Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Considering the frustration I faced last winter season with what felt like a continuous conveyer of warm weather systems washing over the mountains, this year seems to have been both loads colder and loads whiter, with an (almost) continuous blanket of snow enveloping the hills since mid-December! Don’t get me wrong, there have definitely been ups and downs with the odd day of warm weather here or there, but that’s just exactly what I mean, warm days with temperatures greater than 8 degrees are really few and far between, even in Stirling. The other way of looking at it is that now I’m based up here, escaping into the hills is perhaps a lot easier, even if it’s just for the day, so technically I can be picky with exactly which days I go out. Only problem with that is that since I’m out most of the time, I’m hardly just picking the only good weather days! I mean its Scottish Winter after all, good days sometimes don’t happen! Either way my run of luck with ‘acceptable’ conditions has continued into February with a few great days in Glen Coe and also over in the Cairngorms.
Climbing North Buttress (IV,4) in the shadow of the Buccal

Phil moving up towards one of North Butress's many chimneys
To be honest February didn’t exactly get off to the best of starts, with a climbing-wall-hatched-plan to go and check out the classic ice/snow route that’s Crowberry Gully on the Buccal thawted by one of these rare ‘warm spells’. Although the forecast was for cold weather and snow, it became apparent as we were driving across Rannoch Moor with rain and sleet splattering against the windscreen that a change of plan might be required. Although the path to the hut was slushy mess, by the time we we got up to the base of the Buccal’s North Buttress (IV,4), the sleet had stopped and the snow was firm. In fact by the time we got to the top of the route, the snow had turned back to powder and was drifting heavily. The wind had also picked up and it was snowing again making for an interesting final ascent up the final ridge section to the summit. North Buttress was a great and varied route, and considering its exposed imposing position seemed to comprise mostly of chimneys and grooves (the former of which I have absolutely no objection too!).

Following a week of continued snowfall and south westerly winds many of the most desirable crags in the area were strictly out of bounds on account of being buried by widespread wind slab  and giant cornices. Since the boys had come all the way up from Devon (heuristic trap I know..) I felt we had to give something a go, so after some research ended up paying a visit to a crag I’d already been to in similar conditions earlier this season. Thankfully the west facing nature of Coire an Dothaidh was about as good as it gets in the southern Highlands in such conditions and over two consecutive days we climbed Centigrade (III) as well as the mega classic that’s Fahrenheit 451 (IV,4) (the former of which was Richards first outdoor ice climb too!). Bad weather combined with a lack of any real visibility meant I took a slightly steeper line on Centigrade’s second pitch, which culminated in a short overhanging wall that definitely added to the entertainment value and probably ended up being the single hardest move we came across the next few days! Fahrenheit 451 also lived up to the hype, following a line of icy slabs and corners right up the middle of the buttress. The lower crux pitch was on super thin ice, only a cm or so in thickness and was a bit rotten to boot. Since I also missed the in-situ pegs under the sprawling icefalls it made for quite a spicy affair but was probably all the more rewarding. The upper crux through the steep ice falls is fantastic and was a super enjoyable piece of climbing. Looking forward to a relaxed evening after a few big days out, we were quite surprised when we got back to the bunk house to discover a cehlidh was happening that evening in the pub. As you can imagine, all prospects of a quiet evening then went immediately out the window!
Looking up into a very white Coire an Dothaidh

Other climbers on Centigrade (III) and Fahrenheit 451 (IV,4)

Richard and Rob at the top of Centigrade (III) in typically Scottish climbing conditions
The thinly iced lower section of Fahrenheit 451 (IV,4)
After a hasty retreat from the Glen Coe area we then headed over to an even snowier Cairngorms. As reports were stating that much of the Norries and other crags in the area were buried under powder and loaded wind slab, we opted to spend a bluebird day on the Fiacaill Ridge before walking back over Cairngorm Summit. The day was finished with grub in the Cairngorm Hotel and our second Cehlidh of the trip!
A bluebird day in the northern Coires



Atmospheric conditions moving along the Fiacaill Ridge (II)

