Friday, July 28, 2017

Brewin Dolphin Ochils 100 mile Sportive 2017

My last post was about hoping to get fit and lose weight in preparation for doing the Brewin Dolphin 100 Mile Ochils Sportive. As ever, these things approach pretty rapidly and I've now done it. How did it go? And did I get skinny!?

Overall- have to say it went well. It was a great day for the event with bright weather and light wind speeds. After a quick visit to the portaloos for some last minute weight loss we queued up behind the corporate entries who enjoyed priority starting positions, posh sponsored jerseys and nicer cludgies no doubt. Daf had done well to even be at the start line- a visually impaired Audi driver had knocked him off, wrecking his back and his prized Dolan a week before the event. Luckily he had yet another carbon Ultegra machine as back up. After a few minutes we were off, with un- registered 'Geraint Thomas' Gray leaving us in the dust as he chased the corporate vampires.

Meanwhile we stuck in a loose group for much of the ride. I had my £700 iPhone set up perilously on my bars via a silicon rubber thing I'd got out of Anne Summers. It was flopping about alarmingly but in the blur I could see an average speed of 29 km/hr (18.8 mph) indicated. This was faster than I'd been going in training and we still had a lot of distance left to cover. Not being familiar with any of the roads I was reluctant to give it the beans anywhere  and started getting the fear about blowing up. I pleaded a few times over the day to drop the pace back and luckily it did as we calmed down. 

(L-R) JP, Daf, Eric, me, Matt, Andy, Alan.

We wound our way round and over the Ochils into Perthshire with one small (but potentially serious) incident up on the A823 beside the River Devon. An idiot overtook us into oncoming traffic causing us all to have to brake. Eric came off his bike at the back of the group but fortunately he was unscathed. We passed Andy's young family in Auchterarder and eventually hit the road back to Fife via Path of Condie from Dunning. This climb has the the nickname of 'The Dragon' and it lived up its reputation being the toughest of the event. Steep and sustained at the 110km mark, it gave a 3km climb at an average of 6% with a hard 20% middle bit through some very steep corkscrew bends. This was gruelling physically but the weather was good and the sociable atmosphere made it enjoyable. 

On we trundled into darkest Fife until a heavy thundery shower hit forcing us to hide under the canopy of a wood for a minute. We set off again on soaking roads as Cleish hill reared up. Surely there couldn't be more like this? Why didn't I study the route profile? Is this the way to Amarillo? As I caught up the group they were at a standstill. Matt's chain had decided it'd had enough as he neared the top and snapped in disgust. Showing the skillz of a man who takes N + 1 to an art form he had it back together rapid style and we were off in a couple of minutes. 

The final section of these things always takes forever, but we eventually wound our way round to a wet finish on the edge of Loch Leven. Strava says I'd managed to maintain an average speed of 24.8 km/hr (15.4 mph). I was fairly chuffed with that- having tiny weans precluded anything quicker. Compared to my previous Sportive (the Glesga- Embra 112 miler) I actually felt good getting off the bike. It's amazing what electrolyte replacements and gels can do for your wellbeing! On the pies front I hadn't managed to lose a lot of weight (maybe a few pounds) but at least it was a start.

But what the hell- it was a good event. Well organised, a challenging course with decent food stations. Good value too. I celebrated my success by pulling a risky Sagan style wheelie over the wet finish line but only the guy in the finishing booth clocked it! There's never a talent scout when you need one. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Time to pull the finger out!

I've just signed up to do the 100 mile Ochils Sportive in June and, with it being January, it's time to roll out the cliches and say I'm going to get skinny and fit this year. 

Time to 'fess up- I'm 12 stone which is 1/2 a stone heavier than I was a year ago, and my jeans are too tight! I'm doing dry January right now and haven't drank a beer in the house for 2 months but absolutely zero weight loss has occurred. This 100 mile ride is going to take training. Hopefully I'll lose some weight on the way?

I've been choked with colds for ages but the weather forecast was too good to miss so I caught the ferry to Arran for a Winter spin. This time, for a bit of variety, I did the clockwise circuit via The Ross road which cuts up and over the rolling Southern hills from Lamlash to Kilmory.

