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!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pigs of Orchy

Had a great wee day out climbing on Beinn Udlaidh on Thursday 14th March with Gary Gray and Dafydd Morris.
Daf had been out solo'ing on Beinn an Dothaidh the day before and reported good ice on Taxus and Cirrus. With the low temps this last week Udlaidh might be in?

Driving down Glen Orchy we caught sight of the crags. Unfortunately, it all looked very thin and grey (rather than the solid white of good ice). Some of the classics like Peter Pan were obviously incomplete- so we had to summon all our reserves of psyche to decide to head up.

Udlaidh has one of the easiest crag approaches in Scotland so we weren't expecting to have to put in much effort on the walk- in. However, when we crossed the fence this was all to change- thanks to a large pig. We weren't sure if the huge porker's intentions were amorous or vicious and we were soon at full Olympic power walking pace (and occasional jogging) trying to keep away from it. I don't know what aftershave Daf was wearing but it seemed to quite fancy him. Gary and I made the effort to keep ahead of Daf- he's pretty skinny but if the pig wanted Welsh meat it could have him! This specimen had the legs to keep up through 2 fields despite our attempts to fend it off with walking poles. Top tip- it's not ideal to be carrying a sack full of Winter gear when trying to evade large livestock.

Climbing the final stile to safety we bumped into the charming farmer's wife coming back down the fire road with her pack of dugs. She denied anyone had ever been eaten by her swine and also confirmed that the ice was indeed thin up in them thar hills...  : (

Gary on the traverse of Cut It (IV,5)
In the end we did 2 good routes- salvaging what initially looked like a miserable day -

First up was South Gully of the Black Wall (IV,4). Ironically enough, the nick on this was excellent. Daf set off up the intro chimney. It was thickly iced and he was delighted to find chewy, first time axe placements from the start. Gary got the crux top pitch and made a good job of dealing with the drier, featured ice and steep steps. It was the second time I've done this route and I really enjoyed it again. Brilliant!

Back down, finding Quartzvein occupied by a Plas y Brenin guide and client, we got on Dave MacLeod's Cut It (at the guidebook grade of IV,4).

Me on the second pitch of Cut It (IV,5)- photo Gary Gray
This takes an obvious left to right ascending traverse from near the start of Quartzvein to arrive at the half- way belay of the Croc. It then takes the steep second pitch of the Croc (V,5) to top out.

The lower pitch of the Croc was non- existent (as was the main fall of Peter Pan to its right) but the Croc's upper pitch looked fat. Daf led out on the easy grade II ledge traverse to belay after 40m. I got the steep upper section. This pitch is very exposed and steep for 30m and it seemed a bit hard for a IV. Maybe a touch of the MacLeod sandbag here (a la Glasgow No more at Auchinstarry)? We felt tech 5 was more like it- and maybe even V,5.

Regardless, after having ribbed Gary for his liberal use of screws on his lead of South Gully I had to eat my words. I stitched my pitch to the hilt!

Pigs of Orchy from Davie Crawford on Vimeo.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Orion Direct (with video)

Recently, Gary Gray and myself climbed Orion Direct on Ben Nevis. It was superb- a week later I'm still buzzing about it!

Now graded (V,5), this ultra- classic 400m route was first climbed by legends Robin Smith & Jimmy Marshall during their exceptional week of pioneering in 1960. During that week they did first ascents of Piggot's Route (V,6), Smith's Route (V,5), Minus 3 Gully (IV,5), Observatory Buttress (V, 4), The Great Chimney (IV,5) and the first one day ascent of Point Five Gully (V,5). The SMC Scottish Winter Climbs guidebook describes Orion Direct as,
"One of the finest winter climbs in Scotland, with all the atmosphere of a major Alpine face. The route is sustained, open, and exposed, but in good conditions is nowhere technically difficult, although both belays and runners can be hard to find."

Smith and Marshall climbed it by cutting steps in the ice (the frontpointing revolution came a few years later) and with minimal gear. Modern axes, crampons and ice screws have reduced the overall seriousness of this climb, but 53 years later it's still a route with a reputation for bold climbing.

Gary above the crux on Orion Direct
I'm not a fan of following other parties up ice routes and knew we'd need to be up early to have a good chance of getting on it first. At the last minute I managed to arrange a night in the CIC hut- hopefully this should help with our planned Alpine start?

We almost ran up the path from the North Face car park on a gorgeous moonlit Monday night. Headtorches were unnecessary and we could easily have gone climbing there and then. We arrived at the hut just before midnight- only to find that every bunk space was fully occupied. Our plans for a restful kip were scuppered- the reality was 5 hours lying on the kitchen floor, being disturbed every half hour or so as folk clattered their way to the bog .

