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Coire An T-Sneachda climbing

Today I was in Coire an T-Sneachda. We had planed on climbing Fingers Ridge but conditions made it look pretty lean so we opted for one of the gully lines instead.

Four teams were making their way up The Runnel so we nipped up Crotched Gully instead. Probably about III in current condition but really enjoyable. Jen had two good lead pitches at the start and I finished off up the steep and imposing cornice.

At the top we got compasses quickly to hand and did a few nav points on the way down as practice for Jen’s Winter ML.

Below are a few photos of the coire to give an idea of conditions.

Aladdin's and Fluted Buttresses
Aladdin’s and Fluted Buttresses
Fluted Buttress
Looking at Fluted Buttress from near the base of Aladdin’s.
Left end of Aladdin's Buttress
Left end of Aladdin’s Buttress.
teams out.
Lots of teams out and about.
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Winter Returns – an ascent of Tower Ridge

After a through soaking yesterday. I caught up with two aspirant MIC’s again today in the form of Mo Barclay and Adam Harmer. Today’s object with to check out the options for guiding Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis. One of the all time classic winter route.

Unfortunately I had to start a little later than Mo and Adam so the beginning of the day was a bit of a blur as I raced to catch them before they got to the ridge making it (just).

Initially there was only a dusting of snow on the lower sections of the north face but this was added to during the day. Check out some of the photos below to see:

CIC Hut
Looking down towards the CIC Hut from Tower Ridge
Observatory Ridge in the Cloud
Observatory Ridge with a Dusting of snow. Taken at the start of the day.
Adam Tower Ridge
Adam is blinded by the sun! we didn’t think this existed after the last few days.
view from Tower Ridge
View across to Ledge Route (amongst others) from Tower Ridge
Mo Leading on the Little Tower, Tower Ridge
Mo Leading on the Little Tower, Tower Ridge.

Lets hope that winter is back this time to stay!

 


 

If you’d like to know more about winter walking or going on a winter skills course check out the fantastic courses available to book now.

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Lochinver Climbing Festival – Reiff

Climbing Reiff

Unfortunately work took priority on Saturday but with Sunday off I headed over to Reiff in the evening to catch Tim and co for some climbing at the Lochinver Climbing Festival. Reiff was the planned destination and high on my list of places to climb.

Reiff is one of the première climbing destinations in the North West Highlands and I hadn’t visited yet so what better way to be introduced to it then by Tim Hamlet who lives five minutes away and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the crag.

Parking my van as considerately as I could I was toying around with some HDR photos of the view when I heard a familiar voice and Kirsty came running over. She was also up with another friend from Oban (Rob). We decided to head straight over to the crag for some climbing, psych levels being high.

Topping out
Rob topping out Sip from the Wine of Youth Again

A short walk and down scramble later we were enjoying some classic routes. A brace of VS climbs and a Severe left us all having led and thoroughly warmed up. It was Robs turn and he decided on the wonderful “Sip From The Wine Of Youth Again” (HVS 5a) with Alan Halewood having just led the climb and saying it was fantastic it would be rude not to. For those that don’t know this particular little climb it start with a traverse out over the see before finishing up a wonderful flake and Arete. All things that make climbers go ‘ooo’ and ‘aaahh’.

Channering Worm
Arms working hard on Channering Worm.

As we topped out Tim arrived and pointed us at another ‘must do’ for the crag – Channering Worm (E3 5c) – It was my turn to lead this “bold” and “steep” climb. A boulder problem of a start on some undercuts leads to a flake. From there its a case of keeping your head together and steadily making your way up it. Certainly one that gets the heart pumping and great fun.

Westering Home
The crux top section of Westering Home (E1 5b)
Kirsty Midreiff
Kirsty cutting shapes on Midreiff (S 4a)

A bite to eat later we were back down to do the classic VS – Hy Brasil. Climbing onto a prominent arete this has entertaining and airy moves. Then I led Westering Home (E1 5b) with thin moves at the top this is another to make you think and trust your feet. Good gear makes this a safe climb though so you can certainly go for it. We followed this with more stared routes; Midreiff (S 4a), Tystie Slab (VD)  and Black Gold (HS 4b) before deciding that our fingers were sufficiently warm and we’d head for some grub at the pub in Ullapool.

Not bad for a day off…

Thanks to Alan Halewood for the abseil line use and Tim Hamlet for showing us around the crag. Also Thanks to Kirsty and Rob for a great days climbing and for use of their photos in this post.

Reiff View
Messing around with HDR at Reiff.

If you’ve not visited Reiff and you like your climbing bouldery and balancy with a hint of atmosphere that being near the sea always brings then you should visit; especially if you find yourself in the far north and west.

