Posts Tagged ‘ice’

Three Peaks

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

A weekend of clear sunny weather was too good an opportunity to miss, and when Carmen suggested going for the often-planned but never-realised run round the Yorkshire Three Peaks I didn't need much convincing.

A rather more leisurely start than was wise saw us at Horton in Ribblesdale for a 10.15 start. Pen-y-Ghent first, a stiff pull got us to the summit by 11. The descent was slower than expected due to extensive sheet ice, and walking poles came in handy crossing a not-quite frozen river. But the next long boggy section was frozen solid, making it easy if sometimes slippery going. One fall each on the ice.

After Ribblehead Viaduct we opted to stick to the path rather than take the direct route up Whernside, possibly a mistake in hindsight as the path was mostly covered ion sheet ice so we spent as much time off it as on. We reached the summit a little after 2pm.

The descent to the Hill In took only half an hour, and it was tempting to call in for a pint or three, but Ingleborough (and the approach of sunset) beckoned. We reached the top shortly before 4pm. Sadly the hoped-for sunset wasn't visible due to a bank of cloud over the Lake District to the west, but at least that meant we didn't stop for an extended photo session.

The long descent to Horton was again quite slow due to ice, and slower still once night fell and the head torches came out, but we eventually reached the car just before 5.30, a hardly impressive 7 hours 9 minutes after setting off (the record is a few seconds shy of 2 1/2 hours!).

A magnificent day to be out, cold, clear, sunny, and hardly a breath of wind. Perfect conditions for my first ever time round the 3 Peaks.

Vital statistics: 24 miles, 1500m ascent.
More photos here
Route map here

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.

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.

Unexpected Pleasures

Monday, December 6th, 2010

We wanted to take advantage of the cold snap last weekend, but only had one day free. The A66 was closed which meant we couldn't get to the Lakes for a day trip; the North York Moors had too much snow; and publicity on UKClimbing meant that the icefalls near Todmorden were likely to be heaving. So we decided to take a look at Wild Boar Clough, near Crowden in the northern Peak District – if it wasn't frozen then it'd be a good day for a walk.

After a leisurely 8am departure, the drive over was suitably sub-zero with clear blue skies all round, until the last couple of miles when we drove over Woodhead Pass into the clag. The walk in was easy at first as we followed the footsteps of someone who'd been there (presumably) the previous day, but being descent tracks they soon turned uphill, and we had to resort to wading as we traversed in to the clough.

The first fall was well frozen – there was a team there before us who were just finishing it, the second climbing with walking axe and very old hammer, it was his first ice climb. The fall looked easily soloable but partly due to being the first outing of the season, felt slightly worrying, so we got the rope out despite its being only 4 or 5m high and I led off. A bit scrappy, but it was good to be out, even placed a couple of ice screws! The pair in front were well out of sight by the time we'd finished faffing so we were on our own again.

Another slightly longer icefall followed, not quite as steep so Carmen led it in fine style, with absolutely no panicking at all. This was followed by a few short ice steps, and a big isolated boulder containing a fun chimney for playing on/in. Finally a long wade through more deep snow led to the Bleaklow plateau.

On the drive over I thought I'd seen a frozen stream further east, just the other side of the summer crag of Shining Clough, so after lunch we thought we'd wander over and see if there was anything worthwhile. We didn't expect much, but it was a stunning day, we'd walked up through the cloud to emerge into clear blue skies so there was no hurry to head home. The walk was only a mile or so, but took us well over an hour as we had to negotiate deep snow drifts, and were also forced to keep stopping to take photos.

As we neared what we thought was the top of the clough we were aiming for, we saw a couple of climbers topping out from something so went over for a chat, they said it was in good condition and that the lower falls were frozen, which was rare. Not having any idea that there was even the potential for something climbable we decided to go for a look, even though it wasn't even the place we were trying to find but the next stream across. A steep descent through snowy heather got us to the foot of the crag, where we saw our new goal, a fine looking icefall, much bigger than anything in Wild Boar Clough.

