Friday, 28 December 2012

Book launch, Feb 27, Glencoe: The Only Genuine Jones (a guest post by Alex)

The Only Genuine Jones by Alex Roddie

Regular readers will be aware that this site's founder, Alex Roddie, published a Kindle eBook in October this year. The Only Genuine Jones has been selling well in its digital form (and is now on special offer for 99p until the 31st) but many people don't own ereaders and I have received many queries about when the book will be available as a paperback.

I'm very pleased to announce that the details of the book launch have now been finalised. I invite readers to join me at the Clachaig Inn, Glencoe, at 9pm on the 27th of February 2013. I will be talking a little about the process of researching and writing the novel, how and why the story differs from true events, and perhaps also a short reading. There will also of course be an opportunity to obtain your signed copy.

Supplies are expected to be limited at first, so if you plan to attend, please comment below or register your interest on the Facebook event page.

The paperback edition includes a number of pen and ink illustrations by the author which are not included in the eBook version. If you have not yet downloaded your digital copy, it's currently on special offer at 99p until December the 31st. You can download it here.

The Only Genuine Jones by Alex Roddie
Why is this book relevant to Scottish mountaineering, and Glencoe in particular? The Clachaig is a prominent setting in the book, and frequenters of Glencoe will recognise locations such as Stob Coire nan Lochan, Bidean nam Bian, and Ben Nevis. The story is set in 1896-7 and follows the adventures of contemporary mountaineers including O.G. Jones and Aleister Crowley (who happen to hate each other). Despite a grounding in real characters and settings, the story is fiction and asks questions about how the sport of climbing may have developed if short ice axes and crampons had been introduced a few decades earlier. Alpine north faces are involved!

Above all it's an adventure story, not to be taken too seriously--but that doesn't mean it avoids serious subjects. The book has already achieved ten 5* ratings on Amazon.

I hope to see as many as possible of you there on February the 27th.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Stairway to Heaven

 Stairway to Heaven (III*), the buttress crest right of the gully left of centre

I've never climbed a route more aptly named than "Stairway to Heaven", to describe what a great morning I had on Beinn an Dothaidh today. It was one of those immaculate winter mornings which never seem quite real afterwards, and twinned with climbing a route in great condition made for a memorable day.

The thaw and re-freeze at the weekend came as a relief. Very large amounts of snow had accumulated and was starting to become unstable and dangerous, and a brief thaw and a return to cold was just what was needed. Yesterday I climbed Golden Oldie (II***) on Aonach Mor and was pleased how quickly the cliffs had returned to winter after the thaw, with great turf and thick rime and the snow starting to consolidate.

 Consolidated snow on the plateau

The North-East corrie of Beinn an Dothaidh is somewhere I've wanted to climb for a while, but it's a corrie where you have to be absolutely sure that full winter conditions are what you are going to find en route. The buttress routes are extremely turf-reliant, and for this reason a good hard freeze is needed without too much snow to insulate the turf in order to bring the routes into condition.

For the last two nights it has frozen hard, and it was bitterly cold at 6:30am this morning when I set off up towards Beinn an Dothaidh.  A remarkable star-scape shone overhead and within minutes of leaving the car my clothes and rucksack were frosting up - it was boding well.

And it just kept getting better. The night-sky gave way to a glowing dawn and Alpenglow painted the mountain-sides on the other side of Rannoch Moor. As I got into the corrie things were looking like they could be just right, so I headed up towards the base of the Grade III buttress route "Stairway to Heaven".

Morning light over Lochaber
It was just right. Still plenty of snow on the ledges, but enough had been stripped by the thaw to allow the deep cold of the last three days into the turf. It was frozen hard everywhere, ideal conditions for the route.

Plenty of snow on the ledges and fully frozen turf throughout

I climbed my way up ledges, ramps and steps towards the crux, an exposed twisting traverse along a ledge with a half-formed ice chandelier hanging overhead. The climbing was enjoyable and without many difficulties, though it could be a different matter if the turf was unfrozen.

