Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fuar Tholl..

Today was the first of five days winter mountaineering with Danny, Richard, Paul, Andy, Terry and Louise for local Mountain Guide Martin Moran.

With about 50cm of fresh snow down to sea level here in Glen Carron we opted to go into Fuar Tholl from Achnashellach. Some determined trail breaking took us up into the corrie below the south east cliff, where we practised some essential skills.

From here we made an ascent of the north east ridge in the teeth of a northerly gale...

Will post some images when I have a better Internet connection.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

British Mountain Guides Winter Training..

Toby Keep and I have just spent the last three days on the British Mountain Guides Winter Training organised by Chris Ensoll.

Monday was aimed at all things mountaineering involving a good mini traverse of Glen Coe. We started up Dinner Time Buttress I/II on the West Face of Aonach Dubh before dropping into Coire nan Lochan. A couple of laps of 'Dorsal Arete' II and descents of Broad Gully I, proceeded the brief pull up to Bidean nam Bian.

After ticking the highest Munro in Argyll it was time for some night nav (pictured) over to Stob Coire Sgreamhach and a descent of Sron na Lairig II.

Tuesday involved a day in the Northern Corries aiming to link routes together to give plenty of climbing and a logical progression of pitches.

Wednesday saw an ascent of Tower Ridge III/IV,3, some plateau navigation and a descent of Ledge Route II. It was mild with rain to summit level before a drop in the freezing level started to improve things in the mid afternoon. Although the mountain looks lean there is still plenty of ice..

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Slab Climb - Air time..

Paul Knowles and I went into Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis today with the intention of climbing on the South Trident Buttress.

The mountain wasn't as busy as I expected, but there was plenty of activity. Early in the morning there were lights heading up to the Minus Face or Point Five etc. Plenty of parties were visible on Tower Ridge, North East Buttress, Faulty Towers, Italian Right Hand, Green Gully, No.3 Gully Buttress, Thompson's Route, Route 1, Compression Cracks and Castle Ridge.

Some of the routes with approaches on North Easterly aspects looked to be quite hard work, e.g. Italian Right Hand, Green Gully etc as there were greater snow accumulations in these areas.

Iain Small and Doug Hawthorn were climbing quite close to us and may have done the First Winter Ascent of 'The Clanger' by the summer line. We were waiting below as Doug pulled through some overhanging terrain with the aid of some wild bridging.

Our target was 'Slab Climb' VI,7, (pictured) which is now a bit of a modern classic. Paul was making light work of the main slab when a hook blew resulting in 30ft fall. Somewhat battered but ok we eventually decided to beat a retreat. Although conditions are good for this sort of mixed climbing, the gear is hard won at the moment as all the cracks need to be fully cleared of ice (i.e they are in proper nick).

I should also add some news from Glen Coe: Tim Neill, Toby Keep, Dave Rudkin, and Keith Ball climbed 'Neanderthal' VII,7 on Lost Valley Buttress. A route that still has a considerable aura now following it's ascent in 1987. Nice one.

The video below is a quick pan round Coire na Ciste for an idea of current conditions as of today:

MCofS Lecture Series..

Winter 2010 sees the introduction of a new expanded MCofS Winter Lecture Series. Following on from the success at the Clachaig Inn each winter, the lectures will now run from three different locations.

The Clachaig Inn, Glencoe (Tuesday evenings)

The Mountain Cafe, Aviemore (Wednesday evenings)

The Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team Base (Thursday evenings)

The focus of the lectures is to entertain and educate on winter mountain safety. In order to deliver this, an inspiring array of speakers has been chosen who are guaranteed to provide an entertaining night out! All the speakers have spent many years in the mountains and will draw upon their own experiences to illustrate hard lessons learnt. Each presentation will last approx 45 minutes and there will be opportunity at the end of each evening for any questions. Whether you are a hardened climber, or up in the Highlands for your first winter experience, you can ensure a good night out and learn something new.

