Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Winter comes early

Sat 1st Nov 2008: Northern Corries

The weather was looking good over the last part of this week, so i was optimistic to get out, even if just for a bimble in the snow. However, volunteers (also known as partners) were thin on the ground, so it wasn't till late on Friday night that i collared Dave Strachan and Graham Biostelle, two likely lads who work at AVW and managed to jump in on their trip up north early the next morning.

Come 6 o'clock i jumped in their motor at AVW and was asleep before we made it onto the hawkhill. Waking up somewhere around the Drumochter pass (1500ft), i was greeted by a scene of snow covered hills, much to my amazement! I hadn't seen this much this early in the year for yonks. If there was this much low down, what was it like in the Norries where the base of most routes sit above 3000ft???

Next thing i knew and we were greeted by snow down to the level of Aviemore (generally a good sign that it will be full of snow higher up), then made rapid progress along Glenmore where wer were greeted with fantastic views of the Norries which were PLASTERED in snow. I can't remember ever seeing that much snow up there in the years i have been visitng, so i was quite excited as we headed up the Ski car park road.

It was hovering around the freezing mark as we jumped out of the car and threw all our warm kit on, sorted gear and then bugged out. Soon warming up, we made fairly fast progress into the centre corrie of Coire an t'sneachda (Corrie of the snow). Reaching a hiogh point, it was obvious we were some of the latest climbers to arrive, with the rest of the corrie being covered in climbers, with at one point well over 60 climbers visible from the lochain.
The walk in, with plenty of snow!The Mess of Pottage

Aladdin's Buttress
Dave and Graham beneath the Fiacaill Buttress

We made the decision to avoid the mess of pottage and alladdin's buttress as they were mobbed, so headed west to the Fiacaill Buttress, with the aim of doing a route called 'The Seam' (IV 5)
Having arrived at the gearing up point, we could see one team already on the seam, one on stirling bomber, and one heading up to Invernookie.

Stirling bomber V,7

After a good hour long wait, we made our way up the first pitch, with Graham keen to get on some grade IV ground, so he lead the way with me and Dave bringing up the rear. The first pitch was an easy angled (soft) snow plod until it hit a rock band halfway up, which having not used my axes in anger for over 8 months, i found challenging, but was soon up at the belay beside Graham.
A climber about to start the crux chimney pitch of The Seam

Dave Joined us, and we sorted the gear out then Dave lead through, pushing up some increasingly steeper and looser snow, before he got his first runner in. Few!!! After a couple of exposed steps he was up at the final traverse and made it with relative ease before he noticed his last runner had fallen out, and that any fall off the traverse would mean a long and significant fall then swing to the left. Despite this he made it to the belay stance with no probs and brought both of us up..
Dave watching Graham on the crux pitch


We could now see the crux section of the route, the chimney pitch leading to the summit. It looked an immaculate rock climb, but at this time of year was under a deep covering of powder snow. Graham was keen as mustard to get on it, but a large tangle in the ropes meant he had to wait a while till me and Dave sorted our shit out. Off he went, and made steady progress up the chimney, only stopping to shake some blood back into his rapidly cooling hands, and to dig away at the deep snow cover to find places for protection.

Graham leads up the crux

All too soon and it was my turn to head up. Yikes, this was real grade IV ground, considerably harder and more exposed than anything i had done before. There were a few points where i was happy to have a rope above my head as my hands had turned into blocks of ice, and i had to fish out Grahams very well placed protection at fairly regular intervals, meaning i couldn't get into a rhythm. Despite this, i made my way up to Grahams Belay stance and scrambled up past him to the top, almost puncturing his thigh with my crampons. Sorry...

The view from the top (how many climbers can you spot?)

The thrill of reaching the top was short lived when i was hit with a serious dose of the hotaches, brought on by a combination of hands against cold rock/snow and gripping my axes for dear life. This low point was short lived when i heard the familiar low base notes of the approaching yellow taxi, also known as the RAF search and rescue helicopter. They made a detailed (and low) circuit of the Northen corries, passing within 100m of and well below us at the top of The Seam, then skimming around the corrie and up to cairngorm, before a tour round the neighbouring coire an lochan, then off East to Lochnagar. It seems they were on a familiarisation exercise today, as there were reports of them circling around the North face of the Ben, then the Northern Cairngorms, before taking in the beauty of Lochnagar.

Once everyone was up and safe, we made our way down the Fiacaill ridge (a grade II in its own right in deep snow!) before reaching the col which drops back into Coire an t'Sneachda. Forgoing the safe route, we chose to use gravity to lose height quickly, sliding down the powder slopes on our arse. What a great way to end a climb! Just the walk back to the car, then we can warm up and get some grub. Dave and Graham reminded me of how much fitter they are than me by practically running back to the car, but i made it there in one peice, and was able to appreciate the now setting sun across the alpine wilderness of the Cairngorms.
Twilight in the gorms...