Lochranza panorama
In my current sluggish state the 81km route felt hard, with The Ross climb being a particular killer. The Ross is an unrelenting climb of 3.6km. There's an average gradient of 7% but the hardest bit has a sustained 11% section that's 500m long. In a previous blog I'd said the Lochranza climb was the hardest, but that's just bollocks. As a comparison, Strava rates the tough Campsie's Tak ma Doon Rd climb as 6%...

I was aboard my new Planet X Kaffenback. The new machine has a steel frame, SRAM Apex 1 11 speed, hydraulic disc brakes and 28mm tyres. It's far more comfortable than my old stiff Aluminium Allez with its 23mm rubber. In stealth black with skinny steel tubes I reckon it looks pretty cool (in an old school way). 

The old bike had SRAM Apex 20 speed with a 50/34 compact. The new one has a single 42 tooth chainring and a 11 speed (11- 42 cassette). Does 11 gears mean big jumps between ratios? Not really, I find it rides pretty much identically to the old bike but with a couple of differences. Those are- 

- the bottom gear 42 x 42 (26.7") is lower than the old compact 34 x 32 (27.9"). This meant that even with my expanded Ginster's ratio I could ascend The Ross in the saddle- but it was desperately hard work. The final Lochranza climb nearly had me greeting 40km later- but that was mostly due to fatigue... 
- the top gear is also lower (102" vs 111.3") so that means I spin out earlier than before. This means I've less chance of Eddie the Eagle-ing into the top 10s for downhill segments now. To be honest, I'm happy to take the low gear advantage at the moment. I could add a larger chainring or different cassette if I become super fit later on... 

Probably the best thing about the new bike are the brakes. I've always disliked rim brakes on road bikes and mtb's. I find rim brakes are fine in bone dry conditions but add any rain and it all gets a bit dodgy. These new brakes really get the speed off nicely in the wet (and dry) in a controlled way. There's no need to dab the brakes to clear the rims of water prior to braking, they're powerful and the overall feel is nice and predictable. In my first circuit of Arran on the Allez I had a crash in the wet at Corriecravie where I couldn't get the speed off going into a tight bend, went onto the wrong side of the road then up an embankment. Caning it into greasy corners is always going to be risky on a bike so I look forward to fewer of those 'oh shit I'm going too fast' moments.
Hurtin' after the Lochranza climb
Despite the suffering aspect of this outing I did enjoy it. As Greg Lemond said, "training doesn't get easier, you just go faster." I'm sure I'll be back over to Arran pretty soon for more cycling- it's that good. 

Anyway, my immediate statement of intent is I'm going to lose weight and get fit. My first target is 11 stone on the scales. Who knows, I might even get out Winter climbing at some point?! I can dream...

Friday, March 18, 2016

Muirshiel mtb epic

For ages I'd wondered about what it'd be like to take a mountain bike up the highest point in my home county.

I grew up close to Neilston Pad. As a wee boy the 261m high local landmark seemed like Everest to me. But later in life I found out that the real highest point in Renfrewshire is the Hill of Stake at a towering 522m. Nilsin Pad eat yer heart out!

Today's effort to summit Hill of Stake with a bike turned out a wee bit more serious than I intended...

Starting from Kilbarchan I was on backroads until getting to Locherwood Community Woodland up on the heights between Lochwinnoch and Kilmacolm. This bit links over to Muirshiel Park but you need your Spidey senses on max for navigating as the signposting is pretty poor. It links up various initially nice wide grassy trails until you branch off right and round the wee Ladymuir reservoir to reach a fire road that takes you up to the link to Muirshiel.
Top of Windy Hill
I'm not going to lie to you. The link bit between Locherwood and Muirshiel is very boggy and you'll be pushing the bike for most of a km until you summit Windy Hill (316m).
Fortunately, the descent off Windy Hill is brilliant. Initially very steep on sheep grazed grass, then across a boardwalk and a superb twisting wooded descent to finish at the visitors centre at Muirshiel. It's like a trail centre but watch out as these are shared paths with dogs and their owners.

