Archive for January, 2011

New Year 2010

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

This year we stayed at Blackrock Cottage, Glencoe – a new hut for the club. A few people were put off by the lack of running water (apart from a stream behind the hut), but 7 hardy souls made the trip north – me, Carmen, Simon F, Debra, Peter, Ben, and Peri.

Unlike last year, when we had superb conditions throughout our trip, the 2010/11 meet began with a major thaw. We arrived on Monday 27th, and it rained for most of the night.

Not to be deterred, Carmen and I went searching for ice the next day, and surprised ourselves by finding some in the form of The Weep (II/III), over 1000 feet of ice on the flanks of Creise. Just when we thought it was all over, having climbed everything that can be seen from the bottom, we turned the corner and found that the ice continued. This provided us with another two long pitches making 8 in all, probably about 350m or more. Mostly easy, but with a couple of grade 3 pitches just above half height, it would make a good route for beginners as for most of the way it is easy to escape and many of the steeper sections can be avoided. We finished with an "interesting" descent as we slowly picked a way through steep crags in fast-disappearing light.

Meanwhile the others opted for an ascent of Beinn a' Chrulaiste, a Corbett above the King's House Hotel. Despite limited views they took in the lower summits of Meall Bhalach, and finished in the King's House with some well-deserved beer.

The next day being Peri's last chance for some climbing before heading back to feed her iguanadon, she, Ben, and Peter also took a look at The Weep. Continuing mild temperatures meant that it was getting wetter all the time, but even so it was still in good condition. Being a three they were a bit slower, but managed to finish the first half of the route before heading back. Simon, Debra, Carmen and I drove south to tick one of the duller Munros, Meall Ghaordie near Killin, being the closest that Carmen hadn't yet done. A bit of a slog in wet snow, but at least we managed a few long bumslides on the way back down.

Thursday's weather was more of the same, mild and cloudy with the permanent threat of rain. Simon. Debra, Peter and Ben headed for the Bridge of Orchy for some more Munro bagging, while Carmen and I decided to see if there was any climbable ice left on Aonach Dubh. There wasn't. So we went shopping for the New Year's Eve haggis instead, and took the opportunity for the first showers of the week courtesy of the Ice Factor.

On Friday you've guessed it, it rained. It looked vaguely like it might clear up, so I decided to walk up Bidean while the others went to the climbing wall. Having sat in the car park watching the rain for half an hour, I gave in and joined them at the wall. As is becoming traditional, nobody managed to stay up until midnight.

Saturday at last was colder (though not as cold as forecast) and clearer (though not the predicted blue sunny skies). Peter and Ben headed for the two Munros above Allachadair Farm, but had to turn back as Ben wasn't well. The rest of us were booked on an avalanche awareness course with the MCoS, so headed for Aonach Mo where we spent an excellent and very useful on the hill. I'd done a similar course almost 20 years ago, and many of the things I'd been taught then are now rejected as being a waste of time!

Conditions were fast improving again, just in time to go home, but we had one more day in which to get something done. Peter went back to Achalladair Farm and successfully bagged the two Munros in good weather, while Carmen and I returned to Aonach Mor, this time for some climbing. It's supposed to be easy to access, but I'm not sure where it gets this reputation as the approach consists of a gondola ride, followed by a 90 minute slog up hill through the ski slopes, and finally a downclimb of a grade I gully to reach the routes. It wouldn't take much longer to get to Ben Nevis!

Our first choice route, Left Twin, had a group of 3 just starting (typical, only half a dozen teams on the hill and one of them was on 'our' route), so instead we opted for Tunnel Vision (III *). This turned out to be an excellent choice, much better than it looked from below. I got the 55m middle pitch, up ice and steep neve with worryingly spaced protection (almost all the cracks in the rocks were choked with ice and unusable). We topped out at 2pm and briefly considered another route, but this would have meant missing the last gondola and hence a long walk out in the dark, so since the clouds were rolling in we headed back.

The next day it snowed at last, but we were all on our way home.

