Archive for March, 2013

A "Great End" to the winter season

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

As the weather warmed up and the snow retreated I was preparing to hang up my axes until next year. The ever unpredicatble climate had other ideas however, and with another cold snap arriving the usual emails began to circulate with talk of a Wenesday bunk off for a raid on the lake district.

I met up with Rob, Paul and Peri at Scotch corner for a quick car swap (and bacon and egg bap in Peri's case) before heading off over the A66. Paul's tongue-in-cheek attemps to get a rise out of the UKC'ers didn't yield any good venue suggestions so we were forced to settle for Great End, the obvious choice as it's high, the right aspect and, being mid-week, shouldn't be as busy as it can be. Upon arriving at the crag (inexplicably late) we found half a dozen pairs on Central Gully so Peri and Rob headed for South-East Gully whilst Paul and I opted for Window Gully.Ice Pillar, pitch 2, South East Gully.

Jamie on pitch one of Window Gully.

Jamie on pitch one of Window Gully.

The first ice we found was a little thin so we skirted round it on easy snow to gain the gully proper. We roped up and, as Paul had climbed the route a couple of months ago, I took the lead. A few metres of snow led to steeper ice so I popped a sling around a substantial looking ice pillar and set off with confidence. A couple of steps up and said ice pillar collapsed under my right boot. Slightly perturbed by this, and with no other gear in sight (I didn't much fancy placing my first ice screw in this rather unstable spot), I eased up a little higher to find a get out of jail free card: a two-inch crack poking out from under the blanket of ice. A quick fumble with a wire, and a couple of whacks with my hammer for good measure, saw my heart rate descending back from humming bird frequencies. With the help of an ice screw or two, the rest of the pitch went easily enough, save for a bulldog which, despite my hammering, decided it didn't much like the crack it was in and hurled itself back down the route.

After retreving the errant bulldog, Paul followed me up the pitch and lead through the next on a mixture of easy snow, rock and ice. Paul had borrowed a pair of Rob's mono-point crampons (who, wanting to keep his average up, had brought two pairs with him) which he described as "not so stable on snow, but great on mixed stuff", concluding "mono-points would be better if only you had two of them!"

Jamie starting out on the direct finish to Window Gully, with the Upper Icefall variant visible on right hand side.

Direct finish to Window Gully. Icefall variant visible on right hand side.

I joined Paul at the stance where we were faced with a choice: carry on up the direct finish, or take the Upper Icefall variant on the right hand side.

Rob on the ice pillar, pitch 2, South East Gully.

Rob on the ice pillar, pitch 2, South East Gully.

In the pressent conditions they looked of similar difficultly so we opted for the direct finish, in part because Paul had done the variant previously, but mostly because we would need to move the belay to the other side of the gully, which seemed like far too much faff for that time of day. The pitch went without too much trouble on mostly sound ice and we soon found ourselves on the top.

We got back to the base of the crag to find Rob and Peri sorting their gear, their concensus being that their route had been "interesting". All round a great end to the winter season…

… or is it…

Rob topping out on South East Gully.

Rob topping out on South East Gully.

Glen Etive February 2013

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

Some members set off for Scotland the day before and early morning on the day the Glen Etive meet started to do some pre meet activities . Conditions throughout the duration meet were perfect: well consolidated snow and ice, sub zero temperatures and clear skies. All members took advantage of the conditions with early starts and very late finishes, for some.
Members attending: Nigel Naylor, Rob Stone, Karl Claxton, Simon Caldwell, Carmen Elphick, Paul Davies, Peter Evans, Anthony Semonella, Peri Stracchino, Jamie Brown.

Karl and Rob headed up a day early and stopped in Crianlarich hut on the way. Karl’s first winter foray was up Cruach Ardrain via the Grade I Y gully, a lovely snow plod.
They spent some time on winter skills, cutting steps and sliding. rob commented that he had never seen someone so chuffed with an ice axe before. The summit was lovely if cold and Rob ran over to Beinn Tulaichean and back as Karl's knee was starting to give him grief.
The descent from CA towards Stob Garbhwas surprisingly steep and took us quite a while, at the col we headed down and backto the big track which leads right to the hut, shame they hadn't found that in the morning instead of jungle bashing. They cleaned up and ate a birthday (Rob’s) meal the hut before heading for Glen Etive hut and the meet proper.

Ice axe self arrest training

Ice axe self arrest training

Nigel set off from home at 6.30 and stopped off to climb Meall Ghaordaidh that he had attempted to climb, along with other club members, on the Christmas meet but was beaten back by strong winds and deep snow.
This time the snow was well consolidated making walking easy and he arrived at the summit within 2 hours of starting. On the way up he noticed some 2 foot deep boot holes in the snow and wondered if they were made by him or other members of the group on the previous attempt.