The next section was a very easily rideable 4km track up to the old Baryte Mines. It was uphill but it was middle ring stuff in some places. All very tame.

Here's where it got serious (my fault).
A singletrack trail lead me out past the mines onto the high moorland. It was claggy, it was boggy. I knew I had to cover 3km of this rolling upland ground to get to a land rover track below Misty Law (510m). I'd never been over it before but expected it would be well travelled with clear walkers trails. It wasn't.
Today the visibility was about 50- 75m in the thick clag. Most of the ground was unrideable. I quickly lost signs of any trail and started pushing the bike vaguely uphill through nasty boggy, tussocky terrain for what seemed ages.

Mistake no. 1-
I was in shorts. Up there it was about 5 degrees c. I was in blowing fog/ cloud. Bad start on a chilly easterly day. Pushing a bike uphill on occasional sheep trails and through bogs I was already a bit cold and damp when I fell hip deep into a bog. Now I was properly cold and wet. I had a light shell jacket but it wasn't doing much to help.

Mistake no.2-
I had a wee section of OS 1: 50,000 map I'd printed off and laminated. But I also had my phone with an OS map app. I'd never planned to need to used the map itself- the phone would be grand (if I needed it at all). However, just when I got well out onto the moor my phone crashed.
Great timing Apple.

The route at about the point the phone crashed
Shorts, no phone, no visibility, no compass. Why the hell didn't I take a compass??? I've got 3 of them at home. I was lost.

I've done a lot of Scottish Winter climbing and some of it has involved crossing the Cairngorm Plateau in zero vis. That is serious but in those occasions you usually have a pal, you have your maps and compasses and you're kitted out in full shell clothing, bunnets & headtorches etc. I had idea where I was. Alone, in shorts in March. Brilliant.
I realised I was in the shit. I knew I had to get moving and try to get to where I needed to be asap.
I needed to get to the top of Hill of Stake and hope that there would be trails leading off from it to somewhere I could use.

I set off uphill into the swirling mist, guessing that if I kept going up I should eventually get to where I needed to be. I forced myself to really boot it pushing the bike as my feet had been numb for ages.  I could't afford to get any colder. The terrain wasn't helpful, bog after bog, faint sheep trails starting and ending metres later. It's no wonder that uphill mtb pushing isn't in the Olympics...

After slogging for ages I suddenly spotted a wee cairn on the left, looming out of the clag. Yass! Not the summit but it was a start- it turned out to be one of the many false summit cairns people build in Scotland. I passed another 3 or so of these before hitting the true summit of Hill of Stake. The view was non- existent but with my stupid lack of clothing I couldn't stop anyway. I still had to go another km to Misty Law- if I could find it.
Hill of Stake when you can see shit
The phone was still kaput so I had to make a snap judgment and head off on a trail that followed the line of a farm fence- a sign of humanity. The trail was good for a few hundred metres downhill then it petered out into the same pattern of depressing bogs and tussocks as it levelled off. Then more slogging uphill into the greyness as before.

I kept following a vague line near the fence in hope that it would lead somewhere and, in the end, I got lucky. Another false summit cairn appeared on the left. Thank God. Eventually I hit the top of Misty Law. I had been there in Summer 2015 with the bike but, in the poor conditions of today, it didn't look the same at all. The only way I knew it was the real top was the very steep terrain to one side.

I was off the top of that hill pronto again and down, aiming for a landrover track that takes you towards Lochwinnoch or Kilbirnie (depending on the fork). Again, in the shite visibility this few hundred meters took far longer than expected and it was stressful wandering around in the heather until I found my way. A twisted ankle now would be disastrous.

The descent down to Lochwinnoch was light relief after all the drama. The track was boggy as feck for sections but I didn't care. I'd made it that far and knew that as long as I stayed on the bike I'd be ok.