The MCofS Winter Lecture Series is free of charge and open to all. Details at

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fort William Mountain Film Festival (FWMF)

This year the Fort William Mountain Festival is taking place from the 11-15 February. As usual there is a great line up. This year is the 50th anniversary of Robin Smith's and Jimmy Marshall's historic week of first ascents on Ben Nevis.

Dave MacLeod and Andy Turner are aiming to celebrate this by completing all of the Smith/Marshall routes: 'The Great Chimney' IV,5, 'Minus Three Gully' IV,5, 'Smith's Route' V,5, 'Observatory Buttress' V,4, 'Point Five' V,5 (second ascent), 'Pigott's Route' V,6, and 'Orion Direct' V,5.

Many people have drawn comparisons between this historic week and the cutting edge ascents of 'Sassenach' IX,9, 'Bruised Violet' VIII,8, and Centurion VIII,8 (early repeat) made by Andy Turner and climbing partners in 2009 - three major routes in five days.

I guess only history will tell if these two events are comparable, but three charismatic climbers coming together to celebrate these and other ascents at FWMF should make for a great evening..

For the full line up check out the Fort William Mountain Festival website. Also UKC post.

11th to 15th February 2010
  • Andy Kirkpatrick hosts the Extreme Night.
  • Paul Diffley from Hot Aches screening Single Handed plus The Asgard Project on the Adventure Night.
  • Dave MacLeod and Andy Turner celebrate Jimmy Marshall and Robin Smith's incredible first ascents on Ben Nevis 50 years on with Jimmy Marshall himself.
  • Best of Banff World Tour.

Tickets are on sale, buy yours now so you don't miss out!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Raeburn's Buttress, Ben Nevis...

Toby Keep and I decided to head up onto Ben Nevis today to see what was going on. The forecast was for windy conditions with the potential for gusts to 80mph - clearly a day to be a bit canny with your route choice.

We decided to have a look Raeburn's Buttress and the Castle, an area neither of us had been to before. About four pitches of ice (pictured) took us up to 'Boomer's Requiem' V,5, a pitch which has the reputation of being the steepest V on "The Ben".

'Boomer's' is very thin at the moment, so you may need to wait a bit if it's on your list. We opted for 'Raeburn's Buttress' IV,5 which gave some good sport. The right wall of the cave mentioned in the guidebook was insufficiently iced but yielded to some upwards flailing. This led into 'Intermediate Gully' which was sheltered from the wind.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Church Door Buttress..

Ruth Taylor, Toby Keep and I decided to head up to Coire Nam Beith and Church Door Buttress in particular.

As we made the steady ascent into the corrie, plenty of ice was visible on the West Face of Aonach Dubh. 'The Screen', 'Elliot's Downfall' (not touching down yet) and 'No.6 Gully' still have plenty of ice, although closer inspection will be required to see if they are climbable.

On Stob Coire Nam Beith there is also plenty of ice and routes such as 'Deep Cut Chimney' IV,4 and ''North West Gully' look in good shape. There were a few instructional parties, including those with Chris Walker and Adam Hughes, making good use of this icy buttress.

We opted for 'West Chimney' IV,6 which involved some subterranean antics in a small rift, before climbing a couple of pleasant grooves to the top. Due to helpful ice and neve, it's probably no more than IV,4 at the moment..

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mild on the West Coast..

I haven't been on the hill today, taking the opportunity to have a brief rest while the freezing level is fluctuating close to the summits.

Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor have been shrouded in cloud for the duration of the day (pictured from near Spean Bridge). The freezing level is dropping tomorrow and Thursday which should result in some good conditions. Things are still uncertain for the weekend, will try and ensure I do an update before then.

Blair Fyffe also told me that the conditions were good in the library, post office and bank in Fort William. Thanks for that Blair ;)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Stob Coire nan Lochan..

Kris Hill and I visited Coire nan Lochan today to be greeted with slushy unfrozen conditions.

Changing plans, we made an ascent of Dorsal Arete (II) before strolling down the west ridge back into the coire.