Meall Ghaordaidh Summit

Meall Ghaordaidh Summit

Peri played hookey from the club on Saturday to do the Aonach Eagach with Alastair, an old friend living in Fort William. A winter traverse of this ridge had been on her wish list from almost when she started winter walking/climbing a few years ago, and the day was everything she had hoped, with clear blue sky, crisp snow and stunning views along the ridge. The ridge was in variable condition – many parts looking fully alpine, others the sort of bare rock that earns you a slagging off on UKC. Peri could not work out why it seemed so much more tiring than when she had done it in summer, till she remembered that she had not been carrying axes, trad rack and crampons that time

Nigel headed down Glen Etive and a long day climbing Stob Coir an Albannaich, Meall Tarsuinn and Meall nan Eun returning down Glen Creitlein. The day involved 19 km walking and 1600m ascent. Most of the ground above 600m was covered in ice and involved walking in crampons for most of the day.

Stob Coir an Albannaich from Meall nan Eun

Stob Coir an Albannaich from Meall nan Eun

Anthony and Peter went Munroe bagging in The Mamores
They did the Na Gruagaichean, Stob Coire a Charn & Am Bodach horseshoe.
They would have started from Mamore Lodge Hotel, but it is now closed and on the road up to there is a gate which may be locked at any time, so they decided not to risk getting the car locked in. and parked just of the loch side road. The route in followed a track east then north to Allt Coire na Ba, leaving the comfort of the track they headed up hill to the snowline and crampons on at 600m to join aSE ridge and after several false summits, the top of Na Gruagaichean and the first munroe of the day.
From here the way down involved a tricky rock and ice step. There was little snow in some parts and they ended up taking their crampons off to cross the next bealach on the way to Munroe number two Stob Coire a Charn, from the top of which there were fantastic views
all round. The way down over rocky ground took them to a narrow ridge then up steep snow to the top of Am Bodach, the third and final Munro, then onto Sgorr an lubhair and a long wide ridge to Stob Coire na h-Eirghe. From here they descended cris-crossing burns and tussocky grass and heather, after what was ages they finally reached the West Highland Way path which led them back to where they had parked the car.

Plan A for Jamie and Paul was to check out Deirdre's Cleft (II/III* Beinn Ceitlein), it was less appealing than the description in the guide book implied so we tagged along with Rob and Karl who were heading to Creise. The North East face contains the Inglis-Clark ridge, which promised to be 140m of ice and mixed loveliness. Unfortunately, the guidebook, which contained a good route description, failed to use any of the multitude of obvious landmarks to indicate the start. So after hiking to the base of the crag we gawped at a lovely piece of ice (later we discovered this was the route!) and said maybe later then set off up what we though was the Inglis-Clark ridge. Getting to the top of the first ice pitch, nice climbing, we arrived at a broad and un-ridge-like snow slope, the first evidence we were in the wrong place. Anyway, committed, we ploughed on up to a nice bit of mixed climbing which traverse to something that resembled a chimney which lead to the summit. In the meantime, Rob had taken a parallel line up to the snow slope, crossed some icy steps to our left and finished up an 'ice' pitch in the back of a chimney. Judging be the swearing and gibbering I'd describe their pitch as interesting. It was now starting to get dark as we descended and Karl's knee was giving him some trouble, by the time we arrived at the base of Creise we were walking by moonlight! An interesting way to cross icy paths. We arrived back at the car near black rock cottage after 12 hours on the hill. All in all a bit of an epic but the only casualty was Karl's new gaiters – his knee is now on the mend. All in it was good fun!.

Simon and Carmen were keen to avoid the queues so headed for Sgurr an h-Ulaidh, behind Bidean. A 2.5 hour walk in deterred the masses, and they had the crag to themselves for Red Gully (III **) – three nice ice pitches with a long section of neve to finish. For some reason, 60m ropes proved too short for either of the 70m pitches, so some
"moving together" was needed. The gully is one of those perfect routes that finishes right at the summit of the hill. By the time they got there, all the passing walkers were long gone, so a quiet walk around the neighbouring tops was followed by a never-ending descent down
steep grass back to the glen. A 10 1/4 hour day, we expected to be last back at the hut, imagine our surprise when we found that Nigel was the only one there!

Karl was unable to partake in any action due to an injured knee and he returned home.

Peter the Pie, Antony and Peri joined forces to take a look at The Weep, a long easy icefall with a reputation for reliable ice. When they got there they found the route looked good from a distance, but up close turned out to be a thin skin of ice covering running water – it didnt look solid enough to support body weight, let alone take axe placements. After a recce up the hillside to see if things improved higher up, they came up with Plan B- cache the gear and do the munro instead, heading straight up the hill by the most direct route from the ice fall. This turned out to be a pretty good route on steep snow slopes with good neve – lots of axe and crampon practice for winter newbie Antony, who memorably described the technique as "like doing an infinite number of burpees". After an equally infinite feeling number of false summits, they arrived at the top, only to find their planned descent corniced out. An alternative descent over the back of Criese was safe but long, and they arrived back at the base of The Weep after sunset to the joys of a scramble up the hill and hour long moonlit search for the gear. Lesson learned – if you cache your gear, make sure you can find the bloody stuff easily again!!!! (and make sure someone has a phone and numbers to text the rest of the group to warn them of your late return)

Nigel drove down Glen Etive to the same starting place as the day before and on arriving at the parking place he could not believe his luck when he saw his ice axe and walking pole on the ground where he had left them the day before. This time he climbed Beinn nan Aighenan via the bealach between Ben Starav and Meall nan Tri Tighearnan, returning the same route.

