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

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