Posts Tagged ‘Classic Rock’

A trip to Garbh Choire

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

It must have been 25 years since I first saw pictures of Squareface and Mitre Ridge in Classic Rock, and for all that time I'd dreamed of climbing them. Dreams started to become plans in the last 10 years, but those plans were continually thwarted by the weather. Until last year, when the start of our annual week's trip to Scotland coincided with 3 days of forecast good conditions.

We drove up to Braemar on Friday afternoon, May 30th, arriving at Invercauld just after 6, and decided we had time to cycle as far as the Fairy Glen that evening. Good tracks through the forest were followed by rough tracks up the glen, until we were approaching the Fairy Glen. Carmen had had enough biking by then, and suggested that we dump the bikes there for the weekend and walk the rest of the way. "Bang!" agreed my rear tyre as the inner tube exploded.

A lovely camping spot, relatively midgeless, and with a cuckoo for company in some nearby trees – a good spot to linger. But we had a long day ahead, so were early to bed and up before 6 the next morning, on our way by 7. After walking another 8 miles or more, we set up camp on the top of the Beinn a' Bhuird plateau. Following an unusually snowy winter, our intended camping spot in a hollow was under several feet of snow,  so we were forced a bit higher to just below the 1150m contour. Luckily the winds were light as it could have been pretty exposed in bad weather.

Tent duly in place, we headed for the foot of Mitre Ridge. The normal descent was under snow so we picked a way down loose ground by the stream and made our way over the the ridge towards our intended route –  Cumming-Crofton Route (Severe).

The next problem was getting to the start. All approaches to the crag were under deep hard snow, and our route turned out to be the only one that could feasibly be reached at all. But even this involved descending into a bergschrund, chimneying out again higher up, and then making a tricky stride back onto the rock.

I led the first pitch, as it was a chimney with a bit of a reputation – but it turned out to be miles easier than expected. The next pitch was Carmen's, and was both bolder and harder than the S 4a grade suggested, with some tenuous smearing some way out from the last protection. I led the next 2 pitches in one long run out (very traditional mountaineering, with some grass, mud, and loose rock), and Carmen finished off with Bell's Variation – easy but hugely exposed. I then took the final flatter section over the pinnacles.

A magnificent route, and well worth the trip by itself. But we weren't finished yet!

It was only 3.30, so it was now time for Squareface (VDiff). And yet again, the main obstacle was getting there. The normal descent route was a snow-filled gully, so after some investigation we decided on a long descending traverse from the right. This worked fine until we had to cross the aforementioned gully to reach the route. I crossed OK, but Carmen was on her way when a large lump of ice arrived from above – fortunately with no worse result than a bruised shoulder. Later on we watched as a huge rock fell down across the traverse line we'd followed…

I quickly climbed the first pitch – Carmen was safe from the gully, but we wanted to put as much distance between us and the fall line as possible! Carmen led the next. Curiously, the guidebook doesn't follow the obvious crack line, but crosses it and climbs the wall to the right – previous editions take the crack so maybe it's a mistake. I finished with the best of the pitches, up an exposed flake and across an even more exposed wall to the top. Another superb route, though we both preferred Cumming-Crofton.

All that remained was to brave the snow that lay between us and safety, then it was back to the tent for a well-earned meal. To compete the day we walked up to the summit of Beinn a' Bhuird, half a mile away across the plateau.

Next day the forecast was for a fine start, with rain arriving later in the day. Although we were both tempted by Angel's Edgeway, a VS up the edge of the Squareface slab, we couldn't face risky the approach again, so decided on a quick ascent of an obscure 1-star Diff on the other side of the corrie – Pinnacle Ridge on Stob an t-Sluichd.

Although the upper part was clearly visible on the descent, Pinnacle Ridge took an age to find – the guidebook was very vague and working out which buttress to start on required 2 false starts. But eventually after 50m of nondescript scrambling, the ridge narrowed and formed a couple of pitches of nice exposed climbing. I think I took a more direct line on the last pitch, which was more like VDiff or Severe. A good route – not in itself worth the long trek to get there, but a good quick (if you can find the start!) option if you're there for one of the other more famous climbs.

It was now 12.30, and all that remained was the long walk back out, followed by a long cycle (for Carmen)/bike push (for me) back to the car. A few minutes after we'd stowed the gear in the car, it started to rain.

