Monday, 22 September 2008

A crowded Glen.

Sunday 21st Sept 2008

Crowds in the glen.

Ellis, Ben and I met Phil on the way to Glen Clova on Sunday morning, and made our way along the road expecting to get the crags to ourselves, but upon our arrival were shocked at the huge number of people at the bottom of proud corner. Using my binos, i counted no less than 26 people spread out across the lower North West crag, and around the central crack region out to the right.

After the strenuous walk upto rockface, we discovered that of all the days we chose to climb, we had picked the bloody Edinburgh University Mountaineering Club freshers trip, with a coach load of scruffy and hormone fuelled whipper snappers. Still, at least they were keen to try some hard routes, so we squirmed in amongst them and made our way up some interesting routes.

Ben had joined us after spending 2weeks digging mortar pits in Poland on exercise with 7 SCOTS, and was keen to try his first trad route. Not wanting to bore him with technical issues, i felt it was best just to drag him up as many routes as possible, to give him a feel for trad. We started on Monsters crack, not far from the ever prominent Proud Corner. Graded at HS, it is not technically hard, but has 3 distinct sections, with the crux right at the top in the form of an exposed overhanging layback. I felt a wee bit wobbly on it, so took my time and sorted my head, before topping out and enjoying the view.

Just a shame the peace was marred by screaming students (more commonly known as Braying Jeffries) letting their mates know they were safe whilst hanging around the loose and slippery cliff edge. Highlight of the stupidity had to be the guy who abbed off the top crag to get his gear back, only to find out his rope was too short, and he had forgotten to knot the end. Luckily the vigilance of his climbing partner saved him from a nasty plunge!

Ben came up and was not best impressed, so i thought it was time to step it up a bit. We moved to the right and saw Ellis top out on Wandered, an HVS he was desperate to crack. Welldone mate. Excellent climb.

Me and Ben moved over and climbed Parapet Route Direct (HS), which is a lovely easy climb, with awesome holds and just enough gear, but not too much to encumber the climb. Highlight of the climb was being greeted by two stunning fresher girls on the halfway ledge. YUM!!!! Ben raced up and was soon beside me enjoying the view (of the glen, honest!) Despite his slick West coast banter, they were having none of it, so we made our exit swiftly and had lunch.

Ellis and Phil, joined us and we enjoyed the food, and listening to the students struggle on routes they thought would be easy. Ha! Clova is not easy, it's complicated, but classy!

I felt obliged to push the grade a bit, so queued up at the bottom of Wanderd, only to be sat behind two parties with their eyes set on it. Buggers! Not wanting to sit around all day, we moved bak over to Parapet route, a 3star Severe, and climbed that. I lead through the chimney and up to the VS variation, deciding it was a better option, only having a single rope. Once above it, I followed the wonderful flake line up to a small pinacle then up the slab. It was only as i neared the top of the slab that i realised my nearest gear was jangling down the rope towards Ben, then past the overhang, a good 15m below me. Gulp... Two more steps and i was safe. Few

Ben came up with little triuble, until he made it through the overhang, where he appeared and told me he couldn't get my cam out lower down. Well i was not for losing another one (see previous posts!), so i showed him how to work it out, and lowered him down, this time he got it no prob, making the rest of the climb with no probs.

We planned one more route, but it was filled with young hot blonde girlies, so we chose not to climb, and instead to watch (purely out of interest, honest). As seemed to be the trend for the day, one of the girls leading was having a nightmare, leading 3 J's chimney a short vdiff. Despite her protestations, he belayer was not having any of it and urger her up, finally clearing the last move.

As we watched, something caught my eye, and i looked up towards Wander only to see Ellis topping out. The bugger had only cleaned it (an HVS!) straight after Wandered (another HVS). It was obviously the attention of all the Nubile blonde lovelies that drove him to greatness. (Pam, if you read this, he was a true gent, directing them all in my direction ;o). Despite Phil's ongoing wrist problems, he still made both climbs look easy, so i'm looking forward to him getting it sorted and getting back pushing hard grades.

We made our way the pub, and nearly ran over a few of the studos on the way back to their bus that was about to leave without them (and did leave a few behind!). A nice meal and a drink in the pub, then off home. All in all a fantastic weekend, one of the best this year, which says a lot. I've had quite a few good weekends, and looking back i am very please with all that me and my climbing buds have achieved this summer.

Ellis leading E1 (by mistake!)
Phil still cranking out the grades despite his disability
Dave getting back into trad with aplomb
Euan's first trad lead
Ben's first trad climb
Iain's firs trad lead in a few years
Me passing SPA, leading E1, bagging a classic cairngorm multipitch route, and the weekend in Ben Nevis.

