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