In the end the circuit was about 40km. It was always going to be a big effort but not quite the epic I intended. Memorable.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Pedal for Scotland Sportive 2013

Yasss! I've just done my first ever road cycling event- the 110 mile (180km) Pedal for Scotland Sportive (from Glasgow to Edinburgh, via East Ayrshire, the Southern Uplands and Lanarkshire).
Lorna and me at Loudoun Hill- about a third of the way to Edinburgh.
I'm delighted to have done it, but I have to be honest and say I was apprehensive in the run up to the event. The distance seemed huge (it still does!) when I'd only managed 75 miles in a day so far.

But fitness was a pretty minor concern compared to worries about the 'good old' Scottish weather. Outdoorsy people know that this is usually the crux of any day out in this country. Strong winds and/ or heavy rain would make the game a bogey. 'No refunds will be issued if the event is cancelled'- the website said. I was skint, so it was with some trepidation that I clicked the 'Pay Now' button. Nigh on £60 duly left my bank account. All I could do was watch the long distance forecasts and hope. Not my usual Scottish sport plan...

Summary of Sportive route
Fast forward a couple of weeks and Lorna was in my garage for a bit of 'light bike prep' the day before the event. We got her wee red machine tuned up fairly quickly, but my steed proved troublesome. A minor epic of mechanical incompetence ensued. Lorna departed home while I struggled on with derailleur difficulties. Why, oh why, did I have to start fannying about with it the day before? I'd been warned by mate Burnsie not to do it... In the end I got to my bed late, and only had two and half hours sleep due to the dog having diarrhoea all night. It was literally a shite start to my Sportive!

We were at the start line in Glasgow Green just as the sun rose at 6.30 am. I felt like a zombie as we chatted to some of Lorna's buddies from the roadbike scene. Lorna and I teamed up with her keen cyclist pal Stuart. Our trio were united by the simple desire to complete the Sportive- a fast time not a priority for any of us. The MC did some crowd warm up routines and at around 6.45 we were off, heading through South Glasgow on the first leg of the journey out to Loudoun Academy (Ayrshire). I enjoyed the sociable feel to riding in such a large group and everyone seemed very excited by the occasion too.

After a refuelling stop at Loudoun we were very keen to get warmed up again. With the wind coming from the East the dry air seemed very chilly and Autumnal. Leaving Galston there was no doubt we were going to be warm, however, as this next 25 mile section of the Sportive really made us work. Three Category 3 climbs came in quick succession, followed by a cheeky chaser of a Cat 4- all before reaching the landmark of Loudoun Hill. The single track B road we were following was busy with fellow Sportive riders, including one tanned European looking chap who dropped us at Loudoun- riding a Brompton folding city bike. He must have been a Tour de France pro on his day off...

Profile of the route- it's hilly!
From here it turned into a slog over some rolling, exposed moorland towards Muirkirk. It was overcast and the slate grey skies reflected the mood at that moment. As the roads snaked along, up and down, they always seemed to bring us into the teeth of the South Easterly headwind. I was starting to wonder if I'd have the stamina to make the 110 target. Was the wind going to stay against us? Were the others finding it this hard?
Lorna & Stuart refuelling at the Crawfordjohn stop
Psychologically, it was a great boost when we arrived at the tiny hamlet of Crawfordjohn. We were all glad to take a break in the Community Hall. This feeding station marked the half way point. It was well equipped with juice, grub, bogs and a resident band. I wasn't particularly inclined to eat anything but, knowing that it would be disastrous if I didn't, stuffed down a sanny, a banana and a couple of Tunnocks wafers. A quick visit to the facilities and we were off on the road again.

We passed underneath the M74 and soon afterwards I got a front wheel puncture. It was annoying as I'd only just fitted 'puncture resistant' Gatorskin tyres the day before. I changed the tube as quickly as I could and we were underway again. By this point the wind had started to come round to the South West and we really benefited from it as we traversed Eastwards over the Southern Uplands. This is quite a spectacular section, made all the more enjoyable by the sun keeking out from behind the clouds. The deserted roads seemed more amenable and it felt like we were winning the fight.