Richard moving through the steep chimney

Moving together on the upper Fiacaill Ridge

With the big drive back south looming over Rob and Rich, we opted for an early start and shorter route for the last day of the trip. Having heard reports that apart from around the exits slopes and on NE aspects much of the snow in the Norries was consolidating well, we decided to go and check out Aladdin’s Buttress, thinking if the approach slope was okay we could do something and just abseil off. After some quite extensive digging it was apparent there was a thick layer of really hard wind slab, sat on top of some softer, older snow deeper down which after a lot of consideration we decided was okay as the temperatures weren’t forecast to change and we’d only be on an exposed section for maybe 20m or so (TBH I’m no expert and those conditions may indeed be conducive to a slide, but the only way we could get the layers to actually fail was through pulling with all of our bodyweight or jumping up and down on a fully isolated block. The tap test didn’t even make the snow crack. Even on the edges of our excavations, we couldn’t get it to fail.. What conditions may have been like at the top of the crag is a different matter entirely I’m sure but since I knew we wouldn't be topping out, what I saw was acceptable to me). The climb we opted for in the end was Aladdin’s Mirror Direct (IV,4), which was a real cracker. Super steep and super sweet. A great route to finish a great trip.    
Looking up at Aladdin's Buttress

The steep ice pitch of Aladdin's Mirror Direct (IV,4)

Rob at the top. Smiles all round! 

Monday, 5 February 2018

Had a great couple of days with Phil out exploring some classic winter lines in the Western Highlands last weekend. By a stroke of luck a high pressure system loitering off the north west coast brought amazingly cold and stable conditions with virtually no wind. After an early start on Friday we headed up into to Stob Coire nan Lochan arriving at the crag at the same time as the first rays of sunshine. We climbed Ordinary Route (AKA Raeburn’s Route) (IV,4) which climbs a steep icey chimney before moving to more open ground, climbing the edge of the buttress in 4 pitches. After that with the weather still great, we climbed Twisting Gully (III,4) which was also in good condition apart from the odd section of quite deep powder snow.

The following day the forecast suggested there would be a temporary deterioration in weather in the afternoon with low cloud and light snow. On that basis we opted for something a bit lower and ended up climbing the short but sweet South West Ridge of the Douglas Boulder (IV,5) on the north face of Ben Nevis. I say short but the routes is actually 180m in length, but as its positioned in front of the north face of Ben Nevis, I guess it’s a matter of perspective!

The final day saw the best weather and probably the best route. With improving snow conditions and a bit of knowledge afforded from the day before from the top of the Douglas Boulder, we settled on the classic Tower Ridge (IV,3). Even with a really early start we weren’t the only ones on the route nor even the first, however I guess solidarity isn’t something you should expect on a route as famous as Tower Ridge. The climb was in pretty good condition, with much of the powder snow better consolidated than previous days and even some stretches of water ice. We climbed the route mostly moving together with great views of the rest of the face. We saw teams on Point 5 Gully (V,5), Orion Direct (V,5), Hadrian’s Wall (V,5) and North East Buttress (IV,5) to name a few. Tower gap came and went and before we knew it we were sat on the summit bathing in the crisp winter sunshine. Not wanting to waste such a beautiful day, we decided to descend via the CMD arĂȘte (I) - also great condition - before dropping back into the shadow of the north face heading for the CIC hut. Walking out of the Coire watching the sun set was a pretty poignant moment. 

Approaching Reaburn's Route on Stob Coire nan Lochan

The steep and icey chimney on the first pitch of Raeburn's Route (IV,4)

Phil starting the second pitch of Raeburn's Route in brilliant conditions

The first pitch of Twisting Gully (III,4). Lots of snow in the lower gully but the main ice pitch was in good condition.

The Douglas Boulder looming through the gloom. Doesn't look much like any boulder I've ever seen..

A steep mixed section on the South West Ridge of the Douglas Boulder (IV,5)

Ascending Douglas Gap East Gully (I) on our way up to Tower Ridge. A week of north westerly winds meant this was a steeper but more stable approach to the start of the route.



The north face of the Ben in all its glory. Some climbers on Hadrian's Wall (V,5) are pictured on the bottom right.

A party behind us finishing up the final section of Tower Ridge (IV,3) in beautifully still conditions




   

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Before the start of this year it'd been a while since I had been out in winter just for the sake of enjoyment alone. In 2016 and 2017 walking in the hills was about collecting days for the log book, the worse the weather the better the experience. Now that’s done I really want to focus on being in the mountains both for walking but also for the aspirant winter ML’s forbidden fruit – winter climbing. Whilst on training we were given the impression that a day climbing in winter couldn’t really be counted as a log-able ‘QMD’. A great example of this was when one of my instructors recited when I asked if winter climbing could be combined with a walk to get a QMD.. “if you really want to do your winter ML, a climb in the northern corries walking back over Cairngorm won’t count. You’ll basically need to sell your axes, sell your ice screws and stay away from the buttresses on the north face of the Ben until your certified”. Funnily enough he went on to say he’d give me a fair price when I sell them.. not sure how much it would have cost me to buy them back though! 