It would be perfectly feasible to do the two Classic Rock routes in a weekend without bikes. Walk to Fairy Glen and pitch camp either Friday evening or early Saturday. Leave the tents there, walk to Garbh Choire, do the routes, and walk back to camp on Saturday and a leisurely walk out on Sunday. Or as one team did, walk from camp, climb Mitre Ridge, and back to Fairy Glen on Saturday, then walk back in again and climb Squareface on Sunday, before heading out.

But I'd recommend doing something similar to what we did. Or add an extra day or two if you get the weather – make the most of a very special place.

We'll certainly be back.

More photos here

Route maps: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday

Lakes weekend

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

While most people headed for Brimham, Carmen and I decided to take advantage of the fine forecast for some autumn climbing in the Lake District. On Saturday we walked up to Gimmer for some Classic Rock ticking, and despite it being colder and cloudier than expected, we managed to climb all three routes in the list – Ash Tree Slab, C Route, and Bracket and Slab. Though we avoided the Strenuous Chimney crux of B&S due to it being dripping wet, so we need to go back and do it properly sometime! Ham & Eggs in the Wainwright Inn provided a suitable end to the day.

Sunday dawned cloudy and got worse, with cloud levels lowering and drizzle setting in. Plan B was Castle Rock, but that looked damp as well, so we headed for the reliable fallback option of Armathwaite, north of Penrith. A fine crag, in the woods by the River Eden, it really deserves better than to be a rainy day option for Lake District climbers, but that seems to be its lot. Anyway, despite occasional drizzle and sandy holds due to Friday's heavy rain, we managed to get some climbing done. Glenwillie Grooves (HS **), was followed by the better-than-it-looks Ituna (S *), and finally the excellently named Teddy CowWildcat on the Swallowtail Line (HS **). This is a new addition to the recent guidebook, despite have been put up in 1973. Unfortunately, a confusing description meant we finished up the wrong crack, so again we have to go back and do it properly – the true finish up a roof crack looked totally impossible for the grade!

Some classics in the sun

Monday, July 25th, 2011

The unexpected arrival of a good weekend's weather forecast meant some last-minute changes of plans, so Carmen and I drove over to the Lakes on Saturday morning with the aim of getting to Great Gable the next day. Having pitched the tent we popped up to Honister for some afternoon climbing on Buckstone How, expecting to have to queue for a bit as the crag is a quick-drying suntrap with a 10 minute approach and several starred routes mainly from HS to HVS. But the place was deserted so we had our pick, and opted for Honister Wall (HS 4b **).

A minor classic on natural slate, with excellent climbing on each of the pitches (6 in the guidebook, we combined some and did it in 4). In the early days there was lots of loose rock around, but this has all gone in the intervening decades and so long as you stay on route it's as solid as any other mountain crag. We followed this with Groove One (VDiff) as it got a star in the old guide. We later found that this star has disappeared in the latest update, and with good reason! The second pitch is a fine groove, but to get there you have to wander up nasty unprotected vegetated ledges. Not recommended.

The next day we started early to avoid the expected crowds, and got to Tophet Wall (HS 4b ***) just before 10, to find we were the first team there. I led a long first pitch (guidebook pitches 1+2), and Carmen followed suit with a long 2nd pitch (guidebook pitches 3+4). Another pair arrived as we were part way up, but otherwise nobody else did the route all day. Weird. A truly great route, rightly considered one of the best in the country.

Next we wandered over to the Napes to see if anyone was climbing the Needle. They weren't, so we did. It's either got harder since I last did it about 12 years ago, or I've got worse, probably both! But we managed it, Carmen led Wasdale Crack to the shoulder, then I did the last short pitch to the summit. HS 4b *** but much of its quality comes from the history and the situation rather than the climbing per se. Again, we were followed by the pair from Tophet Wall, but nobody else on the route for the rest of the day. A handful of other teams doing other routes – Needle Ridge, Eagles Nest Direct, The Cayman – but overall very quiet for such a classic area on one of the only sunny weekends of the summer so far.