Just before we reached the final feeding station we hit a short, but comically steep section by Carmichael (South Lanarkshire). I'd read from other people's blogs that there was a very steep hill late on in the Sportive, but I wasn't quite expecting the steepness of this little monster. It would make a great sledging hill in the Winter- but maybe a bit on the steep side?! The universal reaction from our fellow Sportive riders, now c.75 miles into the route, was disbelief- ranging from laughter to attacks of Tourettes at the sight of this mean surprise. Cycling races denominate hill climbs based on the French system ranging from Category 5 (the easiest) to Cat 1 (extremely hard), and then the ultimate difficulty- Hors Categorie (HC). In my opinion this hill was one stage harder than the French Hors Categorie. It was Hoors Category on the Scottish scale. While many around us walked, me and Lorna decided to try to cycle it. Dropping into our granny gears, we employed a weaving zig zag approach that eventually saw us summit succesfully. High five time!

Lorna chuffed to have summited the brutal Carmichael Hill
Over the back we went, on a very fast descent off Carmichael Hill. A few miles later we ended up at the final food stop at Carnwath. I'd been looking at the profile of the course on Strava and got the impression that most of the route after Carnwath was downhill to Embra. I took my foot off the gas a bit, psyche- wise, as we set off on this last leg of the journey. Maybe it was just the overall tiredness, but I soon regretted pre-judging this last leg as easy. Contrary to expectations it seemed to go on forever. We had a tailwind but the roads seemed much hillier than expected. At last, cresting a rise, we caught a glimpse of the familiar skyline of Scotland's capital in the distance. Even as a Weedgie, the sight of Embra lifted my spirits. A cheer was required to celebrate the moment!

Lorna and me were forced to take on some more food as we approached the city boundary. Though we didn't really voice it, we both thought we could detect the dreaded 'wall' approaching. Thankfully the addition of a few extra calories seemed to do the trick and we were soon on the final, exhilarating zip down through Balerno and through to the finish at Murrayfield. We crossed the finish line in the stadium- delighted and exhausted. What a day out!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Circuit of Arran on the bike

5 am on a Friday and I was up, cramming porridge down my gub and grabbing kit for my big cycling escapade. The dog looked up quizzically from his basket and then curled back to sleep. Far too early for him...
Circuit of Arran

At the start of Summer I got a PB in the Glasgow Men's Health 10k race. Unfortunately, any chance of road running stardom was curtailed by injuries that were still lingering a few weeks afterwards. So I hung up the trainers, dug my old mountain bike out the garage and  started cycling to and from work in a bid to keep the pies at bay. I soon fancied the target of cycling round Arran (55 miles)- once I was fit enough.

So this was the big day. I left the house in the pitch dark and cycled hard for the 20 miles from Kilbarchan to Ardrossan, aiming to catch the 7am ferry. I was aboard my latest acquisition- a second hand Specialized Allez roadbike. It really flew down the road compared to the old clunky mtb. Aye, the roadbike flies but Scotland's second National sport (after drinking) is smashing empty bottles. In the first few dark miles I heard a crunch as I ran over the remnants of somebody's cycle path bevvy session. Thankfully, the dreaded hiss never came and I managed to whip it to Kilbirnie, belt it over the hills of Dalry and got the ferry with just 10 minutes to spare. A puncture would have scuppered my plans.
Arran's Beinn Nuis in Winter
Arran is stunning. It has fantastic jagged granite peaks, rolling hills and beaches. As the old cliche goes, it really is 'Scotland in miniature'. The Cal Mac ferry crossing takes less than an hour. £11 gets you a return ticket with a bike- which is pretty good value.

The internet consensus says the best way is to go clockwise from the ferry and tackle the very hilly South end of the island first. After that, the prevailing South Westerly winds should help in the long flat haul up the West Coast to Lochranza where one final, killer hill is the last hurdle before success.

Profile of hills on circuit
I set off from the Co-Op in Brodick carrying 2 litres of juice in my drinks bladder thingy and a 5 pack of Chunky Kit Kats. The first hill starts immediately. It's a steady 1 miler on a good road surface leading up to a viewpoint, giving a brilliant panorama of the granite peaks North of Brodick.