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Friends and Fun

Standing on shadows

So I’ve not posted for a while. It’s been a pretty busy time on the west coast of Scotland. Both Jen and I have been lucky enough to have some great friends visit. I’ve also been playing with more photography and trying to get round to learning a little about creating video. All this has left me with little time writing blog posts.

So we’ve now just over a month left working at The Torridon. It’s been an interesting season. Since my last post I’ve led guided walks over all of the main Torridon Munro’s; Beinn Alligin, Liathach and Beinn Eighe. The weather has varied; from verging on winter with sleet, to t-shirts on the tops. As well as mountain guiding I’ve run one to one climbing sessions where I’ve been able to take complete novices to experience the delights of climbing as a pair on multipitch routes. The gorge has gone from being dry to scary with alarming regularity. In between levels there’s been some great fun with guests where they’ve managed to jump into pools and swim behind waterfalls. Arrows have been shot into targets and the sea eagles, otters, seals have made the paddling a pleasure.

The evenings have sometimes involved running from the midges at others they’ve had spectacular sunsets. Visits have been made to Applecross, Kishorn and the Gille Brigdhe; sampling incredible seafood from the local coasts. Not to mention many many evenings enjoying the boulders at the celtic jumble.

My off days have been equally full. An Teallach provided stunning views to test my photography skills. Climbing and scrambling with Tim helped remind me of the process of becoming a Mountain Instructor as well as refreshing my skills. The Triple Butress of Beinn Eighe and the sports climbing around Gairloch have reminded me just why I love such a varied pass time as climbing and why I enjoy sharing it with others. Thanks to everyone who’s been able to visit.

Here’s some photos from the summer.

 

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The Pillar

The sun and heatwave have finally made it to Torridon – Jen was off today and I had a nice cooling dip in the gorge during the morning followed by a pleasant coastal walk in the afternoon.

Having not managed to climb at Diabaig yet – I was really excited to head over after work and give the classic ‘Pillar’ (E2 5b) a go. Several people have mentioned to me this is as good as left wall and a must do for the area. I had to go take a look.

For those that don’t know Diabaig is at the end of the road through Torridon village and a beautiful spot. It has hills of Lewisian Gneiss surrounding it with many crags. The Pillar climbs the central line of the most obvious slab/wall.

The Pillar
The Pillar crag, the route is up the middle of the face – photo by Jen Roberts

All I can say is the line lives up to the reputation and while I personally would put it below Left Wall on my all time favourite climbs it’s definitely up there. Starting off with a continuously interesting well protected crack you gain a ramp to move down and left before questing up the face above. Some holds are obvious others a bit hidden but they keep arriving just where you need them to make the climbing so enthralling I almost didn’t realise I’d made it to the top. Gear is plentiful though you don’t loose that committing feel with linked sections of moves between key pieces. Does it deserve four stars – yes I think it does.

Climbing The Pillar - photo by Jen Roberts
Climbing The Pillar – photo by Jen Roberts
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Mountain Equipment Tupilak II Jacket Review

I’ve been fortunate enough to use a lot of different manufactures clothing over the years. One of the key items that I use a lot is a waterproof jacket, sometimes referred to as a hard shell.

My current hardshell of choice is the Mountain Equipment Tupilak II Jacket. I believe this for a number of reasons.

  • Fabric choice – the Gore-Tex Pro fabric that mountain equipment have used provides second to non weather protection. I’ve tried it through a summer and winter season with forty plus quality days in the hills. This has included everything from 70mph winds with snow and hail, driving horizontal rain, steady drizzle for hours on end; even the odd bit of sunshine! Other fabrics I’ve tried such as Neoshell and Mountain Hardware’s Dry.Q do provide good waterproofing and feel more breathable but don’t provide the protection that you get from Gore-Tex.
  • Large hood – I have a love, hate relationship with the Tupilak II’s hood. it does easily swallow a helmet and works well without. When down it folds nicely and doesn’t collect rain like some do. It is also easy to adjust. Unfortunately it does need this adjustment regularly. There isn’t quite enough stretch in the fabric so putting a helmet on requires you to loosen the back and front toggles before donning the helmet then re-tightening, ensure you do the neck toggles first otherwise it will sit too far back on the head. The hood can also be rolled away to form a thick neck baffle, why you would do this though I don’t know. Good but with a minor annoyance overall.
  • Simplicity – While not a featherweight jacket the Tupilak II’s limited features provide just enough storage for map, compass, hat and gloves. This can be done with well proportioned Napoleon pockets. Other than these pockets the features are limited to one internal pocket, a hem-draw-cord (that I seldom use) and the above mentioned hood. This keeps the weight down and means there’s no faffing trying to find the correct zip or the like. Spot on for many conditions.
  • Durability – I’m generally tough on my kit. I tend to wear it a lot and drag it over rough rocks, go out in the wildest conditions, and use it for random tasks that it was never designed to do like cleaning a crag. With this jacket I’ve literally hosed it down, dunked it in the sea, chimneyed up steep rock climbs, forced my way through forests and subject it to snow, rain and hail. It’s held up to it all. To give you an idea my last waterproof lasted 6 months, this one is doing well a year on.