At 5am my phone alarm went off, but we were already awake so it was just a sore reminder of how little sleep we'd had. A group of French climbers burst forth from the bunkroom as we got up. While we breakfasted they tried to quiz us about our plans. We pretended we weren't sure, choked down some porridge and bolted out into the darkness as quickly as we could- knowing they had ambitions on our target.

We won the race to the start of the route and I got the first lead at 7am. The nervous anticipation I'd had disappeared on the first pitch as I found the ice was thick enough to take screws where needed. Up a short step then round rightwards to an icy chimney groove. Conditions couldn't be better- cloudless blue skies, no wind and views for 50 miles across the Highlands.

Gary came up to my stance and made short work of the enjoyable long, left- trending chimney/ groove up towards the Basin. 60m ropes are a real advantage on this route, making it possible to link some of the few rock belays that are available. A full rope length up through the steep snow of the Basin then took me to another solid belay. From here I could see over to the crux pitch. By this point a fast moving French guide and 2 clients had drawn level with us on our right, by climbing via the Direct Start. It wasn't ideal, but it would have been daft to get into rope tangles and stress today so we let them pass us. 2nd place would be fine...

Soon it was my turn to tackle the crux pitch- a wall of thin ice positioned high above Zero Gully. It was steeper than what had come before, but the ice was of such good quality that the moves were just a joy to climb. What an incredible situation though.

The penultimate (8th) pitch was Gary's. A tremendous chimney, and thick with water ice. A stonking rock belay at the base was the icing on the cake. Following it, I thought it was possibly better than the crux. The quality of the climbing was superb throughout Orion Direct. All that remained was another 60m of easy snow to the top. No cornices to deal with, just an easy stroll up into the sunshine. What a feeling to have the sun in my face as I hit the plateau. Yassss!


PS  I used to find the Cold Climbs article a good laxative back in the day, so it was nice to slay a dragon and actually get up Orion Direct. In the conditions we found, it wasn't very hard but I've no doubt it could be a lot more serious in less perfect nick. It's flipping long and the route finding could be a big problem in clag.

PPS I've got an ebay addiction at the moment and I'd actually sold my Berghaus softshell tweeds two days before I wore them on Orion Direct. Glad to say I didn't do a Greyfriars Bobby in them or rip them during the route!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ben Lomond hat trick!

I've been knee deep in Southern Highlands esoterica in the last few weeks and, with good conditions continuing, was keen to arrange more of this unfrequented fun while it lasted. I'd already been in touch with Andy Nisbet about climbing on Ben Lomond during the Winter. Both of us had done some stuff there in the past- with our shared interest in the crag, were keen to team up for some new lines. It turned out to be a successful mission!

We slogged our way up a partially broken trail to the summit ridge. Tying laces and putting poons on in the biting Easterly wind was purgatory, and it was a real relief to descend Easy Gully and find the coire was completely sheltered. Blood slowly returned to our extremities as we scoped out possibilities. Conditions were excellent- solid turf, bits of ice and a good amount of hoar on the rock.

Andy on the ice bulge of Rowardennan Rib. The second pitch goes through the overhangs above.
After a short stroll we arrived below a square- cut rib near Endrick Corner (V,6). Andy bagsied the first lead and made quick progress up to a tricky section- a steep ice bulge. Soon he disappeared out of sight to belay on top of the rib. It was a good lead. I really enjoyed seconding the sequence of moves on ice but noted how bold it must have felt to Andy on the sharp end.

On the second crux of Rowardennan Rib (V,5)
I set off up the second pitch. Turf led directly to the band of intimidating overhangs above, with a shallow groove offering a potential line of weakness. I unearthed a crucial wire placement at a ledge below, and then banged in a hook for good measure. The turf seemed good enough to encourage me to go for the initial move to enter the groove- a fairly strenuous pull up. I was committed but there were still a good few moves to do before I could relax. Just when the run- out was starting to feel a wee bit spicy I found sanctuary with a stonking hex in the corner above. Phew!
Andy finishing off the second pitch. The square cut rib of the first pitch is below.

I took a belay at a good ledge above the steep ground and Andy disappeared up an easier finishing pitch. Up top, chuffed with the route, I would have been happy enough to head off down at that point, but Andy was fired up for doing a 'couple more'. He certainly likes to get value for money for his long journey down from Aviemore!

