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!