Rosa Pinnacle of Cir Mhor
A flat out, careering descent then leads down the into the picture postcard village of Lamlash (with views to the Holy Isle just offshore). I was aiming to catch the 13.50 ferry back to Ardrossan so I was unable to stop to enjoy any of the sights.
I pushed on over the next roller coaster climb and flat out descent into Whiting Bay. After that the ups and downs of the South End get more difficult and the good road surfaces of the previous sections are notable by their absence. It seems like the roadworks dept ran out of dynamite after Whiting Bay. The road jinks about, up and down over every wee hummock and round some turns that are very tight- even on a bike...

After a series of tricky corners a sudden monsoon forced me to shelter under a tree at Lagg. I narrowly avoided crashing entering the difficult hairpins and waited 15 minutes or so for the downpour to cease. But it didnae. I boarded the bike and set off soaked and seething at the Met Office's incompetence. Up and down the road continued until I had a wee spill somewhere near Sliddery. This was quite appropriate, as the rain had made the road very sliddery. A warning sign of a tight left hander flashed past and I skidded straight on, my wet brakes no match for the job- luckily no buses were in the way. I was making a beeline for a dry stane dyke but stopped short up a wee grass bank. I couldn't clip out the SPDs and in classic style cowped back over onto the wet tarmac, grazing my elbow a bit. I didn't cry.

Approaching Blackwaterfoot
After that I continued on to Blackwaterfoot where I bought some more juice and ate a couple of Kit Kats. Then it was off up the flat haul of the West Coast. Ironically, this is quite an enjoyable section after the difficulties of the South End. With the tailwind it's possible to make fast progress, and soon I was heading into Lochranza where my puncture luck disappeared. A shard of sharp green glass did for my back tyre. It's a nice spot to get a flat though.

Puncture at Lochranza
Tyre eventually re-inflated, I checked the watch and realised I was going to have to boot it. Leaving Lochranza the challenge of the final ascent is obvious and daunting. It's the biggest hill in the circuit and the hardest. I ground away at my granny gear until the summit eventually came- with views to the mainland and the North- West view of Arran's granite peaks. I could see the ferry nearing the shore from up here. The descent from the summit to Sannox was fast and required concentration. After that it was head down and just grind it out past Corrie back to Brodick.

I reached the ferry with 10 minutes to spare. The circuit had taken 5 hours and 15 minutes. I'd cycled reasonably hard overall, but lost quite a lot of time with waiting on the rain to stop at Lagg, the fuelling up at Blackwaterfoot and a lengthy puncture mending session at Lochranza (tube trouble). Without those stops 4 and half would have been more like it. I've seen internet claims of 3 and a half which I'm sure are possible if you have the legs and are motivated.

It's a great circuit. Go do it!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

April Ice (with video)

With the onset of typical mild, Westerly Scottish gales it looks like our Winter climbing season is finished. It's been a great one, with cold settled conditions the norm rather than the exception. Fingers crossed the jet stream will stay South again and we'll get another belting Alpine style season next year!

North East Buttress topo (as printed in Ken Crocket's 100 Classic Climbs)
Just before it crapped out, Dan Johnson and myself went up Ben Nevis and got on North East Buttress (IV,4). An early start was required to get this long route bagged in a day. 4am came all too soon, and after picking Dan up from Bridge of Weir we were off up the A82. I sometimes wonder if I could drive this road with my eyes shut? Every bend is ingrained into my mind from countless trips up this twisty back road masquerading as a main artery.

The new path up the Ben is superb, and we made such good time that we were climbing earlier than I expected. Slingsby's Chimney (II) was chosen as our preferred alternative to the long traversing Grade I shelf to start the voie normale. After a pitch of easy snow and low angled ice bulges the top pitch turned out to be a pretty spicy 50m of very thin ice over slabs with poor gear. It was tech 4 and pretty bold with it. I wondered if I was just being a big girl at the time, but having checked UKC logbooks it looks like most people have a similar experience on this climb- so beware!

After the slightly harrowing intro of Slingsby's it was a relief to actually get on North East Buttress. The left trending starting chimney was filled with neve and gave really nice enjoyable climbing up to the snow field high above. We made rapid progress moving together until Dan belayed at the base of the Mantrap.