Tim Neill, Keith Ball, Dave Rudkin and Luke Brooks made a good call heading up to Church Door Buttress climbing 'Flake Route' IV,6 and 'West Chimney' V,6.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Aonach Mor - AMI Workshop..

Alan Kimber and I were again out on an Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI) workshop.

We were joined today by Blair Fyffe an avalanche researcher and forecaster working for the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS). This allowed us to look at avalanche assessment, forecasting and safe movement in depth.

Following this we made a journey into Coire an Lochain before ascending it's left bounding ridge. This allowed some more short-roping and pitching practice before navigating back across the plateau.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ben Nevis - AMI Workshop..

I was out with Alan Kimber today along with a group of folk from the Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI).

The aim is to spend two days looking at some skills required to work on the west coast of Scotland, along with some specific challenges that these particular venues present.

With high winds, rain and rapidly thawing conditions forecast we opted to stay low down on Ben Nevis around the Douglas Boulder. Here we used the normal approach to Tower Ridge to practice some short roping before doing some short pitches towards the Ridge. From here some more short roping and moving together took us down to the Douglas Gap, a short abseil reaching easy ground.

Other teams on the mountain climbed 'Faulty Towers' III and 'SW Ridge of Douglas Boulder' III,4. Despite the thaw there is still a lot of ice present around the Carn Dearg cascades and the Castle Gully's. A refreeze will result in good conditions and improve snow stability, fingers crossed..

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Messiah - Beinn Dorain..

Tim Neill and I met up at Bridge of Orchy today. To say Tim is keen is an understatement, having recently ticked most of the routes on the Black Ladders he drove through the night to climb in Scotland.

The result was an ascent of 'Messiah' VII,7 on Beinn Dorain. The turf was in good condition, despite a slight rise in temperature during the day. The second pitch was only thinly iced resulting in some more tricky mixed climbing at about V/VI,6.

Creag an Socach appeared in good condition while the nearby Creag Coire an Dothaidh was fairly devoid of ice, Fahrenheit 451 being notable by its complete absence.

Over the next few days it looks like the Atlantic is going to strike back with some savage weather. This will consolidate the existing snow pack and could result in some good ice development. The freeze-thaw cycle begins..

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sgurr an Fhidhleir..

I made a brief foray to the North West yesterday with James Edwards. We had hoped to climb the 'Direct Nose Route' VII,7 on Sgurr an Fhidhleir - known as the "Fhidleir's Nose".

With an early start for the lengthy approach through deep snow and good weather, we were feeling quite confident. Unfortunately, the weather deteriorated through the day with some very high winds culminating in us being lifted off the belays high up on the route.

With two or three remaining pitches (also the hardest) to go we made the decision to bail, heading down by a number of big 55m abseils. No summit, some great climbing and a mini adventure..

Monday, January 11, 2010

Blue Riband..

Ian Hey (Climb Mountains) and I popped down to Glen Coe today with 'Blue Riband' V,5 as the target.

This route forms from time to time but by no means frequently, so armed with the knowledge of plenty of other ascents it seemed a logical route to start the season.

Despite a slightly warmer start to the day than of late the ice was in good condition, taking screws well and making for solid axe placements. This made for reasonable progress and we crested the Aonach Eagach at 1400 before continuing the traverse towards the Clachaig Inn - a great finish to the day.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Up North..

I have just arrived in Scotland following an extended period off work chilling out in Sheffield. My son Alistair was born at 0304 on New Years day so it's been great spending some time with the little fella and my partner Isobel.

As I drove north, there was evidence of people enjoying the snow all over the place. Fresh ski tracks were visible in the Howgill's, and some climbers were engaged in some steep ice on a motorway cutting on the M6 (near Tebay)!

Further north ice was abundant in Glen Ogle, which looked more like a continental ice venue than the Scottish Highlands. In Glen Coe things were relatively quiet with the exception of the Chasm on An t-Sron.

All being well I will be out on the hill tomorrow..