Thursday, 27 June 2013

Ketchil Buttress

 Soloing Ketchil Buttress (Diff*), Maol Chean-dearg, Torridon
It is alarming just how quickly that "can't be arsed" feeling can appear with a few drops of rain on the car windscreen. I was already yawning when it started…my usual mid-summer sleep difficulties having re-surfaced in the last few weeks. Sometimes you almost want to get rained off.

I stopped my car near Achnasheen and got out. It felt midgy and muggy, the cloud was hugging the hill-sides and there was no sign of a break in the flat, grey lighting…and thoughts of going home for another mug of tea nearly got the better of me.

The start of Ketchil Buttress
The route takes the obvious central buttress

Good and clean square cut rock on the route

"Grey" was a theme yesterday I guess. Grey light and poor conditions for photography, but it was the miniature quartzite world of grey on Ketchil Buttress that  so changed my mood and made me smile. Steep grey steps of square-cut holds and bone dry rock, not what I'd been fearing after those first drops of rain on my windscreen. Grey on the wings of the osprey that took me by surprise on my way home.

An osprey in flight

You top-out from a route and you wonder how you could have considered just turning round and not bothering. Would it be special if it didn't some require effort?


Thursday, 20 June 2013

Quartzvein Edge

Quartzvein Edge (Moderate**), Creagan a'Choire Etchachan. The route follows the obvious central arete.

Two days spent around the Loch Avon basin has left me fascinated. Can this really my new back-yard?

Climbing here is so different to in Glencoe or the Cuillin. There it is all about steepness. Many find the approaches and walk-ins to the cliffs painful and laborious, they are sharp but short. But here some of the best climbing venues in Scotland lie at the end of long walks and lengthy plateau crossings…not places for those who seek quick fixes.

Looking across the Loch Avon basin to Creagan a'Choire Etchachan in the far distance.
Creagan a'Choire Etchachan
The idyllic shores of Loch Avon

It almost feels like you have crossed a whole landscape by the time you arrive at the cliffs of Creagan a'Choire Etchachan. A round trip of 11 miles and 4500ft of ascent isn't even that big to climb a mountain route by Scottish standards, but the scale and quality of the landscape that you cross to get there is quite amazing.

The Shelterstone Crag
Stacan Dubha

Female ptarmigan

Tuesday's attempt to climb was thwarted by the weather so I ended up doing a cheeky diversion to Beinn Mheadhoin, my 200th Munro. Hillwalking…oh yeah, I remember that! It has taken such a back-seat to climbing and hill-running over the last year, but I don't think I realised how much until yesterday. But spare time is such a precious thing, and I think you must spend it doing what really engages you, whatever that might be.

The tor on the summit of Beinn Mheadhoin, my 200th Munro
 Huge snowfields remaining on the East flank of Ben Macdui

So yesterday I was back again, but this time heading towards Creagan a'Choire Etchachan to climb. "Quartzvein Edge" - I liked the route name the moment I saw it in the guidebook. And I like the fact that the start of the route is marked by a small lump of quartz inset into the granite, a wee injection of character into the route before you've even started.

The start of Quartzvein Edge, with the small piece of quartz in the bottom right third of the photo.

Looking up.

The "red walls" of Creagan a'Choire Etchachan.
Routes that follow edges are often my favourite, and Quartzvein Edge's position directly over Forked Gully is pretty neat. I don't find climbing on Cairngorm granite very "obvious" at all yet so I'm being a bit cautious with the routes I'm choosing to solo, but this route was great laid-back enjoyment in a beautifully wild place.

Where next? And will the notorious Highland summer weather be kind to me?


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Afterthought Arete

 The upper parts of Afterthought Arete (Moderate***), Stag Rocks, Cairngorm.

So June has arrived and I've shelved my Skye Cuillin guidebooks again for a while, and my thoughts turn more and more to the granite cliffs and hill-running opportunities of the Cairngorms.

Something struck me yesterday. I've climbed dozens or hundreds of routes throughout the West and North-West Highlands by now…but of the 400 or so pages in the Cairngorms climbing guidebook, I've climbed routes on only 3 of them.

Looking to Coire an Lochain from Fiacaill a'Choire Chais

One of the ski-centre roads

This realisation has done nothing but excite me for the last 24 hours. There is so much to do around my new home, so many climbs and hills and mountains to discover for the first time. So what to climb for my first Cairngorm rock-route of the summer?
 Rough and clean rock on the route

Looking to the huge remaining snow-fields on Ben Macdui
 Sron na Lairige

It's a classic, Afterthought Areté. One of those ones I just hadn't got around to until this morning, but the thing I'm wondering now is…how and why did I leave it this long before climbing in the Loch Avon Basin for the first time? Even though today the light was poor and the weather not the best, my first impressions are that it is one of the most awe-inspiring places in Scotland.