Anyway the assessment is behind me now and I’ve been waiting all summer for the season to start. Thankfully the winter this year has already been pretty fruitful, with a cold snap and massive dump of snow happening as early as mid-December. Since then there have been a few thaws but these were mostly minor, with snow staying on the higher crags almost entirely so there has been plenty of fun to be had.

The season started well with a few single day solo missions over to Glen Coe ticking Dorsal Arete (II,3) and Curved Ridge (II/III,3). This was followed by a more serious cold snap allowing the first of a few trips to Beinn Udlaidh in the Southern Highlands. On a perfectly calm and crisp day we managed ascents of Sunshine Gully (III) and Ramshead Gully (III) before racing down for a session in the sauna at the Peak leisure center before it shut!

Further cold weather over Christmas meant that the Lakes just about came in for a few days and I managed another quick solo mission but this time up to Gable Crag ticking Central Gully (III).

Winter conditions returned to the Highlands again in early Jan with lots of snow over the summits and hard frosts freezing everything down to the valley bottoms. We had some amazing winter day scrambling in Glen Coe up Sron na Lairig (II), which was followed by a more ‘atmospheric’ weekend in the northern Corries battling up Fingers Ridge (IV,5) in high winds.

With the onset of further cold weather and yet more snow, another return to Beinn Udlaidh was organised where we managed a quick ascent of Quatzvein Scoop (IV,4) before the weather turned  and the wind picked up. Walking out back to the car felt a bit like being inside a milk bottle being rolled down a staircase! 

Contray to typical Scottish conditions, this year seems to be a season of fairness, with our suffering that day on Beinn Udlaidh rewarded with low winds and cold temperatures the next time out. With a week of drifting snow and westerly winds the east facing crags were a no go zone, so with a need for west facing crags combined with good icey conditions prevailing at Beinn Udlaidh, we chanced a walk into Creag Coire an Dotaidh to see how Fahrenheit 451 (IV,4) was forming.. Ribbons of blue water ice streaming between deep powder at first glance gave the promise of a good fortune, however after an hour of winter sunshine the route started to fall apart around us so we opted for a hasty abseil back to the base. Our consolation prize was a quick ascent of Second Coming (III,4) on the adjacent and shady Beinn Dorain which was in good nick and provided one of the best summit sunsets I’ve seen in a long while.

So far so good.     


Sron na Lairig (II) on a perfect winters day

Moving between the 'fingers' of Fingers Ridge (IV,5) on a rather atmospheric day in Coire an t-Sneachda

Winter wonderland. 

Dan moving up the the exposed rampline below the top of the 1st pitch on Beinn Dorain's Second Coming (III,4). The second pitch ice was a bit thin but still manageable. The traverse at the bottom of the first pitch is amazingly exposed for a III but surprisingly easy once you commit
Sunshine Gully (III) completely choked with ice. Stellar conditions! 

Classic Scottish water ice. Just below the steepening on Beinn Udlaidh's Quatzvein Scoop (IV,4). A really great route in reasonable condition


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

My Top Routes of 2017

It’s been a turbulent year to say the least. New job, new home, more friends, different life. So much has changed. Through all this thankfully some things have stayed constant, namely a love of early mornings and chronic fear of lazy Saturdays! Moving back to Scotland was definitely at the top of my priorities for 2017, however I was surprised by just how quickly it all happened. Before I knew it the job contact was signed, the tenancy was secured and my boxes were packed and all by mid February. Everyone up here is so awesome and so friendly, I know the friends I've made will be friends for life!

Somehow amongst all this chaos over 100 climbs have been ticked, comprising of innumerable pitches, countless walk-ins, abseils and other faff. 

As I’ve not done one of these since 2015, I thought I’d also include some other particularly memorable favorites from 2016 as well as just the ones from 2017. So in no particular order, here are ten my most memorable climbs from 2016/2017.