The approach was harder, wetter, and colder than expected, but we got there eventually, and with an hour's daylight left decided to give it a go. A very steep start up fat ice (full depth long ice screw) was followed by less steep but much thinner ice (partial depth short screw), with added spice where it started dinner-plating, but after a brief pause for the season's first hot-aches I made it to the top.

Of course I'd left my rock gear at the bottom so we had a brief faff with rope lowering etc before I could set up a belay, but Carmen then made it look easy (which it probably is with a rope above you!). It was starting to get dark by now, but we decided to continue anyway. Another shorter icefall looked quite wet and brittle, so we avoided it with some mixed climbing/scrambling on the left. A few more icy steps led to the top, where head torches came out.

The descent started OK, following a worn track through the snow, but at some point the footprints vanished and we ended up wading slowly through deep snow to reach the old railway at the bottom. A couple of slow miles along this led to the road, where we were saved from the final mile of tarmac by a kindly passing motorist.

Lots more photos here.

Like the number 38 bus

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

You wait for years for decent winter conditions on a Wales meet, and then two come along at once. After January's excellent trip we headed back in March, this time to the Cwm Dyli hut, below Snowdon, and once again conditions were perfect.

On Saturday, several of us headed for Cwm Cneifion. Routes climbed include Clogwyn Du Right Hand Gully Direct (III 3 *), Tower Slabs (II/III *), and the magnificent Clogwyn Du Left Hand (IV 5 ***) – one of the best routes I've done this season. The others went walking in the Carneddau, intending to climb Broad Gully on Craig Lloer on the way – but due to low cloud, ended up climbing Hourglass Gully by mistake!

On Sunday, most people returned to Cwm Cneifion. Debra scared herself soloing Hidden Gully (II **) while Simon more sensibly chose Easy Route (I *). Peri and Julian did Clogwyn Du Right Hand Direct, and Rob and Will ticked the rest of the crag with Clogwyn Du Right Hand, Far Right Hand, and Farther Right Hand (what happened to farthest Right Hand?!) and finished with a descent of Hidden Gully.

Meanwhile Carmen was injured and didn't fancy hauling all the winter gear up the hill again, so we headed for Tremadog where we did Hail Bebe (VDiff **) and One Step in the Clouds (VS 4c ***) in glorious sunshine.

Our photos here.
Rob's here.
Debra's here.

Plan B

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Another pre-dawn start – but this time it wasn't for winter climbing, but for the final leg of the RAB Mini mountain marathon series in the Peak District. Or so we thought. It was snowing hard as we drove down the M1, and the message arrived – the event was cancelled as the approach roads were impassable. Luckily, we had the climbing kit in the car (just in case there was time for anything after the run), so our objective changed and we headed for Edale.

The rest of the drive provided the crux of the day, the roads were so icy it took us a good 3 hours of slipping and sliding to get to Castleton. We parked and headed for Mam Tor, hoping the previous night's hard frost had done it's magic. It hadn't, and despite plenty of ice and snow, the ground was completely unfrozen. Not ones to let such things put us off we headed up the gully anyway. Mostly easy going, until it got steeper near the top and I was climbing what felt like vertical gravel. A sudden attack of sanity just below the top, where it really did become vertical, and I traversed left to avoid the most suicidal section. I was soon at the trig point, which provided the only protection on the route. Grade II/III but ungradable in the today's conditions! Atmospheric though and full of history, worth going back for when properly frozen.

A short walk along the ridge led us in a mile or so to Back Tor. This is much shorter, but also much more like proper climbing, having things like solid rock, and turf that doesn't disintegrate when you touch it. We climbed Back Tor Gully, another II/III – just one pitch, but fun, and with some properly frozen turf and even quite a bit of old hard snow.

Not quite what we'd planned, but a fine day out.

Some photos here.