AVW winter bouldering league, round 1

Fri 24th Oct 2008

Averticalworld, Dundee

Friday saw us heading indoors for the first session of the annual AVW winter bouldering league. Normally a fun event, Dave P persuaded me to enter the Men's hard comp, which i had chosen to resist for the last two years. Despite this, we were all looking forward to a good night.

We met many familiar faces that night, and cranked out some hard moves, yet failed on some not so hard moves. Such is life.

I got talking to a really friendly new girl who seems to be working at the wall, who's name turned out to be Erica (or was it Erin ;o). She is from Canada, and is spending a year in Dundee on a creative writing course at Dundee Uni. Going by some of my wandering blogs from the past, i could teach her a thing or two about creative writing.

Anyway, the night was over far too soon, and we all headed off to the pub, where a large group of us congregated for the post boulder comp bash. Well over 30 people made it back to the Globe, so a great night was had spinning the shit about stuff we had, and stuff we want to do.

As for results, Dave P beat me by one bloody point (199), but hey, I beat Alan by one point (197), so next time i am aiming firmly for 200+ points in the hard comp! Just hope my fingers have recovered by then...

Monday, 10 November 2008

Majorca pt 3...

Majorca pt 3.

Sorry it's taken so long, but I've had a very busy few weeks.

After a fun Monday at S'estret, we decided to try something a bit harder, namely this...

The picturesque and awe inspiring arete of Albahida

We made the 30 minute drive to the Sa Gubia crag early on Tuesday morning, knowing we may have a long day ahead of us, as we had our eyes set on the 7pitch arete known as 'Albahida', which is undoubtedly one of the most popular routes on the Island (easy to see why once you've done it!)

Anyway, we parked up next to the local restuarant and headed up the path for about a mile, before following a dry riverbed for another mile upstream to reach the area below the rockface. The riverbed was thankfully dry but proved quite a draining experience, as it was enclosed with no moving air, which combined with the high temperature and humidity, meant we were sweating buckets before we had even reached the crag. Breaking the strain ocassionally were the rare but rewarding views of Albahida afforded by gaps in the foliage, building the tension as Ben, Dave and Iain realised what i hoped to get them to the top of.
Our reward for the struggle up the riverbed

After the initial struggle, we made it to the bottom of the single pitch area of Sa Gubia, where i showed the guys the layout of the land, in case anyone decided against some multi-pitch action. At this point, we could hear the voices of other climbers bouncing across what can only be called the ampitheatre that is Sa Gubia. What an amazing place! I was slightly concerned they may already be on the route ahead of us, and that it may restrict our plans, but thankfully they were off to one side of our intended route, climbing the 3star classic multipitch sport route known as 'Lay de Lesso'.

We scuttled down the hill to the base of your climb and sorted gear, double checked everything, and then spied out the first few pitches of the route. Once happy, I lead up the first pitch, with Ben seconding, and Dave leading his rope, with Iain acting as tail-end charlie. The first pitch was nothing more than a scramble so i ran it out putting in gear only when i felt it was needed, and made it to the belay stance consisting of a welded ring bolted into the rock (I'll never complain about sport climbers or bolts again, well at least not till next time...)'Thank god' bolts...

Ben flew up the route, and was at the belay ready for Dave and Iain to join us, when he realised that in his haste, he had forgotten to pick up our rucksack. Thankfully iain was still at the base of the climb, so made the first pitch acting as pack mule, carrying his and our rucksacks. Well done that man!

Dave wasn't happy with the distinct lack of bolts (the spanish seem not to think that lower grade climbs deserve their hard earned iron-mongery), and waited for Iain to make it to the belay (which was getting cosy by this time), before considering abbing off and spending the day cranking out single pitch routes on the other side of the ampitheatre. After some discussion, it was clear this was the best idea, as climbing in a four is very time consuming, and the route was fairly long, so we re-organised the belay and Dave and Iain abbed down, then headed off to spend the day enjoying themselves on the shorter routes.

My confidence had taken a bit of a bash and i was still uncertain as to wether i was up to leading the whole thing (it seemed huge at this point!), but i knew that the further i got up the climb, the better it got, so pushed on.

Pitch 2 brought back memories as i started it, some of them not good! Last time i was on the route, i was only allowed to 2nd it, and my climbing experience was way below where i was this time around, so much so that at one point i thought i would not be able to get past the hard move, even with a rope above me... Very embarassing for someone looking to lead men, and climbers.