So what could be improved. Personally I still feel there’s room for improvement in the hood design. I spend time on the hill pulling toggles and releasing them again in order to get it to fit so the wind doesn’t blow it off my head and it doesn’t work it’s way too far back. This is particularly true when wearing a helmet. That said the hood is by no means bad and most are much much worse. I’m looking forward to the day a manufacture can make a waterproof hood that fits as well as my Arcteryx Gamma MX Softshell one. Though this is undoubtedly down to the stretch in the material.

Overall I’d give it eight out of ten and would recommend to people looking to purchase a tough do it all jacket for UK conditions and further afield.

Top of Ladhar Beinn Knoydart
Top of Ladhar Beinn Knoydart – wearing my Tupilak II jacket

 

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Climbing Ice on Ben Nevis

Lou first pitch of point five

The last couple of days have been spent climbing ice on Ben Nevis. The forecast for Thursday was, well, mixed to say the least. The met office said 50mph – 100mph winds. MWIS was more optermistic with only 35mph – 50mph predicted. The avalanche risk was considerable (north through east) I was again without Jen as a partner so had been looking for something to do. Luckily for me at least Lou Beetlestone was also without her partner Karl, who’d gone back to North Wales for some work.

Lou, for those that don’t know is a very capable winter climber and top quality outdoor instructor. To add to this she is also a very nice person so it was great to be going onto the Ben with such a competent person. We had decided we’d just be happy to walk in and ‘have a look’ in case it was good. We could always head back down should the weather be more on the worse end of the forecast than the better.

Unbeknown to me it had started snowing quite heavily at this point. I was totally absorbed in the climbing and between all my layers and goggles fogging up it’s surprising what you can miss.

When we reached the CIC hut at the foot of the North Face it was even better than we’d expected. The rain and high freezing level had stripped snow from the rocks but there was still ice in the gulleys and plenty of snow about. In fact you could see where the water had washed over it like tide marks on the beach. To add to this everything was getting more solid and frozen in front of us. We opted for Italian Right Hand route on the west side of Tower Ridge. It was possible to get to the bottom of this without having to expose ourselves to high avalanche risk and two pitches of steep ice would be much nicer than scratching around on dry rock.

Reaching the base of the route involved an exposed traverse and on arriving there we saw a party in front of us just finishing the second pitch (each rope length travelled is referred to as a pitch). Lou was happy to let me have the crux second pitch so she quickly donned the rack and set off. It wasn’t long before I was able to follow. The ice was still solidifying so it was a damp experience. As I arrived at the belay the party in front of us abseiled past, shouting that the route was damp but amazing. Indeed we could see a micro stream running down the first groove and water dripping off the chandelier of icicles above. Feeling a mixture of perturbed and excited I set off as soon as the party in front had gone past. A screw in just after the belay and I was feeling better. I could bridge up the groove in front, avoiding the stream of water, and though sometimes it took a couple of swings the axes were biting nicely into the ice. It wasn’t long before I made it up below a steepening section where you could head left.

Unbeknown to me it had started snowing quite heavily at this point. I was totally absorbed in the climbing and between all my layers and goggles fogging up it’s surprising what you can miss. I moved left into the next groove system that would take us past the steepening. At that point I also moved my goggles off my face as the misting up was getting so bad I found it hard to see the axe and crampon placements I needed to make. Whoosh, a bit of spindrift (collection of loose air blown snow) washes over me. Looking at my feet I avoid the worst of it. A couple more moves and the sound of more tiny particles of snow rushes past, this time it builds. I wait looking down. The pressure of the snow slowly builds up on me. Ten more seconds I think, then I should move to get some of this off me so it doesn’t pluck me from the climb. The seconds pass. I make a blind swing my axe and hear a good placement sink in. I move up and bit then realise water is running down into my arm from my axe. Drat, it must be in a stream. The spin drift passes and I can move again. Quickly I set off up to the belay that’s coming into sight. In situ and with a mallion – fantastic. Pretty soon I’ve attached myself and I try to shout to Lou but no sound utters from my lips however, as I’m having to clench my teeth against the hot-aches spreading through the fingers of my damp hand as it warms. Soon it’s all over almost as quickly as it began. I shout to Lou and before long we’re on our way back down.