The winter continues…

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Our February meet in Scotland has traditionally been immediately preceded by a massive thaw. Not so this year, as the cold weather continued. 🙂

We were staying at the Ochils MC hut in Crianlarich – an old favourite, especially now the mice have gone! The good conditions meant a big turn out for all three nights of the extended weekend.

Nigel and Clare set off from York well before the crack of dawn on Thursday, so had time to bag Ben Challum when they arrived. The rest of us appeared in drabs and drabs until well into the early hours.

On Friday, Carmen, Clare and I headed for Beinn an Dothaidh with the intention of climbing Taxus (III 3 ***) with the possibility of taking in the Icefall Finish (IV 4) if I was feeling brave enough. A not-quite-early-enough start saw us leave the car park shortly after 8am, just after another group of 3. A route march up the hill saw us overtake 2 other pairs, but the other team got there first. Several other teams could be seen approaching in the distance. Obviously lots of people had the same idea of getting this popular route done on the Friday, before the crowds descended at the weekend!

A couple of short ice pitches alternated with snow, and it wasn't long before we were at the decision point, where the normal finish turned left up more snow, while the grade 4 alternative carried straight on up nice looking blue ice. The decision was easy – the normal finish would have been a bit of an anti climax, and the ice was just too inviting to ignore. It turned out much easier than expected, and a couple of short pitches saw us with just one pitch left, presumably relatively straightforward. Of course this turned out to be the crux, up steep and a very exposed wall with just enough ice for some well-placed hooks, but not enough for protection!

We topped out into glorious sunshine at about 3pm, so had enough time to take in the summit and follow the SE ridge before descending to the col and back to the car.

Rob and Will also did the same route, but started an hour later – which meant they spent much of the day queuing at belays. 🙁 The last pitch had been beaten to death by the time they arrived, all the ice was gone leaving rock with a little battered turf, so probably a bit harder than earlier – as well as darker, as the sun was about to set!

Meanwhile, Tom Fliss and Nick headed for Beinn Eunaich and Beinn a Chochuil. Nigel, Peter and Annie climbed up Ben Vorlich, and then continued to Stuc a Chroin via the NE ridge (a grade I climb, though they didn't realise it until it was too late!). Some well-gritted teeth from Nigel and a copious amount of swearage from Annie led them to safety though. 🙂

Due to Rob Soupmeister's late finish we went without a starter for the evening meal, but Carmen's veg curry and Mr Sainsbury's fruit pies and custard meant no-one went too hungry!

The next day, Nigel continued his Munro quest with an ascent of Beinn Chabhair. Most of the others did a traverse of the Ben Lui hills starting in Glen Lochy and taking in Beinn a' Cleidh, Ben Lui, Ben Oss and Beinn Dubhchraig. Rivers had to be forded to begin and end the day, which finished well after dark.

Rob, Will, Carmen and I returned to Beinn an Dothaidh to climb whatever didn't have a queue! Of course the place was practically deserted, even Taxus – obviously everyone had done it the day before! Will and Rob went for West Buttress (III 4 ***), a mixed route in 5 pitches, while Carmen and I took a fancy to Cirrus (IV 4 ***), up a narrow chimney/gully to the right, despite the guidebook referring to its difficulty in thin conditions.

The ice on the first pitch, a steep chimney, was certainly thin! I faffed for ages trying to work out how to get up, eventually leaving my rucksack in the cave at the bottom, wriggling up the back of the chimney to place a nice ice screw in fat ice, before traversing back to the light and thrutching/back-and-footing up the chimney with a couple of axe hooks round fragile looking icicles, with a final swing into the upper groove and welcome thick ice and snow. The second pitch was up a splendid looking icefall, which started up a narrow undercut ice ramp – good ice for the axes, but very little for the feet, and off-balance until a hidden ledge appeared on the right allowing a bridging exit.

The last pitch looked much easier, but wasn't. After some more faffing trying to set up a better belay and retreating to the original, I led up steep cruddy snow and ice into the upper gully, and eventually emerged at the top, completely exhausted. It had taken us something like 6 hours for a 135m route! One step too far for me out of my comfort zone, it was all a bit too worrying (though with a few days hindsight for the bad bits to fade from memory I've now begun to have enjoyed it!).

