode", and I can't remember ever feeling on such good form. I climbed the endless chimneys at a speed that surprised me, moving more fluidly and quickly than I ever have before. The crux went by in a blur. 

My racing heart seemed irrelevant. I was simply looking at my feet and arms and making them move. I climbed hundreds of feet of rock in almost a trance. 

And then 56 minutes later I was suddenly on the summit of Stob Dearg and feeling amazing. I barely even paused before starting the run down Coire na Tualaich, and 1 hour 27 minutes after leaving the car I was back to it again.

It's amazing when hard work pays off. Sometimes my motivation has wavered over the last few months, running uphill can really take it out of you when you are feeling lazy. But the adrenaline high you get is hard to surpass when you exceed your expectations.

Now to have a shower, and start the second half of my shift at 6pm. A good day.


Sunday, 17 June 2012

Knoydart and no sleep

The first light of the day hits Meall na Sroine

The police car came to a halt next to my Citreon. 1:30am on thursday morning and I was parked in a lay-by near Fort William eating an extremely early breakfast. The police officers took a lot of convincing that I was going off to start climbing some mountains during the only 3 hours of darkness we get during the nights at this time of year.

This year I just haven't got back my enthusiasm for hillwalking after the winter climbing season ended…instead always longing for the extra intensity and feeling of slight madness that I get from climbing alone or running in the mountains. So after work on wednesday night I decided to try and do something to rediscover my old love for hillwalking.

Looking into the "Rough Bounds" of Knoydart from Garbh Cioch Beag

Going on the hill immediately after finishing work at midnight and forgoing sleep always adds a level of adventure to a hill-day, so at 1am I left Clachaig intent on visiting arguably Scotland's most complete wilderness….Knoydart.

The road down Loch Arkaig goes on forever. You go round endless bends and corners, up and down rises, round more corners, past more forests and then round more bends and corners and it still seems to keep going. After this road you walk for almost 2 hours along a track, then climb relentless grassy slopes for an hour, and after over 5000ft of ascent and two Munros on the way you reach Sgurr na Ciche, a remarkable hill on Knoydart's Eastern edge.

Before sunrise and Bidean a'Chabhair

It was this walk that the police found so unlikely that I should be starting at half-one in the morning. But what an incredible place to spend a night and dawn. The endless approach is just a taster of what is to come when you reach the ridge crest of this superb range of mountains….a rising sense of solitude and isolation above even the usual that is to be found in the Western Highlands.


At 9am I was stood on the summit of Sgurr na Ciche looking down on Knoydart. I'm no stranger to Scotland's wild nooks and crannies, but here I had the distinct feeling of being in the most remote place I'd ever been. It is unknown to most people that one of Europe's greatest wildernesses can be found in the West Highlands, but that is indeed what Knoydart is. I don't have words for how special the view was that appeared when the cloud lifted, and you cannot convey such a sense of space in photographs.

It is said that the view from Sgurr na Ciche is as wild as it is possible to be in Britain. Sat there in the summit I hadn't been putting myself at high risk, I wasn't resting after a difficult climb, I wasn't riding the adrenaline high that comes after a strenuous run. I was simply marvelling at how good it felt to be in a such a place so early in the morning after no sleep or rest, and at just how satisfying it felt.

I did the endless walk back to Loch Arkaig in a trance along another track that seemed to go on for ever. Seventeen miles later and I was back at my car and smiling that I can still have such a great day when no climbing or running is involved at all.

And then back along Loch Arkaig's "road to no-where", fighting a losing battle with the sleep that I should have had the night before. A few other folk were driving along the road to start the walk at a more normal hour while I stopped to close my eyes for a few moments.

I still have that deep love for hillwalking in me. I just needed to feel the adventure and madness again to remind me.