Walking down and talking about plans for tomorrow we spot the impressive Hadrian’s Wall Direct looking fat and inviting higher up on the Ben. Back tomorrow for more we decided, assuming Jen was also keen.

jen looking at point five
Jen looks up nervously at Point Five

Jen obviously was obviously keen but slightly nervous about how difficult it would be. These nerves manifested themselves further when at the CIC hut the following day Lou commented “Ollie looks excited but you look terrified”. Between us we decided to head on regardless, after all we could choose another route in the valley if it seemed too difficult once we were at, or nearer, to the bottom. Approaching further I could hear Jen telling herself “it actually doesn’t look that bad” and “I can climb it.” – confidence restored. Unfortunately, as we drew nearer we could also see two teams on the climb and four more people at the bottom of it! Crowds wasn’t something we’d considered. Looking around for another equally historic and uncrowded classic we settled on Point Five.

Point Five is a climb I’d been looking to do for more than a decade. It’s a beautifully slender line of ice that runs straight from the summit of the mountain down the flanks of Observatory Ridge. First climbed over four days and with its first repeat happening during the legendary Smith and Marshall week there’s so much history that can be written about this climb. It starts with three long hard pitches of near vertical ice, then has 240m of still steep snow/ice to the summit. At its narrowest it’s about two meters wide. The climb up this works its way up entertaining grooves and chimney features, as well as the compulsory steep bulges.

Lou first pitch of point five
Lou placing screws on the first pitch of Point Five

Lou set off up the first pitch. Placing screws regularly and outflanking the main steepening on the left. She was soon set up at the belay and gave us the thumbs up. I could hardly contain my excitement. Just waiting long enough that Jen wouldn’t hit me if she fell of on rope stretch. The ice axes were swinging beautifully into the now perfect ice. None of the gushing water from yesterday and not brittle, like ice can be after a sudden freeze. This was the perfect plasticine ice you look for as a climber. A world of first time axe placements and confidence inspiring deeply buried picks.

me second pitch of point five
Setting off up the corner at the start of the second pitch of Point Five – photo Lou Beetlestone

Next it was my turn. My heart was beating deeply – this would be the hardest pure ice pitch I’d been on. It started with a corner, thin ice on the rock wall to the left certainly not deep enough for screws but the ice to the right was deep and bulging. I placed and early screw to protect the belay then committed to the corner. Finding a bridged rest I contemplated placing a screw but opted to continue further on to easier ground. This lasted for a bit, then a second steepening came, this time narrow and chimney like, another screw and I was working my way up this. Inching my feet higher and higher until my axes could reach over onto the easier ground. From there it was just a case of step up, lock my arm, and go again. Before I knew it I was at the belay and it was time to bring Jen and Lou up.

Lou pulls over the bulge on the third pitch of Point Five
Lou pulls over the bulge on the third pitch of Point Five

Lou set off for the final hard pitch with Jen plying me with food – a novel and welcome experience on a winter route belay. Lou again made easy work of the pitch. Disappearing from sight over the final bulge and the ropes becoming tight. We set off. The climbing was again absorbing with the final difficulty before the belay being as hard as anything on the previous two pitches.

From there it got less difficult, but still tiring on the calves as the hard ice was unrelenting. Gear got less reliable as well, with the ice more air-rated, but most rock still buried deeply. We ran long pitches on the 60m ropes we were carrying to get up it as fast as possible aware that it would be nice to be down as far as the bottom of the Red Burn before dark. I lucked out near the top with Lou leading the cornice pitch (luckily this wasn’t too bad as far as cornices go). Pulling over the top was a great feeling. All those years walking past and reading about the history, finally I’d climbed Point Five.

 

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Paddling and Mountaineering

It’s been a busy couple of weeks with the weather in wales alternating between heavy rain, light rain and snow. This has meant paddling and winter mountaineering have become the order of the day.

Conditions on the rivers seem so variable that I can’t believe paddlers can ever plan anything in wales. They were up and down like yoyo’s and lead to a memorable boat chasing expedition when my kayak got away from both me and Dan on a very pushy Lower Llugwy – luckily said kayak was recovered not too much worse the wear and I managed to test out my swimming. In other paddling news we did a trip the the Seiont which is a beautiful river journey into Caernarfon finishing with a view of the castle. This time the initial rapid went smoothly unlike my trouble-sum last attempt.

It’s not all been about the rivers though – amongst the paddling there’s been a bit of time getting out on the hill in the Snow. This included an evenings trip around the nameless coomb in a very dark whiteout – testing nav meant that Hidden Gully stayed hidden and instead we pottered up the back wall of the coomb to play around in the cornice. This was followed by a day on the perfect winter condition Crib Goch with Sid and two clients (one for each of us). Finally a bit of wintery rock with short rope practice on Ordinary Route and Cneifion Arete; Jen being my willing victim.

Thanks to everyone who I’ve been out with over this period – it’s been great fun. I’m looking forward to heading up to Scotland now for some more play in the white stuff.