To make up for the night before, Rob made 2 soups, followed by Peri's splendid sweetcorn and bean gunk with chilli sauce (sorry Peri you'll have to make it again) and then the traditional cake and custard from Mr S.

A thaw was forecast on Sunday afternoon, so Will, Rob, Peri, Carmen and I were up at 6am. Rob was so surprised at this, that he went back to bed for half an hour. The destination was the fabled icefalls of Beinn Udlaidh, which we were assured were up there somewhere in the clag. Just one pair in front of us, and of course they headed directly for the route we'd planned on doing, West Gully (III *). So a bit of faffery later we switched to White Caterpillar (III *), which starts in the same place but head left up an icy ramp.

A fine route it was too. Will and Rob went first, heading up the direct variant (IV 4) as it looked too inviting to ignore. Peri was going to head right on the original version, but the gully was not in condition, so I led through up the direct instead. The thaw had well and truly arrived by now, and the icicles were all dripping, but the ice quality was improved by the slightly milder temperatures. Steep but well protected climbing up superb ice, well worth it. Unfortunately this was followed by steep cruddy snow, and a traverse left with good axe placements but feet slipping all over the place – Peri bravely led this without placing any protection! No time for anything else, a quick descent and some hut-tidying and we were off home.

Meanwhile, after a couple of false starts – forgetting gaiters, and parking in the wrong place – Tom, Fliss and Nick climbed Ben Vorlich – the Loch Lomond one. The top was covered in mist, and it looked very like many other Scottish Mountains – white with a few rocks lying around. Inattention meant that they came down the wrong valley from the summit, sounds familiar.

Carmen and me

Kinder Surprise

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

Kinder Downfall

After umming and ahhing for many hours about whether to drive the long way round to the lakes (A66 shut), me and Rob eventually decided to take the safe option and head for Kinder Downfall on Wednesday, just before the big thaw set in. Because of road closures in the peak, we had to take the M60/M62 option which was in itself a rather long drive. After a minor detour to go and see Oldham Athletic's ground (a lifelong dream for Rob) we arrived at the Kinder Reservoir car park. The final kilometre of the drive was on packed snow but the traction was fine.

Cave under Kinder DownfallWe set off walking shortly after a group of 3 had set off and just in front of a group of about 7! We made good time as far as the woodland at the end of the reservoir, walking on packed snow as deep as the drystone walls. Many drifts were well over a metre deep and it was hard to believe we were in the peak district. Beyond this, previous tracks had been covered in and we had to make our own route. Much of this was wading through deep and loose powder which was both time consuming and tiring. As we left the shelter of the valley the wind increased along with the spindrift making for a very wintery feel overall.

Steep ice on Kinder Downfall directArriving at the downfall we found the ice in good nick but very buried with a monstrous cornice on the right. The usual easier variations were utterly buried in snow, so only the grade IV direct was climable. We geared up in the icy cave under the downfall wondering why the party of 3 in front weren't getting on the climb. It eventually transpired they were off to do something else and the party of 7 were getting arsey that no-one was climbing yet so we jumped on it. Rob made light work of the ice climbing getting some good screws and a thread on the first step. After a bit of loose snow and another good ice step however, he was stopped by the final slopes which were covered in deep, unconsolidated powder. With sprung leashes clipped to the bottom of his axes, plunging didn't really work so he ended up using whole body friction to make the final moves.