Still more to look forward to this year though!!!

Andy K's Psychovertical lecture in Birnam
Kendal Mountain film festival
Dunde Mountain film festival
Winter in Scotland
Possible Ice trip abroad

It's looking back at the year, and looking forward to things to come that makes me reaslise how lucky i am with so many great adventurous people to call my mates. Life would be boring without you guys!

Up the hills.

Sat 20th Sept 2008

With a slightly fuzzy head (thanks to birthday drinks with my mate John the night before), i drove to the picturesque town of Falkland, located on the flank of the Lomond hills, which dominate the Kingdom of Fife.

I parked up on the side of East Lomond, and tried to ignore the monstrosity that is the communication network located next the to carpark, instead taking in the view North, towards the Tay (unfortunately hidden by haze). After 10 minutes of huff and puff, i was up on top of East Lomond, amazed at the wonderful views of Fife, stretching from the East Neuk, south to Edinburgh (Could just make out the bridges...), West to Loch Leven, and North up towards the Tay.

Unfortunately, the peace was ruined by the incessant drone of model aeroplanes circling round the south slope of the hill, with the 'pilots' sending their planes round and round in seemingly endless (and pointless) circles.

I had started the walk with the thought of bagging both Lomonds, but once at the top i realised that West Lomond was considerably further than i had anticipated. Despite that, the path looked fine, and it was a lovely day so i ran down the hill and made my way West.

Despite only being around 3-400m in height, the plateau between East and West Lomond is very different from the surrounding fertile farm lands, instead having a highland like atmosphere, something that is very accesible, but very wild. Ideal for those who want to escape from the central belt, but don't have the time to head North of Perth.

Despite my rapid progress along the plateau (two dog power), West Lomond seemed never to get any closer, always seeming miles away, then all of a sudden it was there, all imposing in its majesty (compared to the flat lands for miles all round). Only when i noticed someone half way up the hill (that i had mistaken for a huge boulder), did i realise how small the hill itself was. As i reached the base of the steep path up, the wind dropped and it became calm and surreal, the hustle and bussle of Edinburgh less than 30km from where i stood.

Ten minutes of slog straight up and i was into a howling gale, forcing me to keep my balance whilst trying to capture some of the surrounding landscape on my camera. What difference a few metres can make!

Running (half draggged) down the easy track, i made rapid progress back down to the plateau, and traced my route back to the slopes of East Lomond, where the plastic pilots were still flying round in circles on the thremals of the South slope.

A final hard push up the steep path, and i was back on top enjoying the view, this time slightly shorter than last time, as the clouds had rolled in up the Forth, obscuring my view of the capital. All in all, it was a wonderful walk, and i fully intend running the route next summer when the good weather returns.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Kirrie rocks our world

Ellis and me met Phil at the camera obscura in Kirriemuir today, with the hope of venturing up Glen Clova for what may be the last mountain day of the year. Despite gorgeous weather in Dundee, it was cloudy in Kirrie when we arrived, and the clouds were thicker and damper the further North we looked, so we settled for some bolt clipping in the local quarry.

The sun appeared as we made out way down the hill, and we were greeted by a quarry full of other climbers. Never before had i seen it so bloody busy! We made our way round to the main wall, and despite all three of us having the guidebook, none of us had throught to bring it, so we just threw ourselves at a few routes.

Looking back, it seems we managed (not very cleanly or with any grace) a fe 6bs, managing to work our way through any problems we encounterd, mostly through siege warfare, and because of our desire not to leave gear behind!

All in all a wondeful day, with loads of people out enjoying the sun, in what seems to be a reasonable September. Hope it holds out a bit longer, i want another long hard route before i dust off my axes and crampons.


Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Boys in the Glen... (pt 2)

Sunday 7th Spet 2008: GLEN NEVIS

Sunday morning was sore head territory, so after packing our kit away, we headed to Morrison's for some breakfast (at least me and Ellis did, Neil was in no fit state for food!). Despite the locals being used to hill-weary climbers, we must have been an extra scary site, as the number of strange glances we got suggested we stood out. Maybe it was the smell of skin so soft, malt whisky and bonfire rolled into one pungent brew!

Anyway, we headed up the Glen, back to our parking space at the roadside, and spied our potential target buttress, hiding in trees no less than one hundred yards from the road. We left Neil in the car to sleep off the effects of exhaustion, dehydration and a stinking hangover in the car, making our way to pinnacle buttress, a seemingly featureless and uterly blank slab from the car. On closer inspection, it was an amazing site of interesting and delicate rock formations, making for very varied and interesting climbing.