The trio of lines left of Endrick Corner
So, down we went to an area left of Endrick Corner. A trio of gully and groove lines all start from a central snow bay. We roped up for the grade III left branch which offered 60m of climbing, with some technical interest around a turfy bulge higher up. After that, we abandoned the ropes and headed off to solo the slightly longer central grade II line. After topping that one out I politely declined Andy's invite to join him in solo'ing the final right hand route. Down he went again, reappearing at the top again shortly afterwards- making his tally up to 4. The man is a machine! It's no surprise he has around 1000 new routes to his name...

The 5km back down to the lochside was a long one as it went dark, with a couple of unplanned skites onto our backsides on patches of ice to punctuate the grind. What a great day out. My first hat- trick of routes in a day in Scotland!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Gangnam Style

Went up Beinn Ime again, this time with Andy Clark. I've climbed there 3 times in the last 2 weeks!
It's a good crag, rarely visited (despite it only being a 45 min drive from Glasgow) but definitely worthwhile if the conditions allow.

Andy on the descent to Fan Gully Buttress
There's been quite a bit of snow over the Highlands recently. After reading various reports of unstable snow further North we decided to keep it as safe we we could. Arrochar seemed the best bet- so we took that gamble, hoping that the altitude of Beinn Ime's crags would have kept the turf solid after a week of rollercoaster temperatures. Most importantly, we crossed our fingers that the Westerlies hadn't turned Ime's East facing slopes into death traps.

When we stopped at the gearing up stone near the summit, we realised something was different from the usual suffering- we were comfortable while adding the layers. It was feckin' boiling- which was a bit of a conundrum. The air temperature was probably minus 4, but an unusually strong Scottish Winter sun was warming us. Anyway, we geared up as normal and trepidatiously descended a gully, to arrive sweating below the routes. The snow had been stable enough to walk down without avalanching on us but our prospects didn't look good. We were hot and bothered and the snow was melting off anything exposed to the sun.

A quick brainstorm came up with three options-
1/ Hanging Groove (IV,5) (in the shade).
2/ the recently recorded Gangnam Style- at the proposed grade of (V,7) (also in the shade).
3/ go home (we'd rather have gone to the pub).

Both the routes were in the shade. These could be our salvation and the pub could wait. I'd already done Hanging Groove with Jim Hall,  so I couldn't resist the temptation of a bit of Gangnam Style, especially with the Mediterranean style sunshine. We could be in San Antonio....

Andy Clark starting the crux pitch of Gangnam Style
I plodded up some horrific knee to thigh deep porridge and entered the shade to do the first pitch. Thankfully the snow firmed up in the cold, and a short tech 4 corner led to a turfy buttress. From a shared belay, Gangnam runs parallel and on the right of Hanging Groove. Andy seconded that first pitch while a Paraffin Budgie buzzed around in the background, presumably doing Mountain Rescue training near Ben Vane.

Andy made short work of the 1st hard pitch. I arrived at his belay after a decent (but enjoyable) tech 6 struggle. I looked up and very quickly decided it would be time for some 'block leading' on Andy's part. My Spidysense had detected difficulty...<Translation- I thought, 'F That', and sent the ropegun up there!>
Crux pitch of Gangnam Style
Good call- the next pitch really was a good bit harder than the last one and I needed a pretty tight rope seconding a horribly footless slabby section around mid-way, before another hard bit. After that I had to work hard to make the long step right to a turfy rib where the pitch eventually eased off. This pitch was very sustained and tricky. It was much harder than the last pitch- which would be worth V,6 in itself. A cracking lead on Andy's part.

We finished up around 70m of grade II buttress ground, avoiding a steep wall that had been climbed on the first ascent. It was as black as the ace of spades and we didn't have the time to do it. As we walked off into the sunset the views were clear for 40 miles down the Firth of Clyde. Another stunning day in the Alps- the Arrochar Alps!

The Cobbler, The Brack and the Firth of Clyde from Beinn Ime

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Back to the Tools

At last- I've finally managed to get out and get on some Winter routes this season. Erratic work schedules and other stuff have stopped play and I've been sat going green with envy, watching all the activity getting racked up on the blogs.
The Winter snow storms that have brought chaos to the South and East of the UK have pretty much missed the West of Scotland. We've only seen a couple of flakes of snow in the towns here, but the hard freeze has brought the mountain crags into good condition, with just the right amount of snow and ice around.