Ice bouldering on Kinder DownfallA delay then ensued as Rob was out of sight and the wind made communication impossible. With the full 50m of rope run out, all I could do was hold onto the end and wait, while the waiting climbers got even more pissed off. Finally I set of climbing, opting to wear liner gloves so I could get the screws out quickly – big mistake! By the halfway ledge my hands were frozen solid. Unable to bend my fingers I managed to pull on my warmer gloves and finish the climb. However, by the time I reached Rob, the first pangs of hot aches were coming on. After 10 minutes of lying on the floor moaning and wailing, vowing to never winter climb again, the pain passed and the relief was so good it was almost worth the suffering 🙂

Rob has a picture of me in my darkest moment which I'm sure he'll put on at some point. (and here they are…. Rob)
Will in painand some more pain

A convenient ab took us back to the cave where Rob did some ice bouldering and I took pictures. With the adrenaline now worn off, it was also becoming apparent that my sprained ankle (done by sledging in crampons – not recommended) was not happy with being made to climb ice. The walk back down was a bit of a hobble, especially the final bit along the road.

So apart from the novelty of ice climbing in the peak, is it worth it? Considering its short length, it's a reasonably good route but the walk in (especially in deep snow) is a real killer. I wouldn't rush back to climb it again, but am glad we did it and in very good nick.

Not sure what the surprise in the title refers to, I just thought it sounded good.

New Year Meet 2009

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

This year's new year trip was to the Alex Macintyre Hut, near Glencoe. A dozen of us made the journey north, and for once the snow didn't all melt the day before we arrived. Carmen and I drove up on Boxing Day, everyone else turned up a day or two later.

December 27. Sron na Lairig, grade II. Supposed to be an easy warm up day, but the deep snow put paid to that! The 4km walk in took a couple of hours, under grey skies with occasional snow flurries. The climb itself was trickier than expected, with no ice but loads of powder over rock with a little mostly frozen turf. A great mountaineering route, with some mildly terrifying pinnacles and an a cheval snow arete near the top, for which we roped up. The continuation to the summit took an age, as it was knee-deep snow all the way with little sign of any recent visitors, but also because the skies had cleared so we had to keep stopping to take photos. The summit too was deserted, nobody else had been that way all day despite its being a Munro. The descent was down the NE ridge, with its notorious bad step. Again, harder than expected – all possibilities looked too scary so in the end we abbed down the last section just as the last of the daylight disappeared. Luckily the full moon was bright enough to throw shadows as we continued along the ridge. We opted for an early descent into the valley, at a point where we could see there were no major crags to find a way round. It still took a good hour to cover the 1/2km to the bottom!

December 28. Definitely a short day this time, a walk up the twin Munros of Buachaille Etive Beag. We'd both done them before but not on as glorious day as this. Plenty of other people about (though most only did the main summit) so the paths were well trodden. Spectacular views in all directions, but especially of Bidean nam Bian and our previous day's route. Meanwhile, Alan and Nigel went for a long walk up Gulvain (near Glenfinnan), finishing long after dark.

December 29. Aonach Eagach (grade II/III). A winter traverse has been on my "to do" list for years, but every previous winter trip to Glencoe has been preceded by a massive thaw. Not so this year! Strong winds were forecast so it was without much optimism that Alan, Rich, Jenny, Carmen and I slogged up the hill. But somehow we managed to be sheltered along the whole ridge – Peter and Annie were on the other side of the valley and had trouble walking due to the wind (or was it the pies?), and Simon, Debra and Ben had a similar experience on Beinn an Dothaidh. It was worth the long wait for winter conditions, we had a magnificent day in clear cold conditions (between -6 and -8 along the ridge). Quick progress at first gradually slowed as we all started to tire, and the ropes came out to safe guard the pinnacled section. But we had passed the tricky bits before the sun set, all that remained was the ascent of the final Munro and the long descent in the dark back to the car we'd left at the Youth Hostel. 12 hours car-to-car, a great day.

December 30. Wild weather was forecast, and duly arrived. Ben and Nigel joined us for a short walk up Sgurr na' h-Eanchainne, a Corbett on the other side of the Corran Ferry. At least I thought it was a Corbett, but realised half way up it was actually a few metres short, so no ticks today, much to Nigel's disgust A nice little hill, with superb views across to the Glencoe hills and further north to Ben Nevis. Peter and Annie pushed their bikes round some snowy woods, I'm not sure about the others!