Ben Starav from Beinn nan Aighenan

Ben Starav from Beinn nan Aighenan

Simon Carmen and Rob decided to take advantage of the stable conditions with an ascent of the classic Crowberry Gully on Buachaille Etive Mor. Someone had posted on UKC that it was in good condition, thus guaranteeing big queues, so they decided on a late
start in the hope that everyone else would have finished. And the plan more-or-less worked! A splendid route, worthy of its classic status, though rather stepped out due to the number of ascents, grade III rather than its usual IV.
The weather on top was so good that they briefly considered traversing the length of the ridge before descending to the hut and hoping someone would be sober enough to give
a lift back to the car. But it was late in the day so not wanting to be too late back, common sense prevailed and a descent into Coire na Tulaich led quickly to the car. Some 3 hours after arriving back at the hut, team Peri finally returned!

Nigel, Rob, Paul and Jamie headed back home first thing. This day had the best weather of the weekend so obviously heading straight back was out of the question for some.
Team Antony/Peri decided to tick the other munro (Meall a'Bhuachaille) commonly done with Criese on the way home. Today everything went like clockwork. With brilliant sunshine, not a cloud in the sky and perfect snow the only problem was motivating themselves to leave the summit again and head back down. With a coffee and cake stop at the ski lodge realisation dawned – after three days without a shower at Inverthingy they looked like vagrants and probably stank. Regret at leaving was tempered by thoughts of hot showers and fresh clothes.

Carmen and Simon decided to stop of on the way for a walk up Ben Vane, by Loch Lomond. The previous visit (with Annie in February 2011) was in deep snow and a white-out, and there was some doubt as to whether they'd actually made it to the top, so a repeat was called for. Conditions couldn't have been more different, with cloudless blue skies in every direction, and views to Arran, Jura, Mull, and north to Ben Nevis and beyond. A brilliant day, and confirmation that they had indeed got to the top the last time.

York Amnesics Club go west

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Paul and I headed for Great End on Flexi-time, early-ish in the morning and half way up the A1 Paul mentions his paranoia about forgetting something, an idea-worm that slowly meanders its way deep into what I laughingly refer to as my brain. "OH BOLLOX" is the neural circuity's response to this intrusion.

gt end

After some neat diversions, including too many 3 point turns, we are picking up a pair of 'poons from Jamie's house in Sedgefield, not far north of Scotch corner (thanks Jamie!). Suffice to say the rest of the journey was not as direct as it may have been, but St Johns in the Vale is lovely at that time of the morning. Eventually we find our way to the crag with people enjoying Central & SE Gullys, the buttresses are almost black but the gullies are holding snow and better stil, fat ice is visible.

l3Paul has a hankering for Window Gully, which looks great and we solo up the first ice call and into the groove to reach the main ice fall finish. There has been some melt and refreeze on the major falls making them glossy and clean, but the short steps in the gully are hacked and err, stepped. l13.

Belayed in the shelter of the ice cave I watch Paul set off up the fall which has a few steep sections and some easier bits between in its 10m or so. Lots of scrabbling, and a tad of swearing, and at attempt to kick through to Wasdale later we are both on top in great suinshine and we can see everything for miles.

Down via Custs (the chockstone we went under last time is not visible!) and back via Sty Head Tarn (a less icey descent) as I thought the day wasnt ripe for an epic, back at the car before dark.

Fast forward to the weekend and most stuff is melting , Peri and crew are off to the Peak but Simon, Carmen and I head for Foule Crag on Blencathra for a look. An incident free journey did come to a grinding halt when we seem to be two boots short of a set (we had enough crampons though) Doh! Some interesting negotiations later, ACAS not needed, sees Carmen in Simon's boots and Simon in his best pair of Montrail Highlanders (fell shoes/trainers).

Cinderella's glass slipper?After the walk-in (over taking fell runners despite our winter sacs) we find all the gullies bare. Hmmmmm. There are some ice falls, which can be linked and we head over for a play (Simon's feet being quite cold by now). Carmen and I solo a few little steps, then we talk Carmen (i.e tell her) into leading the longer fall. These are very stepped and not too long but serious enough. All goes to plan and Im at the belay while Carmen replaces her boots with trainers and I down climb and lower them to Simon. It's unusual to get crampons digging into your thighs but I managed it a few times today.

smashing carmen At the belay I solo up the next fall on lovely plastic ice, while S&C mess about with ropes. Simon leads up to the only nut placement on the whole crag (and good turf gear). Unfortunately Carmen still had the nuts and hexes so I go get em and I ferry them up the pitch. l6On the return journey my payload is the boots and I am back at the bottom of the pitch. Carmen followed and I climbed back up for a third time. A snow slope led to the ridge which was soon negotiated and we enjoyed some lunch and drinks relatively sheltered rom the chilly wind.

At the summit we watch the paragliders before choosing and following Halls Fell ridge back to the car.

Watch this space for tales of what can we forget next time….

More Pix: Gt End and Foule Crag