Monday 31 December 2012

Giving the hill a chance and Happy New Year!

Foul weather this morning but the forecast promised better to come so I joined friends for a lateish walk in to Ben Nevis. And it kind of paid off. They were going climbing as a 3 and I had an open mind. We passed hordes retreating in the rain and murk and whilst my pals ploughed on up into Coire na Ciste I diverted to join Jamie B and Robin at the CIC for a brew. Finally they decided to do something so I joined them following the tracks put in by Rich first thing.
The snow was soft but the thaw had revealed plenty of ice. My mates were on No.3 Gully Buttress, Rich had good ice on Thompsons and I watched Jamie B and Robin start up a slightly slushy Wendigo. I was content to solo around them by taking North Gully and found that the avalanches had scoured it to leave the best neve I'd felt in weeks exposed. I wandered across to have a look up very icey Central RH and LH before cutting a big slot in the cornice of North. There was only a small cornice atop No.4 which had also been scoured by avalanches and not refilled yet. I saw Rich there and he told me that the whump I heard before starting up North Gully was the cornice going on South Gully. A bit later than expected that- by that time the snow and ice were firming up and I'd have expected most instability to be passed or improving. It just goes to show how you can't take these thaws for granted and that even after a night a morning of heavy rain and mildness there can still be things waiting to fall down when its starting to get colder again!
Plenty of ice around but we'll see what the coming uber thaw leaves us.

Anyway Happy Hogmanay and here is to a great 2013 for everyone.
"Here's to us,
wha's like us,
dam few
and they're a' deid!"
 Jamie B looking for something solid to stand on
 Wendigo Pitch 1
 Central LH
 Central RH
 My slot in the cornice above North
 Looking up No.3
 Looking up No.2
And Happy New Year to you too!

Saturday 29 December 2012

Back to work but benign on Ben Nevis

After 100mph winds on the summits last night and a mega thaw yesterday I was interested to see what we would get today. It felt mild on the walk in but the freezing level came down enough to allow snow at the Hut during the day. The winds were blustery as we walked in but almost non existent on Ledge Route and only about 20mph on the summit plateau mid afternoon.
 All this was covered in a good dusting during the day
 Compare with pics from 3 days ago
 Debris below No. 5
 The avalanche channel below No.5
 Nic and his team walking into Coire na Ciste
 Somewhere on Ledge Route
The snow that fell was loose and unconsolidated and coming on light winds it meant that No. 4 Gully was safe for us to descend today. Soft cornices were building slowly. Just to try it out we abseiled off of the new marker cairn. Your rope needs a little care in its positioning. There is a rope grabbing groove just below the capstone that can prevent retrieval but the midway up the level of stone below this worked ok for us. The snow was lying down at the Hut level at the end of the day.

Wednesday 26 December 2012

Boxing day on the Ben

I went for a quick route on Ben Nevis today to take advantage of the fine weather and with a late start to burn off some of yesterday's turkey. It was quiet in Coire na Ciste with just a pair heading into No.5 Gully- probably heading for Ledge Route.
The upper hill was clad in a ghostly white sheet where the torrential rain of the last few days had finally turned to snow higher up yesterday. Most of the low lying ice that had been building is gone (Carn Dearg Cascades are gone, first pitch of Waterfall Gully is broken and the first pitch of the Curtain isn't there, there is some grey and white stuff on the ice pitches of Compression Cracks though) and there was just a tiny skim of ice on the puddles as I walked in today. The snow on the walk in to Coire Na Ciste was crusty and quite moist beneath. I was soon bored of ankle to calf deep mystery plunges and above the Ciste Lochan opted to head to Central Gully on the Trident Butresses because it: 1. Had some nice ice bulges visible in it, 2. I'd never done it and 3. It was close meaning less deep steps to get to the climbing.
The snow was mostly quite soft but the ice on the bulges and walls gave occasional good placements though. I took the original left hand variation (a few inches of rotten snow on slabby rock- steps cut with a gloved hand and thumped down hard to convince me they would hold my weight, axes useless gloved fingers between the snow and the rock- a few 'interesting' metres).
It was warm. I was in a thin thermal and a soft shell with no hat all day. The snow pack was still quite moist seeming until 100m below the plateau rim where the rocks became thickly rimed and the snow a bit colder. The only sign of fresh snow was the row of drooping soft cornices around the rim of the final bowl.
I headed down the Red Burn which was mostly quite firm on the left side (looking down) and took me quickly back down.
 Castle area
 Tower Ridge plastered
 Debris from recent avalanches below No.5
 Looking up Central Gully
 Droopy cornices at the top
 Walkers on the Pony Track
 Heading down
I can see my house from here
Plenty snow around and the temps look set to yo-yo some more over the weekend. Shame about the gales forecast!