This notorious obstacle looks ridiculously harmless as you walk up to it on a level bit of the ridge. It's flipping tiny! But appearances are deceiving. It might be only a couple of body lengths high but it's very steep (it feels overhanging when you're on it) and quite humbling when you do it. I forced my carcass up it using a combination of a good left hook and a crucial high right axe torque. Quite exciting. I can't believe the route used to get an old book III with this in it. Never judge a book by its cover!

Dan had the pleasure of the Forty Foot Corner to finish the difficulties. I've heard from a friend that this pitch can often be a clip- up with tons of in-situ gear but on Dan's lead it was basically a solo. A half- in stubby screw at the base was the only piece of gear Dan placed during it. A good lead from the man.

A short while later a bit of bro-mance was enjoyed on the plateau, after Dan led us to finish. Unusually for this season we'd had no view for most of the day and the snow and wind were truly Scottish. A quick man- hug, but it wasn't time to relax. With conditions like this we were forced to navigate properly across the plateau to reach No.4 Gully. An eery experience where the lack of reference points (everything is white) can make your eyes start to play tricks on you.

As we got close to No.4 we ended up getting involved in a Mountain Rescue situation. Two walkers had been lost for some time on the vast flat expanse of the summit area. They'd already called the MRT when their emergency whistles alerted us to their predicament. We found them and then then walked them to the top of No.4 where the Lochaber MRT came and met us. A happy end to their and our day. Ben Nevis is a big, serious hill and not to be messed with!

April Ice from Davie Crawford on Vimeo.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Aonach Dubh ice

Headed to the Coe with Andy, hoping to get on Raven's Gully. The S.Highlands were icy and neve'd from Ben Lomond onwards, so it was disappointing when we saw Raven's chockstones looking black from the road (along with much of the rest of the Buachaille). So, we aborted Plan A and drove onwards hoping to salvage something out of the day.

Stob Coire nan Looseblock was looking pretty grim too, so it was a real surprise to find the icefalls and gullies of Aonach Dubh complete just down the road (even Elliot's Downfall was touching down- just). Guidebook-less, we used our advanced numeracy skills and worked out where No.6 Gully (IV,4) was. We then raced a couple of English guys to the start, as a long Conga line of multi- nationals followed behind. No.6 was in very good nick and we romped it to the top, well before the Clachaig started serving beer. A great route, but what to do now?

Me leading the crux of No.6 Gully- (photo Andy Clark)

The party behind us had given a heads-up that Deep Cut Chimney was out of nick, so we binned that idea and headed back down and got on The Screen (IV,5). Naebody else was on it, it looked a bit harder but that was fine as it was Andy's lead.

Andy on the approach to The Screen
 Soon he established himself half way up the fan shaped icefall. I watched him inserting ice screws in clusters and then listened perplexed, as he bemoaned a lack of confidence in the ice and screws. The ice had been great on No.6...
'Come on Andy, get on with it, they're bomber- I've fallen onto a stubby before!', I thought. This was ridiculous!
Andy remained established and after a further period of establishment I felt the need to utilise my belay jaiket.
Eventually, movement did occur and Andy shouted 'Safe'.

Andy leading the crux of The Screen
I followed on, determined to cruise it on the blunt end. I've been to Rjukan a couple of times- so watch and learn Andy!
Belaying provides boundless opportunities for unfounded bravado and, sure enough, this was the case here. In contrast to the appearances from terra firma, the 'easy' bits were very steep. And the long steeper bits were basically full- on vertical. Add a horrible, detached, crusty hollow section around the half way mark to the mix and I could suddenly see exactly why he had remained 'established' as long as he did.

The fact he remained established at all was pretty remarkable.
It was bold and really quite hard. V,5 on the day, but nails and necky V,5 at that. A great lead and quite a humbling second for me!
Bidean and Stob Coire nam Beith
I did another easier pitch above and then we did a long rap off a tree, before de-camping to the Kingy for a quick pint. A great day out in fabulous Alpine conditions- yet again!