Still plenty of time left, we decided to finish with Needle Ridge (VDiff ***). We did this in 3 pitches, I began with the variation arete start to avoid the polish on the normal, excellent grippy rock but not much protection. Carmen took the long interesting central section, then I finished up the final groove, taking another variation on the right up excellent twin jamming cracks. A scramble along the rest of the ridge finished off yet another excellent route, much better than I was expecting after paying too much attention to exaggerated reports of polish. We'd carried our kit up the route so finished by walking over the summit of Great Gable, then via Green Gable back to Seathwaite.

A brilliant impromptu weekend!

More photos here.

We're all Royalists now

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Just a week after Easter, and time for another 4-day weekend courtesy of the Windsors (God bless 'em). By popular request we were having a Spring meet in Wales – we usually go in the Autumn or winter when it's either raining or snowing, and there were lots of classic climbs and scrambles waiting for dry rock. The venue was the North London MC hut at Capel Curig – we've not been there before, but will definitely go again, an excellent little hut with good facilities, just lacking a drying room (but it never rains in North Wales so that's not a problem).

A few people arrived a day early, Simon & Debra making the most of the sunshine to do the Snowdon Horseshoe before the crowds arrived, Rob and Pete B making the least of the sunshine and spending a cold day ticking Classic Rock in the shade on Glyder Fach and Milestone Buttress.

On Friday, we found that nobody had remembered to pack any flags and bunting, so we were forced to head for the hills instead. Simon & Debra went for a walk up Cnicht; Angela walked up a few of the Carneddau; Rich and special guest star Jack began their long hard tick list with the two Suicide Wall routes at Idwal. Meanwhile the rest of us joined Rob in his Classic Rock tickathon and headed for Great Gully on Craig yr Ysfa.

This is the sort of route that makes for good pub stories and is generally enjoyed in hindsight if at all – 700 feet of vegetated gully, with a few chimney pitches, the sort of thing they used to do in the olde dayes when men had beards and women climbed in skirts. These routes are always graded VDiff.

Disappointingly, due to several weeks of dry weather, the moss and slime were notable mainly by their absence and we actually found ourselves liking some of it at the time. I wangled it so Dave D got to lead the infamous 'converging walls' chimney pitch (all classic gullies have one of those). He quickly saw sense and ran away, leaving Rob to save the day and huff and puff his way to the top. We all followed with varying degrees of grunt, as each person topped out they intoned the ritual phrase "VDiff my arse". The consensus seemed to be about VS but the original grade from 1910 is perhaps more suitable – "exceedingly difficult". After this the rest was relatively easy; even the Great Cave Pitch (all classic gullies have one of these as well) proved benign, despite my efforts to make it look desperate.

Rob now disappeared to a BMC Clubs Weekend leaving the rest of us free to do things that aren't in Classic Rock. Angela, Dave and Pete scrambled up Tryfan, Bristly Ridge, the Glyders, and Y Garn. Simon and Debra headed for Tryfan Bach to climb some Moderates, but due to regrading accidentally did three Diffs instead. Rich and Jack did a grand tour of the Dinorwig slate quarries where they climbed themselves into the ground notching up an impressive number of onsight E points each. Andrew and Karen walked up Cnicht.

Carmen and I chose the neglected West Face of Tryfan to avoid the easterly gales that were a feature of the weekend. We started with Columbyne (VDiff*), the crux of which was the wet scramble required to get to the start. The climb itself was a really good 5-pitch mountaineering route which managed to miss most of the heather, probably worth 2 stars. We'd planned to move on to a starred Severe next but the wind was somehow penetrating the mountain so opted for Flat Iron Ridge (Diff) instead. Owing to the omission of the phrase "traverse 30 feet leftwards" from the guidebook, we ended up doing a new route which after much thought I've christened "Flat Iron Ridge Direct". It's about Severe (so we might as well have done the good route instead) and was undoubtedly climbed 100 years ago by men in nailed boots. Finally we moved together up Notch Arete (Mod *), a fine rediscovery which must surely deserve at least 2 stars (it was highly praised in early guidebooks and then ignored for decades, presumably as it was deemed too easy to be any good). Although not as steep or continuous as the popular East face, Tryfan's west side is well worth a visit – and is guaranteed no queues.