December 31. Expecting a sunny day, we plumped for the Ballachulish Horseshoe (Beinn a' Bheithir). The ascent up the NE ridge of Sgorr Bhan proved trickier than expected, and soon Carmen and I were on our own. Ben took a long detour round the awkward bit, hoping to meet us later, while Simon and Debra retreated to the nice warm hut. Sadly the forecast sun never arrived and we spent most of the day in the clag. We briefly considered heading back from the col between the Munros, but Ben had left his car at the far end so we pressed on. There was no sign of Ben, but not much sign of anything else either, so we decided not to wait. Navigation on the last section proved tricky, with undulating terrain and loads of identical small lochans, many not marked on the map. But eventually we emerged from the cloud, in roughly the right place. The final descent was a little more entertaining than hoped for, as we had to find a way in the dark round countless small outcrops and a couple of large cliffs, but we made it to the road and soon met Ben, who in best Annie style had bumped into an old friend on the hill and taken the descent from the col. I'm not sure what everyone else did – I think Annie and Peter went up Gulvain, but cheated by taking mountain bikes for the long approach.

New Years Eve. Preparation of the haggis supper was well under way, when suddenly we were plunged into darkness. The main fuse had blown! So we adjourned to a quiet and atmosphere-free Kings House for dinner before returning to the hut – where Nigel had nobly remained to organise an emergency electrician, so we had light in time for the customary new year falling asleep.

January 1. A return to the Beinn a' Bheithir for Carmen and me, this time for some ice climbing. Very slow going through deep powder with a hard crust which sometimes supported, and sometimes gave way. When we reached the north ridge of Sgorr Bhan we saw a small icefall and took the opportunity to stop for a rest and climb it. Nice easy climbing on fantastic ice, Carmen led straight up the middle for a good little 30m grade II. After this, some more crusty powder led to the main route of the day, Russian Roulette II/III. I say 'main' but it's only 50m high! Loads of ice, though more brittle than our first route, with lots of dinner-plating. Back to the sacks just as the last of the light disappeared, and the standard walk-out in the dark.

January 2. We decided on an easy day with a short walk in so went for a look at the Aonach Dubh cliffs on Bidean nam Bian. We didn't bother with a guidebook as we were just looking for some short easy angled ice to play on. Firstly we tried the Allt Coire nam Beithach but there was too much flowing water and not enough ice. Higher up though, there was loads of ice. A steep icy gully looked tempting but probably too hard, and there was a group of 3 just starting (we later found that this was Number 6 Gully, grade IV ***). So we went for an easy looking line of ice further right, which looked about grade II and one or two pitches. One minor epic and 3 pitches later, we reached the top – much steeper than it looked, the last pitch was vertical for a few metres! Harder than anything else we'd done, I reckoned about III/IV. Consulting the book later it turned out to be Squaddies Climb, grade II/III, only mildly humiliating – fun though.

A great week, in great weather – and it was just the beginning of a great winter!

Loads of photos here.
Peter's bike-pushing pictures here.
Debra's photos here.

The Raeburn Hut – New Year Meet 2008/9

Friday, January 16th, 2009

The raeburn HutWe did far too much for a detailed report (cue audible sighs of relief all round) so here's a summary. 

There was not much snow about, but temperatures were around freezing all week (usually well below) so the ground was frozen hard, with quite a bit of water ice, especially on paths and in the glens. A high pressure system was sat over us for the whole trip, giving mostly light winds and sunny skies. The main occasional problem was the low cloud that often came in from the east, except when it came from the west, so predicting the best direction to head in was largely down to luck. So we travelled east, west, north, and south, and occasionally stayed close to the hut. Overview on Google Maps.

Beinn a\' Chlachair from Geal CharnSaturday 27/12. Wall-to-wall sunshine for a round of the three Munros south of Loch Laggan – Creag Pitridh, Geal Charn, and Beinn a' Chlachair – with Rob. Good views of the clouds that obscured all hills east of Ben Alder, so a lucky choice of hills. Descended by the rarely visited SW ridge of Beinn a' Chlachair in order to stay in the sun for as long as possible. Route Map.