Moss Ghyll Grooves (MVS 4c) Scafell Crag


Perhaps one of the most famous 'MVS's in the country. This outstanding route climbs an immaculate series of grooves and corners up one of the Lake Districts biggest mountain crags. Its a north face, so takes a while to dry and even longer to be warm enough to fully enjoy, but when its 'in' its totally worth the wait. Made all the better for having the approach start and finish next to the Wasdale Head Inn, which is perhaps one of the best mountain pubs in the world! 

We climbed it in four pitches, with the second '4c' pitch being the pick of the bunch. More photos here http://wainwrightclimbing.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/a-reoccurring-theme.html

Rob finishing the first pitch of Moss Ghyll Grooves (MVS 4c)

Botterill’s Slab (VS 4c) Scafell Crag


Yep, that's right, another one on Scafell Crag! Bit of a theme running here isn't there? A steep start, a bold slab and tones of history, what more could you want? Its also worth noting this climb was somehow first done in 1903 by a dude in breaches with an ice axe.

More photos here http://wainwrightclimbing.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/nowt-but-us-up-here.html

Matt enduring a steep start on the first pitch of Botterill's Slab (VS 4c)

Matt moving delicately up the outstanding second pitch of Botterill's Slab (VS 4c)

Scafell Crag in the glorious spring evening sunshine

The Wasdale Crack (HS) Napes Needle


Another route that needs no introduction. Being basically one of the first landmark climbs in the British Isles its a must do for any big mountain crag climber and beside, who wouldn't say no to a big pinnacle! lol.

Pointing out the line of the Wasdale Crack, Napes Needle
The route itself is pretty polished as its popularity is probably unrivaled, however don't let that deter you, as its one of the most interesting and airy summits around!

The Dubhs Ridge (Mod) Skye


Being nearly 1000m in length, the Dubhs Ridge rightfully claims to be one of the longest rock climbs in the UK. It comprises of vast swathes of beautiful scoured gabbro slabs rising straight out of the Courisk basin, running up to the summit of Sgurr Dubh Beag and beyond to the main Cuilin Ridge. I could go on and on about this route but the things you need to know are;
  1. The easiest way to get there is by the seal watching boat from Elgol
  2. The rock is amazing, with some of the best friction slab climbing anywhere I've ever been
  3. The abseil from the top of Sgurr Dubh Beag is pretty exposed and definitely gets the blood pumping
  4. Getting up is the easy bit
  5. Getting back down in time for the last boat is definitely the hard bit! 

Looking at the route from the Courisk basin below. The route follows a committing line right up the middle of the slabs for nearly 1000m
The 'must do' crack high up the Dubhs Ridge


Emma making the steep abseil of the top of Sgurr Dubh Beag

The Edge (VS 4c) Loudoun Hill


Maybe the most little-known super classic VS in the whole UK? This lonely route is essentially a massive pinnacle attached (well mostly anyway) to the side of a mediocre central belt crag, but provides one of the most exposed VS climbs about. The gear is all slings and the holds are all pinches. Most think it deserves E1 4c, but I think it depends how much you trust a sling on a flat hold..

More photos here http://wainwrightclimbing.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/loudoun-calling.html

Gregor right on it on the The Edge (VS 4c) at Loudoun Hill

Engineer’s Slabs (VS 4c) Gable Crag


A route for the mountain crag connoisseur. Engineer's Slab sits on one of the highest (and coldest) north faces in the entire Lake District. The high angle of the face means its less 'slab' more 'really damn steep!' with the line following a series of steep cracks before finishing up through the capping overhangs in humongous V shaped cleft. Often wet and more often green, this was one that I had to wait quite a while for until the stars aligned and opportunity presented itself.

More photos here http://wainwrightclimbing.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/moss-slime-lichen-and-looseness.html

Looking up the 'slab' from the base. The 'slab' is probably at a fair angle at the base but by half height its almost vertical, and by the top, is practically overhanging! 

Looking down the last pitch of Engineer's Slab (VS 4c) with Matt making some very exposed moves out to the arete above the void!

Walk on the Wild Side (HVS 5a) Auchinstarry Quarry


Usually no matter how good a single pitch route is, I don't find it satisfying enough to make it totally memorable. Walk on the Wild Side in Auchinstarry quarry however is the exception. Super thin and super bold slab climbing on perfectly formed positive edges.

The route sits hidden away in the back of Auchinstarry Quarry, which is probably the best crag in Kilsyth(!). Although it has a bit of an industrial wasteland feel, the crag is quick drying and only 10 minutes from the M80. Its also home to some other super cool routes like Trundle (VS 4c), Promontory Direct (HVS 5a), Red Lead (VS 5a) and Orange Flash (HVS 5a).