Monday 24 December 2012

Thursday 20 December 2012

A short break in Austria... diary of an uphill skier

Sitting in Gatwick Airport on my way home from a little break in St. Gilgen near Salzburg in Austria.
The weather was quite.... Scottish. Grey leaden skies and rain in town but plenty of snow.
I'd gone to ski (that will surprise a few of you but don't worry it was Nordic and ski touring kit) and visit my friend Neal who lives out there and to take advantage of his renowned hospitality.
the Nordic trails were groomed but icey on the first 2 days and I did a good bambi impression as I struggled to remember how to control these things on my feet. Then we had a quick tour up the Zwolferhorn. 900m of great skinning up followed by a beer on the top. A rare sight was to be seen as I made a rare attempt at downhill skiing in deep fresh powder. After 500m of descent and 25 falls I was back to my preferred mode of transport.... walking. Then I met Ernst. 200m above St. Gilgen is a wee bar in a hut run by a generous welcoming barman. Its common for people to walk or ski up have a few (ok actually quite a few) drinks and the use one of Ernst's many sledges to get back down (he collects them and brings them back up by ski-doo daily). After 4 beers and 3 schnapps (including 1 made from pine cones and 2 complimentary ones made from what may have been hazelnuts or acorns) my skiing miraculously improved and I happily skiied the remaining 200m of icey snow back to the road. Unfortunately it had the opposite effect on Neal who skied into a ditch... we did recover his binding the next day.
 Manchego rind art
 Skinning up
 Top of the Zwolferhorn
 Neal in a ditch
Working up a sweat
Winter wonderland
 What IS that?
 Time lapse of Neal coming down the Zwolferhorn
That's the rest of my steak on the board in her hand!
The final day saw the best Nordic conditions of the trip and it was real pleasure to glide round the forests working up a sweat. I also was served an enormous doughnut type thing at Neal's instigation (made me think of the stories of Whillans's favourite dessert of multiple doughnuts in a pudding basin filled with rice pudding). Then we went a few hundred metres back up the Zwolferhorn, paid a shorter visit to Ernst and finished off with the biggest steak I've ever eaten. Thanks to Neal, Rosie, Vivian, Ernst and everyone else. Happy holidays!

Friday 14 December 2012

Training time

Across at Glenmore Lodge today on a staff Training day. The gates up the hill were shut unfortunately so we were centre based but this gave us an opportunity to discuss various venues relative to weather, teaching progressions, used of the mixed wall and dry tooling facilities and to share some good knowledge developed out of Lyon Equpment's recent Technical Seminar.

These days are so useful in being able to bounce ideas off of peers and share information and to develop informed opinions (rather than disappearing up my own backside and spouting drivel on UKC Forums).

Wednesday 12 December 2012

How to go ice climbing without really planning to- long day on Aonach Beag

Mike called me about going ice climbing today last night but I was already committed to going out with Jamie B who has his mixed head on. Jamie knows I've wanted to climb on the west face of Aonach Beag so we had a dawn start from the Steall car park.
The walk in was fine initially and after a couple of hours the crag seemed very close. But the last bit was an hour and a half of crusty snow hell!
We could see that the rock of the crag was stripped of rime except the very top so our mixed options were not available. There was a LOT of ice about though so we dropped into Eggsclamation a Grade II in very icey condition which was made more interesting by our mixed crampons and tools and complete lack of ice gear. After I'd led a pitch Jamie ducked the steeper icey continuation in favour of a pitch up a good mixed chimney ay about IV. This put him under the headwall of the buttress and I took up the obvious challenge of a dark verglassed crack whose right wall was under a thick coating of the useless black ice. The hooks in the cracks were good but the feet on the right wall were useless and the best gear was a bulldog dropped in one of the hooks. This bit of V,6 left me perched on a ledge standing on 2 more bulldogs in some airy turf looking up at an unprotectable offwidth that will give me nightmares tonight. I wimped out with a tricky gearless and hands free foot traverse along a ledge back to the safety of the gully. 
We topped out at sunset with only 2 hours of crusty snow and dark icey paths to get back to the car.
Nothing like a bit of an adventure :-)
 Dawn walk in
 2 hours in
 3 hours in- Ben Nevis behind
 Unintended ice climbing
 The Brenva Face
 Jamie's chimnney
 Where are we?
 The heart in mouth traverse
 The last bit
Sunset on the top

Nice in Knoydart

 Walking beneath Ladhar Bheinn
 A quick brew
 Sunset from the tops
 Cooking in the bothy
 End of the trip
The view at home
Stunning walking trip for the last 2 days for West Highland College. A hard frost and sunny weather. I was however jealous looking over at the Cuillin where Kenny, Guy and Donald made a 12 traverse of the whole Ridge- nice one guys.