Ben AlderSunday 28/12. A big day. Cycled 8 miles from Dalwhinnie to Loch Pattack, then abandoned bikes for a walk up Ben Alder (via a scramble on the Long Leachas) and Beinn Bheoil (where we unexpectedly met 2 other walkers), before a long cycle out in the dark. Rather overcast for most of the day with the summits mainly in cloud, which made navigation across the Ben Alder plateau quite interesting. Route Map.

Beinn UdlamainMonday 29/12. A shorter day round the Munros west of Drumochter Pass. In the clag all day, with a bitterly cold wind.  Carmen only needed the first summit (Sgairneach Mhor), and I'd done them all before, but we made more of a day of it by carrying on to the next two (Beinn Udlamain and A' Mharconaich) before leaving Rob to add the fourth (another Geal Charn). Route Map.

The Lairig GhruTuesday 30/01. The forecast was for sun, and it didn't disappoint. We left the Whitewell carpark (near Aviemore) at 8.25, just before sunrise, and walked down Glen Einich with the intention of climbing just Braeriach. Conditions were so good when we reached the plateau that we added on Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine for good measure (narrowly missing heading south towards Monadh Mor by mistake!), finally reaching the summit of Braeriach at sunset. All that remained was a 7.5 mile walk out via the Lairig Ghru, most of it in the dark, arriving at the car at about 7.10. Total distance 22 miles. Arrived back at the hut to find that the water supply (ie burn) had frozen so there were no showers for the rest of the week. Joined the others in the pub. Route Map.

Brocken SpectreWednesday 31/01. Another forecast of sunshine. A 6.30 alarm call got us to Tulloch Station in time for the first train to Corrour, to do the 2 Munros SE of Loch Ossian (Sgor Gaibhre and Carn Dearg). Disappointingly cloudy for the long walk by the loch, with the hills obscured. But we walked up through the clag for the most magnificient inversion I can recall, peaks in all directions emerging from a sea of cloud. And it got even better on the last summit, with a series of Brocken Spectres added to the mix. It was a shame we had to descend back into the gloom to get the last train back. Route Map.

Crossing Markie BurnThursday 01/01. A late start after a late night, we set off to do Geal Charn (the one in the Monadhliath this time). We left Ben's car at Garva Bridge, and started walking from the Spey Dam. We walked up via Glen Markie (interesting river crossing, luckily the ice held!) and descended via Beinn Sgiath and the SW ridge. More clouds today, and no inversion. But we did find ourselves in a gap between layers, with clouds below us, and above us, and a view of cloud-draped summits in between. Route Map.

A\' ChailleachFriday 02/01. Carmen's final Monadhliath Munro, Sgurr Dearg. A cold mist in the valley, but sadly no inversion. However the clouds did clear gradually, giving superb views of the Cairngorms which were completely clear of cloud, and then the hills to the northwest, similarly bathed in sunshine. Our hills took a little longer to clear, but did so in time to decide to extend the day, following the old fence posts for a few miles to add the two easterly Munros (Carn Sgulain and A' Chailleach). Route Map.

Loch QuoichSaturday 03/01. Decided to head northwest to get some of the sunshine they'd been enjoying for most of the week, so drove for 90 minutes to Loch Quoich, just south of Glen Shiel to climb Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach. Unfortunately this seemed to be just about the only part of Scotland that didn't get sunshine that day. But at least the cloud base was above the summits, so we got good views of the sunny hills elsewhere! The view up Loch Quoich towards Sgurr na Ciste is a contender for the finest in the country. Route Map.

Sunday 04/01. Cloudy with light snow. Drove home.

A tiring week, we kept waiting for the weather to break so we could have a rest day, but it stayed stubbornly fine. A total of 19 Munros in 8 days, and I even managed 6 that were new to me!

Lots more photos can be found here.