An excellent little hut with bags of character, and I'm sure we'll go back – though given the lack of facilities, maybe not for a whole week!

More photos here and Debra's here.

Snow Swims on Great End

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Crofty, Guido, Rob and me headed up to the lakes on a bit of a punt for Friday, not really sure how much would be in condition. We settled on Great End as one of the most reliable crags, I was specially keen on Great End as I have had Window Gully on my wish list since seeing it last year.

Arriving at Seathwaite there did not seem to be much snow although as the sun rose Crofty remarked hopefully that there was a sprinkling on the tops. By the time we arrived at the crag it was clear this was something of an understatment. The whole crag was plastered and some of the gullies appeared to be banked out, I could hardly recognise Window Gully despite thinking I had a clear picture of it in my head from last year.

Jim and Guido made a beeline for Central Gully Left Branch, mentioning they might follow us up Window Gully after, we headed straight for Window Gully. Despite reports on rotten ice elsewhere in the lakes on UKC we found the ice here very good, after a cold night it was hard and on the brittle side, both of us were sending fusillades of icy shards down the hill and I have a fine bruise on one knee from failing to dodge one of Rob's incoming missiles. We soloed the first few pitches but I was lured sideways by the upper icefall which was really fat and blue, I chickened out of soloing that as the initial bulge looked steep and it was a long way to the bottom of the hill.

Topping out we found we had made good time, it was still only 11.30 so after descending Cust's Gully (very banked out, lots of spindrift coming down) Rob suggested One Pitch Gully, which was, suprisingly, just one pitch. What a swim the approach to that turned out to be, it was three steps upwards two steps down through thick soft snow. Rob had done this route last year so I led. It was quite nice to have the variety of a mixed pitch after our earlier ice pitches. I found the moves left onto the ridge quite tricky but there was a reassuringly solid nut to protect it and some really nice axe torquing.

Topping out once more we were met by howling blasts loaded with ice crystals and I mutated into a yeti as my hairline turned into a fringe of icicles. It was clearly Pie O'clock so we headed down to consume said pies while waiting for Jim and Guido to finish. Eventually we saw two familiar looking figures which seemed, surprisingly as it was now 3pm, to be heading back up for a final route. "They're keen" we thought and shouted to them that we were heading down to the car. They waved back happily but God knows why they thought we were informing them as it was not Jim and Guido at all – they were, as we discovered, waiting back at the car.

With the climbing done the only remaining possibility for an epic was the journey back, and this was duly supplied as the A66 turned into a shaken snowglobe and Jim did his Ice Road Truckers impression all the way back to the A1 – well driven Jim.

Rob's other pix here

The lost turf of Cringle Crag

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

While tidying out the YAC website attic we came across an old trunk labelled "Will Smith: his blog". The trunk contained a crumbling manuscript referring to a legendary 45 metre turf route at the winter climbing mecca of Cringle Crag. And so it was that an expedition was assembled on the 18th December to probe the icy fastnesses of the North York Moors.

We encountered our first steep ice pitch some distance from our goal. Unfortunately we were still on the road at the time, so after some tentative reversing Carmen parked up at the roadside and we set off cross country across a christmas card landscape.

Arriving at the crag

A little over an hour later we arrived at the crag. There was clearly quite a lot of potential for short ice routes, but after the recent thaw many of the cascades were pretty but not really robust enough to climb. Still, after a bit more exploring Rob and me found enough short solid routes to keep us entertained ice-bouldering stylee.

Quite a lot of ice, but much of it too delicate to climb

Meanwhile Carmen and Simon had succeeded in finding and climbing the fabled turf route (Cringle Ridge). This turned out to be nearer 25 metres than 45 but provided some enjoyable climbing, mostly on easy steps with good frozen turf placements. Rob led, I seconded (note to self: do remember not to hold metal gear in your mouth while winter climbing :-$). Worth it just for the novelty value of climbing winter routes on the moors!

Rob on Cringle Ridge

Mission accomplished by both teams we headed back to the car arriving in York with enough time for hot showers before heading back out to the YAC xmas dinner.