The massive waterfall East of the Shelterstone Crag
A waterfall flowing under the snow-pack. The depth at the top of the break is about 20ft.

Stag Rocks

The constant deep roaring of distant waterfalls, the dripping of snow-melt everywhere, the vast snow-fields and crevasses, the mighty architecture of the Shelterstone Crag, the huge granite overhangs of Hell's Lum…this place has an overpowering sense of grandeur.

Looking up to Afterthought Atete
 The immaculate slabs of the Shelterstone Crag


Afterthought Areté delivered what I was after, an enjoyable laid-back solo and a "re-introduction" to climbing in the Cairngorms. Clean, exposed and rough rock in a magnificent location I'd never been to before, and an appetiser for the future.

A shrieking Peregrine falcon whizzed past at the speed of light. Would I see any reindeer today? It's a different world to the West Highlands, over here.


Friday, 7 June 2013

My first of the classic Cairngorm hill-runs

 The view to Braeriach from running up Meall a'Bhuachaille and Creagan Gorm.


How could it feel this easy? Surely I was floating?

I certainly didn't expect that it would feel so forgiving after only one other hill-run in a three week period. Some precious days,  running uphill feels plain-sailing and benign, effortless almost? But it never happens when I think it will.

So that three week period between runs was admittedly spent being active on the mountains and coast of Skye almost every day, walking or climbing. Even so it never matters how much of other kinds of exercise I'm doing, I always expect hill-running to feel hard after a chunk of time like that between runs.

Yesterday's hill-run.

Meall a'Bhuachaille is a first for me, as it is the first Corbett I've ever run up. Despite the approach up through the native pine forest being about as beautiful as they get,  it wasn't distracting me from the fact that I wasn't feeling on great form…the gradual but constant uphill in hot sunshine taking it out of me only a few minutes from my car.

But then it happened as I began up the much steeper Eastern slopes of Meall a'Bhuachaille, and everything became easy. Would it be odd to say the effort seemed to actually decrease with height-gain?

The summit appeared more quickly than I'd hoped, and it took no time at all to continue down and over the adjacent top as an spontaneous extension of my planned run. All the time the higher Cairngorm summits look close enough to touch. What would it feel like to "float' up one of those?


Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Final photos and thoughts from Skye


Some of my best memories from my time in Glencoe are of "smash and grab" trips to the Cuillin, often leaving straight after work finished at mid-night and getting back for my next shift in the evening. Blurred memories in a way…a mix of sunburn and warm rock and classic routes and fighting against falling asleep at the wheel as I rushed back to yet another crazy night in the Clachaig.

Often they'd be the reason behind stints of over 50 hours of no rest…either working, driving or climbing non-stop for 3 days as I tried to make the most of short windows of opportunity to get to the Cuillin. Brief but fairly intense insights into the Isle of Skye.

Spending a full month on the island has been a remarkable eye-opener. Now I had time to look more closely, to stand and stare, to see the sunset every evening over The Little Minch, to smell the air at dusk and see every tide come and go.

Before I couldn't think "Skye" without thinking "Cuillin" automatically. Where else is there such world-class mountaineering, on an island, looking down on the sea on all sides? But what about the endless sea-cliffs, the crazed "Lost World" scenery of Trotternish, the eagles of Duirinish and Waternish, the evening mists over the Shiants? When you put all of that in the context that Skye is just one island amongst this huge collection of islands, and that each one has similar treasures…

Like all the best things I've ever done, my month on Skye has broadened my mind and wetted my appetite. I still have a lot of the world to see, but I doubt I'll ever go anywhere else quite like the Hebrides.

Here's a few more photos from when I wasn't climbing

 Rubha Hunish, the most northerly tip of Skye - where I would go in the evenings.

 The Old Man of Storr
 The Isle of Lampay and the coral beach near Dunvegan
 Macleod's Maidens near Indrigil
 Stacan Gobhlac, Balmacqueen
 Uaimh Oir, the Cave of Gold

 Fladda-chuain and the Isle of Lewis at sunset
 Grey seal, Isle of Soay
 Shipwreck on the coast of Rum
 Puffins, Isle of Sanday
 A tripod sea-arch, Isle of Canna
 Rock architecture at Rubha Hunish
 Snow showers over the Northern Cuillin
 The Spar Cave, Elgol. A mind-bending place.
 Driftwood, The Aird
 Rubha Vorevan
 A 260ft waterfall into the sea, Rubha Maighdeanan

The pinnacles at Bornekestaig