Sunday. Sunny again, so no excuses for a rest. This time it was Simon & Debra's turn for Tryfan North Ridge/Bristly Ridge, while Andrew and Karen walked up Moel Siabod. Pete and Dave headed for Idwal where they did Charity, Lazarus Gully, Groove Above, Hope, and Lazarus. Rich and Jack went home via Gogarth for some more hard classics. And Carmen and I went for a look at Carreg Alltrem and the VS classics of Lightning Visit and Lavaredo. I was feeling a bit rubbish so bagged the easy pitches, which I made look hard. Carmen did the hard pitch of Lightning Visit, which she made look easy. We combined to wimp out of the hard 2nd pitch of Lavaredo, running away up the Severe slab of original Route instead. We'll be back to do it properly some day! Since it wasn't yet dark, we drove to Ogwen where we finished the day with Milestone Buttress Direct, which was polished to a sheen when I last did it in the 1990s, and is now even shinier. Still a classic though.

Next day Rob had finished with his course so he dragged Pete off to do some more Classic Rock ticking on the east face of Tryfan, where they tried but narrowly failed to be blown off the mountain by the gale force winds while climbing a couple of the classic ridge routes. Dave, Carmen and I went to Idwal, where we took advantage of the dry conditions to do Subwall Climb (HS 4b) which is normally dripping wet. I led the second (crux) pitch, which mostly involved standing around for hours reading the guidebook trying to work out where the route went while not thinking too much about my only runner, 10m below. A good MVS 4a. We finished up Faith West Finish which apparently is rarely climbed, though this hasn't always been the case judging by the polish.

It was now 3pm and we were due to meet the others at the hut at 5, so we decided that they'd be late anyway so there was time for another 5 pitch route. Faith (VDiff **) gave Dave the full set after his ascents of Hope and Charity the day before. An excellent route, nowhere hard but everywhere bold, surely worth 3 stars – and made even better by having the whole of Idwal Slabs to ourselves, everyone else having run off to sit in traffic jams.

A fantastic long weekend courtesy of the Royal Family. Next year the free holiday is due to the Diamond Jubilee. Is it too much to hope that Harry gets hitched in 2013? If you're reading this, Your Highness, sometime towards the end of May would be ideal…

More photos here.
Debra's photos here.

Easter 2011

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

After a few weeks of constant sunshine, a rainy blip was forecast to coincide with our Easter trip to Torridon, so a few of us decided to break the long drive up to camp near Glen Lyon on Thursday night and do some Munro bagging the next day. The group of 4 to the north of the glen was chosen, and turned out to be a short easy day, despite adding on all the Tops as well (as I missed them out on my previous visit and am a sad completist – not sure what everyone else's excuse is!). Map here.

Arriving at the Ling Hut later that evening the weather was still kind. But the next morning, it wasn't, with strong winds and persistent light rain. It seemed brighter towards the coast though, so we all headed for Alligin Shuas, near Diabaig. A pleasant walk round the coast included some bouldering from Rob and some rock-pool-gazing from Carmen and Debra, with signs of (probably) an otter's holt by the sea. We'd thought about including a grade 3 scramble at Diabaig, but had left the guidebook in the hut and weren't sure where it went. I had a play on the rocks right of the crag, which weren't the described scramble but quite fun anyway, before catching the others up on the way through the complex landscape of the route back (would make a good location for a mountain marathon!). Map here.

The next day the rain was heavier and more persistent. But by mid afternoon it seemed to be easing off slightly, so Peter, Rob, Carmen and I set off for Ben Alligin, and were rewarded by a lovely dry afternoon/evening. I've done Ben Alligin several times before but it never fails to impress. Map.

Monday was drive-home day, so of course the sun came out. Despite the long drive ahead, most of us opted for a day's climbing. Carmen and I headed for the south face of Sgurr a'Chaorachain, a massive 5 minute walk from the road, where we climbed Bumbly One (HS 4a) – some good climbing in 4 pitches but lots of scrambling too, worthwhile but not a patch on Sword of Gideon on the next buttress (which we climbed last year). We were finished by 2.30 so managed to get home at a reasonable hour.

Which is more than can be said for Peri, Peter and Rob, who went for a look at the Cioch Nose. This classic VDiff (now Severe) was part of Rob's quest to tick the whole of Classic Rock, and after being rained off with Luke last year he was keen for a rematch. After getting slightly lost on the walk in, and taking much longer than expected on the finishing scramble, they eventually got back to York at around 3am!