Despite this, as soon as i got 2m up the route i was in a rythm, nothing disturbing my concentration, all the time looking for good footholds, then up for more hand holds. Before i knew it, i was at the hard move, a vertical section of rock with a small crack leading to an easy section of rock. A deep breath, a stonking nut at head height, and i pushed through the hard moves with no real problems. What a difference a year makes! Up to the belay and i brought Ben up with a huge smile on both our faces. We were now 2/7ths of the way up and could see Dave and Iain across the crag.

The view from the 3rd belay (PS, it's not me or ben!)

Pitch 3, After a quick drink i lead on working my way up the face, over and overlap and into a large scoop of bright orange rock, where my belay consisted of two worringly small natural threads. Not too bad on a large ledge, but this ledge was 45 degrees and facing downhill, so i warned Ben not to test the belay by slipping :o) This was a bit of a hairy spot, so i was rather keen to get some metal into the rock to prevent a quick trip to the bottom. As soon as he was up, i slotted in a stonking hex a few feet to our side and felt an immediate relief.

Belay stance at top of pitch 3 is under small Orange patch halfway up arete

Pitch 4 and the view was improving all the time. We were making great time and i was feeling good about the lead, so we decided i would lead it all. Ben was happy just climbing and taking in the whole experience so we both benefited from the certainty of the decision. Moving from our questionable belay, i headed up and right to a natural fault line which was begging to be stuffed with gear, but the climbing was so easy and there was so much insitu gear (peg, threads etc) that it felt easier and more appropriate to slot one bomber nut in and push through. Only when i did push through did i find out why there was so much in-situ gear. The large blocks that made the climbing easy were VERY loose and just waiting to catch a reckless climber. I took care and made it through, enjoying the lovely but exposed climbing, only to be greeted by a rather extraordinary sight.

Home made bolt?

Unsure of it's age and strength i was wary about relying on it, but told myself bad pro is better than no pro, so clipped it and continued the search for somewhere to place my own gear. One nut place, i was a bit happier and ran it out to the belay. Ben came up with no real problem, but did make comment on the loose blocks (lucky the belay was off to one side, and in a small cave) and the 'interesting' bolt.

Posing for the obligatory half way pic

Pitch 5: We had lunch, enjoyed the view and spun the shit before i headed up, moving to a steepening, with the rock now vertical. After a few harder moves (only just harder), it was back onto a pleasant slab, running it out to the belay, this time a far more reasurring series of huge natural thread on a sizeable ledge. Ben came up quickly and we looked up, pleased that we were now over 5/7ths of the way up (closer to the top than the bottom) and that the hardest climbing was now behind us. All in all we felt good about the climb and how it was going.

Pitch 6: I continued up the now easy angled slab, with awesome jug holds and super grippy limestone making the climbing easy and enjoyable. From here on, the rock alters from crumbly occasionally fractured limestone, to solid and immaculately weathered limestone, with countless natural thread providing awesome and quick to place protection. Trending around to the right then up, i could see the top now, and set up belay then brought Ben up. We could taste victory!!!

The weathered but amazingly grippy limestone high up on Albahida

Pitch 7: This pitch was almost a formality with easy angled slabs, and no real need for much protection, until right at the end where it steepens to a short vertical step lurking as a sting in the tail. As i reached this point, i felt a strong sense of achievement, knowing i had almost done it, and once i pulled up and over the final lip, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I can only liken it to what i expect big wall climbers feel after spending days battling against and living on blank rock faces. It was almost spiritual, and we both shared it once Ben was up and secure. Certainly a life affirming experience for me.

This didn't last long, as we looked behind us to see the route to the summit (and ultimately down to the car) was longer, steeper and more exposed than we had imagined. Normally a scramble, with the wind picking up, i was not willing to sacrifice protection for safety so we stayed roped up and used natural protection to safeguard us as we ran out 70m rope length time and time again. After 5 full rope lengths of exposed scrambling we were on safe ground and removed the rope before racing to the summit.

The scramble at the end, almost as long as the bloody climb!

Mountain men, 2 of...

Time was starting to zoom by, so we thought it only polite to phone Dave and Iain to let them know we were on our way down, and not to call the local MRT quite yet... The guide suggests around 90mins for the descent, in daylight. We were so desperate to get back for a beer that we did it in 4omins, in the dark, in climbing shoes. Walking back along the main road, we could see the lights of the pub over a mile away but we were so close but so far. Arriving at the bar, guess who we found propping up the bar? A certain Mr P his drinking companion Mr Irvine, slightly the worse for wear, having located the bar some time earlier that afternoon. After a swift beer, we all got back into the car and zoomed off back to the flat for some sustenance in the form of steaks and beers. Well deserved to a man!
Sa Gubia crags, showing the arete and (long) scramble in profile.