I started on the classic route Pinnacle Ridge (Sev), one of the most popular, and possibly oldest routes in the Glen. Needles to say, the start was polished, but it was fairly easy and consistent slab climbing on the arete at the far left edge of the slab. Up through a tree belay, then along a large flake and up a small left facing corner, before the most enjoyable final section of shallow angled slabby climbing to the belay stance, located on the top of the ridge running along the buttress edge.

Top section of Pinaccle buttress, with climber taking hard slab finish on Pinnacle Ridge (Sev)

Once at the top, Ellis and I spotted another buttress, hidden in the trees behing us, no more than 20 yards away, so headed over and Ellis lead Pinnacle Plus (Diff) a nice but very polished crack line up the centre of the mini buttress. Once back down at the bottom of Pinnacle Butress, we looked for any decent climbs, but were limited with the guidebook we had which only had a small selection of the hundreds of routes in the glen.

Ellis chose to lead the variation start to Pinnacle Ridge, which is a weird off balance staircase, followed by a tenuous and balancy move to regain the original route 10m up. Just as we were about to set off Neil appeared, having fought his way through the jungle to the rockface, and he joined us climbing the route. Ellis caught the party above us, somewhere around halfway up the climb, so belayed us upto halfway and hung around for the party above to move up.

Neil 'manning up'

Ellis starting up the variation to Pinnacle Ridge

Neil heading up the stairs

At the belay, we rearranged things and Ellis lead up to the finish, before bring me and Neil up to the magnificent views down the glen. Whilst i was waiting on Neil finishing, i thought i had better capture the moment and get a self portrait with some decent scenery.

The boys at belay stance 2, Ellis ready to lead on

Me and the Glen...

Neil took my camera and scarpered up the final section ready to snap me completing the route. Back on to the fantastic and delicate sund soaked slab to finish. Wow, what a climb! Deserves 3 stars!!!

The view from the ridge-line belay

Me on final slab of pinnacle ridge

Determined to get one more route done, we headed over to the classic Three Pines (Sev), just 5 minutes up the hill. My lead, and looking at the start, it seemed to be a runout and rather featureless slab, so i improvised with a sling round a tree around 5 feet up. Not that it would have done me any good the next gear was around a further 10 feet up the slab. I felt i might as well have been soloing the route, until i reached the next section where the route changed character completely. From blanks slabs to super positive jugs and flakes up the left edge of an exposed arete, with the risk of slipping off down one side of the wall.

Thankfull there was a bit more gear, and i made my way up to the three pines that the route is named after. Once protected in the rocks around them, i moved into the crux which was a slightly overhanging corner which was super polished and once again, all climbing technique and grace went out the window. I squirmed and used the good old knee to wedge myself in before moving up and over to the belay. FEW, bit necky, but an amazing climb in amazing surroundings!

Neil came up, and made the crux look easy (I tell him it's his gangly arms and legs!), then Ellis worked his way up and was on top before i had a chance to get a picture. Congratulations all round, and Ellis got his camera out for a group shot at the top of the Crag looking down the Glen. Can't wait to see it!!!

Well done boys, and awesome weekend pulled from the grasp of disaster by a willingness to explore unfamiliar climbing grounds.

Just wish Dave and Phil could have made it, they would have been in their element!

Monday, 8 September 2008

Boys in the Glen... (pt 1)

Sunday 7th September 2008:

I was up before the sun on Saturday morning to get my kit ready for a weekend climbing and camping in the Cairngorms with Neil and Ellis. All my gear was packed, my plan for the weekend was formulated, and the weather looked great, so i was stoked to be getting out with two good mates for what might be the last mountain route of the year.

Making our way up the A9, the clouds were doing their best to hide the sun rising in the East, and upon reaching Glenmore, the thickening clouds started to unleash their load. Not a good start! Once at the ski carpark, we looked at the weather forecast to check for any changes, but it was still there in black and white: A good weekend ahead. Trouble was, the weather wasn't playing ball!

We headed off to Aviemore to get breakfast and give the clouds and rain a chance to clear, with our destination being the Mountain man cafe (very appropriate name!). I nipped out to Tesco to get some cash for the weekend, only for the bloody machine to swallow my card as it crashed spectacularly in error (Do ATM's run windows?). Looking back, i can now see the pattern of unfortunate turns, that did not bode well for a good weekend.