On Sunday Burnsie, Garth and myself headed up Beinn Ime. It's the Cobbler's neighbour, and at 1010m it's the biggest hill in this area. The crags lie below the summit on the East face. They're quite extensive and impressively big, giving the typical Southern Highlands mix of turf and schist. Unfortunately, they face East and tend to get stripped by the sun later in the season- so it tends not to be the most reliable of venues.

Burnsie on the first chockstone of Ben's Fault

I'd done one route there, Hanging Groove (IV,5) with Jim Hall back in 2006. Burnsie had been out and bagged a good new route this season with Stuart the Postie- Gangnam Style (V,7). A two hour walk- in from the Rest and Be Thankful took us to near the summit, where a steep descent down a series of shallow gullies and ribs took us to below the buttresses.The turf was bomber, the rock was lightly hoared and there was some ice around. Game on. We decided to do Ben's Fault. It's the classic of the crag and offers 185m of climbing. At first glance the lower section looked solo-able but I was glad we pitched it after finding the introductory groove pretty tricky seconding. After that wee step there's around 100m of easy ground until the route curves up to the base of the eponymous fault.

Garth got the first hard pitch. A superb chimney fault climbed inside and out around various chockstones. It was a great pitch, never desperately hard but sustained and definitely worth tech 6. Burnsie led the way to the top on a final pitch that was as technical as the previous one but less sustained. Overall we all felt that Ben's Fault would need a big build up and neve to get the book grade of IV,5. V,6 is fairer, it's a cracking route- and definitely 3 stars. I was delighted to have been on it, even if I only led one easy pitch.

Jim Hall on Stormbringer- here he's dreaming of a real ale he'd have in the Bridge of Orchy later on

On Wednesday I went out with Jim Hall, finding Beinn an Dothaidh's NE Coire deserted. We had hoped to get on something icy, but while ice was around it was discontinuous- the icicle of Valhalla was formed but very steep at what looked like Scottish VI or VII at least- it looked superb but it didn't continue into the upper gully. As a consolation we ended up getting on Stormbringer (III). It's a sister route to West Buttress, coming in rightwards from the bay where Haar and Valhalla start. The route finding is a bit intricate across some steep ground, and I had a couple moments of doubt about the line I was on until I passed an old bail- out peg and biner. Five metres rightwards and I'd located the scoop belay that starts the second pitch. Jim deftly despatched the scoop and we romped up the final 100m or so of grade II stuff to the top. Not a bad wee route and the sunset on the way down was incredible as it often is here- I love this crag, what an outlook over the moor. Afterwards we enjoyed a celebratory pint, lowering the tone of the revamped (and now very posh) Bridge of Orchy Hotel in our stinky gear!

Graham Boistelle heading leftwards towards the crux groove of Naebody's Fault
The final route in my hat-trick of Winter ticks this week was a really enjoyable new route back up on Beinn Ime. On the Sunday when we'd done the descent down to do Ben's Fault I'd noticed there was maybe scope for some new lines. So when Jamie Bankhead and Graham Boistelle expressed an interest in joining me for some scopage I was well psyched (as Tim Emmett would say).We followed a freshly broken trail (courtesy of early starters Messrs Burns and Garthwaite- up doing Headfault) to the summit area. The approach felt a lot harder after the previous days' efforts, and Jamie did remark something about my sales pitch to him the night before about the length of it!
The initial wall pitch of Naebody's Fault-pic by Graham
We descended through cloud and the buttresses were invisible, although only 50m away. Fortunately the cloud lifted quickly and we spied a likely target- an attractive groove line up the middle of the lower section of crag.

We walked along the snow terrace below the groove looking for lines of weakness (and more importantly- potential gear!). A distinctive square cut flake lured me into leading the first pitch. It was a short but enjoyable wall worth tech 4, and the flake made it as safe as you could ask for. The boys joined me at a reassuringly solid peg belay and Graham bagsied the next lead. 

The next pitch is definitely the crux and best pitch on the route. It's a belter. Up a chimney, a short wall, an icicle- fringed overlap and into the groove above. Seconding the pitch I really enjoyed all the bits into the groove, and was then surprised at the sudden difficulty of a very thin ice bulge. A great and bold lead by Graham- and a fitting one as this was his first ever new route. Chapeau. This pitch was worth a solid tech 5- if the ice was thicker on the bulge it would drop to tech 4.

The route eases off after the 2nd pitch and follows some blocky grade II terrain to the top in about 70m or so. Jamie had the pleasure of this section. We finished the route off and had the time to congratulate Burnsie and Garth on their success on Headfault as they topped out.

What a great week, and a brilliant (if late) start to my season!

Graham looking chuffed after a great lead
Jamie emerging from the crux ice bulge