Even though the weather wasn't the best we've had, it was far from the worst too. The Ling Hut has had a generator installed since our last visit in 2004, so you no longer have to pump water by hand – luxury! There are still no showers (or hot water), but there are public showers available in Torridon village if required (we made do with the cold stream outside the hut!). Hopefully it won't be another 7 years before we go back.

Lots more photos here.
Debra's pictures here.

Classic and Not-so-classic Rock

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

It's March, the forecast is for summit temperatures in low single figures, so where would be a good destination for the weekend?

After a few minutes' thought we hit on the obvious answer – Pillar Rock a north-facing crag at around 750m, and one of the remotest in the Lake District.

So having somehow squeezed climbing kit, camping gear, and two bikes into the back of the car, we duly arrived in Ennerdale on Friday night. The next morning started well, with clear blue skies, but on the 4.5 mile cycle up the valley it began to cloud over. As we approached the crag, a light but bitter wind arrived to complete the picture.

After much dithering about what to do, we eventually decided to stick with Plan A and duly arrived at the foot of Rib & Slab Climb (HS ***), one of the pair of Pillar routes in Classic Rock. A bit more dithering later, and having donned 5 layers of clothes against the cold, Rob set off on the first, uninviting pitch, a short traverse followed by a steep dirty-looking groove.

In the event the pitch was much better than it looked, taking the clean rib next to the groove. The next pitch was mine. The tricky starting moves didn't seem hard enough, so I climbed up and down several times until I'd lost all feeling in my fingers and toes before finally committing. When I'd recovered from hot-aches in my toes, I brought Rob up as the sun at last made a brief appearance.

He quickly despatched the next pitch, a fine unlikely-looking traverse into nowhere, but the holds kept appearing when needed. I took the last pitch, another short traverse and then straight up a fantastically rough slab to the top.

Some more dithering followed as we decided how best to descend, in the end we opted for an abseil into the Jordan Gap, followed by an exposed scramble to the top of Pisgah, which we later discovered to be Pisgah West Traverse (Mod). A nasty scree descent down Western Gully led back to the rucksacks.

We now dithered some more about the next route to do. South West Climb looked excellent, if unlikely at MVS 4b, but the cloud and cold breeze had returned and we didn't fancy an epic, so plumped instead for New West (VDiff ***), the other Classic Rock route on Pillar. We'd both done it before, but it's worth repeating. An excellent route in 4 pitches, including two more fantastic exposed traverses. Abseil – scramble – Pisgah – gully then back down to the bikes and a quick half hour down hill got us back to the car.

The next day we dithered briefly before deciding on something south-facing, so to make the most of being in Ennerdale we went for a look at the seldom-visited crags on the Ennerdale face of High Stile. A shorter cycle to just past the Ennerdale YH was followed by a steep slog uphill followed by a long traverse to the diminutive crag of The Knorrs. A spot of sunbathing was interrupted by some badly placed clouds, so there was no option but to climb something. I started with the excellent traditional chimney of Squeeze Box (S+ *), surprisingly clean but a bit runout, then Rob led Short Change (HS-), poorly protected and quite tricky, even on the blunt end it felt closer to MVS 4b.

Next we traversed to the main crag, Raven Crag High Stile. Rob started, leading the excellent line of Butterfly Crack (S+ **) – a potential 3-star route, but unfortunately very dirty with some suspect rock – would benefit from more traffic, which it's unlikely to get! I finished up with Outside Edge (VDiff *), again very dirty, with a boulder-problem start followed by easier but poorly protected climbing with a 20m runout to finish. There are some fine-looking harder routes up here as well, including Emperor (E1 5b ***), Painted Lady (E3 5c ***), and Alpine Ringlet (E4 5c ***), but all looked even dirtier than what we climbed.

As we reached the valley the weather started to improve rapidly, the dense haze that had hidden the hills for much of the day cleared, and by the time we started the drive home the whole of the Lakes were bathed in sunshine. C'est la vie!

An excellent trip, not the best of weather but far from the worst, and apart from one group of walkers who mistakenly followed us on Sunday as we traversed towards the crag, we didn't see a soul on the hills all weekend. Great wild-camping too, somewhere to go back to (but could be midgy in summer). And enough routes on Pillar to keep us busy for dozens more visits…

Rob's photos here
My photos here