Ellis was good enough to shout me breakfast, and from our perch at the upstairs window of the cafe, we could see the clouds dropping and getting thicker. Not good! To commisserate our misfortune, we went downstairs to the gear shop and ogled at all the shiny climbing and camping gear. Ellis spotted Classic Rock, so we had a good dig through that, all pointing out classic climbs in our 'to do' list. So far, I am one climb down, 49 to go!

On reccomendation of the store manager, we decided to head out West in search of better weather, but still uncertain exactly where on the West coast to go. Neil was up for Reiff (another 2.5hrs away!), Ellis was keen for Glen Nevis, and I fancied Glen Coe, so it was decided to head to Fort William and see what the weather was like. At leas that way, we left our options open.

Lochaber was in great condition, with virtually no clouds in the sky, so we headed into Glen Nevis (Virgin territory for Ellis and me alike!). Neil showed up the start of the tourist track (which we both promised to avoid for our first ascent of the Ben), and then onwards to the Polldubh crags on the side of Carn Dearg. The guidebook pictures do the Glen a diservice, with buttresses littering the glen, and outcrops popping up all over the place. There was so much rock to look at, it was quite easy to lose your way in the trees. Despite this, Ellis found a lovely buttress in the centre of the South slope called Cavalry Crack Buttress, providing interesting multipitch climbing.

Arriving at the bottom, we were met by a greeting committee of bearded elderly climbers and the infamous Glen Nevis Midge. Much Skin So Soft was sprayed, but these buggers seem to be immune, and annoyed us until we got higher up the buttress. Ellis had a quick look at the guide book and decided upon a climb called Vampire (named after the midges?) graded HS. He lead on up a slabby arete, to a horizontal break and moved high above his last peice of gearm, across a desperately thin section of slab up to the Scots Pine tree that was the first belay stance.
Ellis about embark upon the crux slab on Vampire (pitch one), Hard Severe.

Me and Neil were getting eaten alive at this time, so i urged Neil to get a wriggle on, and he moved up to the final slab, where he nearly swore in frustration at the lack of anything substantial to climb on. Despite this, he made it up to Ellis and the belay ledge.

Neil, happy belaying Ellis, before he had to tackle the hard route.

I was desperate to get a move on (it was already 2 o'clock and i was getting eaten alive), so moved up the arete quickly, taking out Ellis's gear before reaching the final slab section. From the ground it looks easy, but once up close and personal, it was like a mirror, with minute imperfections for feet to smear on, and hairline diagonal cracks for hands (purely for stability). I looked around thinking there must be more than this, surely. It was only a Hard Severe after all!
I settled myself and committed to the move, thanking my shoes and the dry slab for not parting ways, before i reached the safety of a 'thank god' hold at the top.

My climb next, so we rearranged the belay and sorted gear whilst i located the direction of the next pitch. Up through a steep corner slab, with a rather large dose of exposure, then a diagonal traverse along fault lines and steps (this time with lots of exposure) and up to the final move up and through a diagonal off width chimney.

Me at the top of the initial tricky slab corner on pitch 2

It was only when i reached this final move, that i discovered how popular the route actually was, with the important final hold being polished like an ancient river worn pebble!!! All sense of climbing grace went out of the window, and i squirmed and slithered through the slot to the belay. Wow! what a great pitch, with an amazing view across the glen in to the heart of the Mamores.

2nd pitch of Vampire, looks blank, but adequate hold all the way up with significant exposure!

Neil came up next and enjoyed the pitch, with the combination of exposure and better holds appealing to him more than the first pitch. Ellis came up straight away, and was most impressed with the view.

The view from the 2nd belay

I rearranged the belay and Ellis lead on up the next pitch consisting of a section of easy and enjoyable slab climbing, before another hard section of delicate slab. Neil zoomed up and i followed up to the top, where we all soaked in the views and were impressed with the grand scale of things in the Glen.

Ellis heading up the 3rd pitch to the tricky finish slab

Glen Nevis in all it's Beauty

A quick walk down to the base of the buttress and were ready to go get food, but i enjoyed the climbing that much that i wanted one more lead. Right in front of us was a route called Heatwave (Mild Severe) that followed a natural and appealing line up a corner slab, with lovely steps all the way up to the first belay. I started up it and got through the inital highly polished section (seems most popular lines have polished starts here) and made fairly quick progress up the route, setting up the belay and bringing Neil up.

As i started to belay him, i noticed a body moving up the climb free of a rope. A bloody weegie climber had jumped infront of Neil and was soloing the route whilst Neil was at bottom. Not only was this anti-social but put both Neil and I at risk should he slip. Selfish bastard i thought as he approached my belay, where out of conscience i had to lower the rope for him to finish the route safely, meaning Neil was effectively of belay halfway up the climb!