More photos here http://wainwrightclimbing.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/walk-on-wild-side.html

Nicholas on a route called Red lead (VS 5a) which is another brilliant route in Auchinstarry Quarry just round the corner from Walk on the Wild Side
Fran seconding the upper slab of Walk on the Wild Side (HVS 5a) with another team to the right on Trundle (VS 4c)

East Face Route (E1 5b) Old Man of Hoy


Ever since seeing a picture of this monolith in a talk by Leo Holding, I knew climbing this route was going to be one of my life's ambitions. We battled rain, wind, vomiting birds and awkward ferry times but got to the top and I've never felt so elated, the route lived up to the hype and in my mind is the definition of what adventurous climbing is about.

That whole area seems to have a massive wealth of climbing that's completely untapped. I can't wait to go back.

More photos here http://wainwrightclimbing.blogspot.com/2017/08/hoy-lifetime-tick.html

The Old Man of Hoy, the UK's largest 'sea stack'. This photo and the one after next were taken by Tim Simons, who happened to recognize our colour trousers on the ferry back to the mainland and we exchanged e-mail addresses! 

The first pitch of East Face Route (E1 5b), Old Man of Hoy
Moving through steep ground on the 'chimney pitch' of the East face Route (E1 5b). Photo Tim Simmons.

Waiting for the ferry off Hoy.. Job done.

Skeleton Ridge (HVS 4c) The Needles, Isle of Wight


Some of you may have never heard of it, but almost all of you will have seen it! So you know that amazing lighthouse shown on program intros on BBC1 which is surrounded by those massive white chalk rubble piles, yeah Skeleton Ridge is the bit behind it that runs to the old military lookout, and yes people have actually climbed on it!

Its got choss, its got giant abseils, its got sea birds and its got more exposure than you can shake a stick at. A perfect day out surely?

We got the ferry from the mainland and cycled across the island to the campsite closest to the route. After finishing the route the next day we headed to the pub and drank 12 pints between us, by which time we'd both forgotten the horror of the day and now I only look back with warm fondness.

Although the route is probably closer to VS than HVS its pretty high consequences... If you abseil in and you've got the tide wrong, you can either climb back up the abseil rope and probably die or wait for a rescue which will never come and also probably die. Since the gear is essentially in white mud, if you fall everything will rip (including the belay) and you'll probably die. If pull too hard on any of the holds, it will probably break, you will fall off and you'll probably die. If you decide its all too much half way up and abseil off, the gear will rip and you'll probably die. Alternatively you could pendulum abseil, but then again the tide will have come in and with all that heavy gear on you won't make the mile swim to the beach, so you'll probably die. Getting the hint? If none of this puts you off, go and do it, its the best day you'll ever have by the seaside.

More photos here http://wainwrightclimbing.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/skeleton-ridge.html

Racing the tide to the base of the route. The sea

The white crumbing knife edge. Photo credit Rob Steer
Moving through a difficult section a' chavel! Photo credit Rob Steer


Hairy Mary (HVS 4b) Suidhe Biorach, Skye


Finally, the last route on the list and by no means the least is Hairy Mary on Skye's west coast. At a glance, I'm sure your first thought is why go sea cliff climbing next to maybe the best mountain range in the world? Well the answer is that Skye also has some of the best sea cliff climbing in the world too! Conjured through water, fire and ice over millions of years, Skye is the juxtaposition for any scientist who would elsewhere disregard the idea of divine creation. From the elegantly carved monolithic mountain pinnacles to the majestic thundering zawns and towering sea stacks, it does beg the question that if the big man does exist, was he into trad climbing?

Anyway, if you're on Skye and the weather is pish, check out this place. Suidhe Biorach (near Elgol) as its sheltered from winds and rain alike and makes a good back up if that mountains are shrouded in shite. While you're there, check out Jammie Jampot which is another amazing VS. To be honest were either of these routes any closer to 'civilization' they'd be mega classics.
 


So that's it. Another year come to a close. Sometimes things have gotten pretty tough, and there have been so real lows, but thankfully my friends and family have been there to pull me through keeping me focused on the highs.

I guess that's it then. So long to all the worries and heart ache of 2017. All in all, its been a great year. I can't wait to see what the next one has in store.