The crux twisting traverse
The last few metres onto the plateau were very memorable, the tremendous panorama of mountains opening up to reveal everything from Ben Cruachan to Ben Alder under thick snow. I emerged into crisp, cold sunshine, everything on the ground sparkling in the frost and totally silent in the windless air. A stairway to heaven indeed this morning.

However the rest of the season ends up, I'm having a great start to my winter. Fingers crossed for more great conditions.


Friday, 7 December 2012

Heavy snow cover and unstable slopes

Stunning light on the Aonach Eagach this evening
Whether or not next week's weather forecast is accurate or not, it's been a good start to the winter. I've had a productive and successful start to my winter climbing season as have many others who live locally, and I've been treated to a lot of really good conditions for photography as well.

There's been some significant snowfall this week, and there is now a great deal of snow lying on the mountains in Glencoe. But it is all fresh and unconsolidated, and lying on top of an older layer so quite a lot of slopes are pretty unstable at present. Two friends of mine saw an avalanche at very close quarters whilst walking on Sgor na h-Ulaidh yesterday and I saw evidence of slides in various other parts of the glen today as well.

If the forecast is accurate, and the thaw this weekend remains fairly gentle, then things could start shaping up really nicely next week. Time shall tell. Until then here's some photos from today in the Glen, enjoy.

 Heavy snow on the Aonach Eagach

 Garbh Bheinn of Ardgour

 Diamond and Church Door Buttresses

 Sunset on the Aonach Eagach

Sunday, 2 December 2012

A memorable winter solo on Archie's Ridge

 Looking down "Archie's Ridge", Grade III,4*

All of yesterday I'd been racking my brains about what I could climb this morning. Options are still pretty limited at the level at which I solo, as there is still a fair bit of un-frozen turf around under the snow.

So my thoughts turned to a snowed-up rock route instead. In February 2010 Bob Hamilton and Steve Kennedy did the first recorded winter ascent of "Archie's Ridge" on the West face of Aonach Dubh in Glencoe, a grade III,4* mixed route which I'd climbed before in summer conditions.

 Archie's Ridge takes the left ridge of the three ridges just right of centre.

From my summer ascent I knew that it was indeed mainly on rock with only limited turf. Based on climbing "Troglodyte" on the West face two days ago at the same altitude, I knew that if the turf was fairly exposed it was likely to be frozen. 

Another stunning morning in the glen.
So I decided to go and have a look. Climbing on the West face of Aonach Dubh is always a memorable experience, as even getting to a lot of the routes involves traverses along spectacular ledges amongst intimidating surroundings. Today I followed a fox's pawprints in the snow along the narrows of the Upper Rake to get to my route, crossing the wide exposed bowl at the top of Number 5 Gully to reach Upper F Buttress.

The mad scenery of Number 4 Gully Amphitheatre
Not much on the face is in acceptable winter condition at the moment, with little ice and most of the buried turf unfrozen. But Archie's Ridge looked to be just as I needed it, covered in snow but not very deep, exposing what little turf there is on the route to the frosty air.

Standing underneath the route, I knew it was going to be a challenging solo, at the upper limit of what I'm willing to climb un-roped at the moment. But there was a clear and windless sky, the route looked in good condition and I'm feeling very fit at the moment - so I decided to climb it.

Sunshine on Aonach Mor in the distance
The route started with a steep groove/chimney in order to reach the ridge-crest above. The second half of the groove was pretty narrow but a contorted squeeze on poor footholds saw me up it. And I was delighted to find that indeed 90% of the turf was well-frozen.

The snowed-up rock crest above was enjoyable climbing, leading to the crux of the route - a scary step around on the crest on a small foothold, then a wide step between two narrow pinnacles. This technical Grade 4 section is exposed and memorable climbing, but would be easy to fall off so I had no qualms about placing a sling around the first pinnacle and clipping myself in so that a fall would be less likely.

Looking down from above the crux
After teetering my way across the crux I just had a few more mixed moves then a steep snow-gully to negotiate. It was a really good route, one of the best I've soloed in winter and a memorable way up my favourite mountain face.