He then proceeded to solo up the difficult corner slab right above me!!!! It was a hair rasing few minutes waiting for him to get upto the next belay and out of my way should he fall. Neil made it up easily, and we felt it was time to go, so we abbed off the nearby tree as the rest of Heatwave was a scrappy grassy gully.

On the way down Vampire, Ellis told us to look out for a nut that had been abandoned halfway up by a party after us. Apparently they got to the hard part and bottled it, leaving behind a nut and a cam. Unfortunately for us, the Idiot soloist had soloed up to the same point not long after them and hit the same hard patch, only to lose his nerve and down climb/slide down in an almost controlled fashion. Despite his apparent fear of falling, his tight wad Glaswegian nature would not let him leave a cam in the rock, and he lifted it on the way down. Bastard!

Anyway, i got the nut out, and we made our way back to the car, heading towards the wee inn at the foot of the Ben for some grub. It was heaving with people after the Race up the Ben, so we expected a long wait, but were pleasantly surprised by our food arriving 5 minutes after we ordered. Awesome service and great banter from the waitressess.

By this time it was getting late, and we still didn't know where were staying that night. A quick trip to Morrisons to use their conveniences, and to pick up last minute supplies (milk and water in Ellis's case, a bottle of single malt in Neil's). Fighting to beat dusk, we headed along Loch Linne and Ellis spotted an amazing promontory of land which looked excellent. It already had one tent up with two girls round a fire, so we bombed in, grabbed the tents and established base campi in ten minutes flat. Next thing was to get a fire going, so we made ourway along the shoreline looking for timber in the dark. Never a good idea after a few pints!

Not much later and we were surrounding a small but warm bonfire, finishing off the box of Tennents that Ellis had brought. Didn't last very long, so Neil got the whisky out. Mistake! We each had two small(ish) nips, and Neil noticed half the bottle had already gone. It was time to cut our losses and we got our bags out to sleep in the open. Neil's experience kicked in, so he crashed into his tent, leaving me and Ellis to sleep in the open air. After a few hours, Ellis had to answer a call of nature, and with the whisky having worn off, he saw sense and dive into my tent. I however, was hard as nails and slept in my bivvy bag, only to wake to a pounding headache around 7 am.

After pretending to myself i could fall back asleep, Ellis made it up and then Neil. Thankgod we didn't have mirrors, our faces would have no doubt broken them. Poor Neil was still recovering from the cold/flu, so he took the brunt of it, feeling like death warmed up. Me and Ellis just had pounding headaches, which we attributed to the day in the sun, lack of water, and copious beer intake. lesson learnt.

Mere mortals would have given in, but we were determined to get the best out of Sunday which was scheduled to be even better weather, but that story is for part 2. Stay tuned....


Ellis informs me that he is now an Extreme climber. Turns out that he lead the Variation route of the first pitch of Vampire, graded at...


Bloody Nutter!!!

Welldone Ellis

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Dave the birthday boy!

Friday 29th Aug 2008:

Sport sport sport.

As a treat to our long suffering climbing mate Dave P, we agreed to head out sport climbing on friday to Kirriemuir. For regulars of this blog, you will know how i feel about sport, so Dave was lucky to drag Ellis, Phil and me to a sport venue, but he has been good enough to indulge our addiction for all things trad this summer, so i suppose it was time to return the favour.

I got stuck in traffic on the forfar road junction of the kingsway, so it was well after 6 before i made an appearance. Before long, we were all climbing, getting used to the unique rock at kirrie. Phil and i were about to start our route when he nudged me and guided my view towards Ellis who has just begun the route to our left. Something looked wrong but i couldn't for the life of me figure it out.

Only when he reached the bolt and moved to find a quickdraw on his harness, did we realise. Phil had all of Ellis's quickdraws from the last climb, and Ellis took a second to realise what was wrong, much to Phil's amusement.

Pushing on, both ropes started to step up the grades, working through two overhanging routes, then Phil and I moved left to finish on a high note, attacking a 6a+ (the name escapes me) with a squirmy and delicate initial move to an interesting overhang.

Ellis and Dave moved out right, cracking both of the harder routes that take the diverging lines up the prominent arete on the right hand edge of the mound.

After that, it was off to the pub in Forfar for celebratory drinks for Dave P's birthday. All in all a brilliant night, and i'm not afraid to admit it, but it was great to get back onto a sport route again, just concentrating on technique rather than the whole trad game. Don't get me wrong though, i won't be getting rid of my beard and wooly jumper any time soon!!!