Thursday, March 1, 2012

Scotland February 2012

Saturday Feb 18th;

On the 18th of February myself and Kevin Ring took to the skies and headed for bonnie Scotland. We flew into Edinburgh and the plan was to head for a night in a bothy near the Grey Corries that night and stay in a snow cave Sunday night before doing some quality climbing the rest of the week that we had at our disposal. Unfortunately the weather forecast was dismal for the week so we changed the plan en-route and decided to go climbing on Sunday instead. The weather during the drive to Fort William was pretty poor with heavy showers of rain and occasionally snow. Rannoch Moor was looking particularly bleak when we could see it. For some reason a traverse of that wilderness in full on winter conditions is something that appeals to me, perhaps another time. Anyway the Pass of Glencoe was completely obscured by the weather so we were denied the view of what for me is one of the spectacular places in the world. Kevin had brought his collection of chill out music so the drive passed in a blissful deluge of Serious Tuneage [thanks to a BBC1 DJ for that one]. We hadn't booked anywhere to stay and I really didn't want to revisit the Bank Street Lodge so we opted for the Glen Nevis youth hostel. We were put into room nine which was huge and almost empty and we had loads of room to spread out our stuff and get organised. It was just as well that we weren't heading for the bothy as by the time we were settled and had our packs organised it was nearly six pm so it would have been a three hour slog through the rain and dark to get there. Anyway we were nice and comfy where we were and a quick trip to town for some supplies for dinner and we went to bed very early.

Sunday Feb 19th;
OK so I will sing a song

Too much coffee?

A bit of a poser.

We rose at 05.30am on the Sunday morning and after a good breakfast we left the hostel at 06.20 and emerged into a fine morning with no wind. We were delighted and we set off at a good pace despite the heavy packs up the path towards the half way lochlan. Any lingering cobwebs soon dissipated and the light frost in the air wasn't enough to prevent a serious outbreak of sweating on the way up. It was great to be out and finally doing something and the day promised much. Rounding the lower reaches of the Carn Dearg buttress and getting the first views of the north face of Ben Nevis is always an awe inspiring sight, this time was no different and on a nice clear morning such as this there is no finer place to be. We soon arrived at the CIC hut but we didn't linger and headed up into Coire Na Ciste. I always feel that it isn't until you reach here that the true majesty of The Ben is revealed. This is just one coum in four but its scale is huge and the variety of climbs that are accessible from here alone is staggering.
Kevin following up.


Looking up pitch two
Our target for today was Green Gully. This is a grade IV *** route 180mtrs long that is supposed to be a classic. There was a good track leading up towards our route and lots of other climbers were out and about. Some were already at the climbs but most were like ourselves just getting there. There was no need to don the crampons yet so we ploughed on until we arrived at the spot from where we would have to traverse across to the base of the route. As we made our way up we could clearly see most of the route and it looked very do-able. The morning was delightful and as the weather forecast for the rest of the week was awful we were very glad we had decided to forgo the snow cave and go climbing instead. Anyway the fun started straight away as the traverse across to the start was in places quite steep and icy but never too delicate. At the bottom of the gully there was a nice little ice pillar that I put a sling around and this was our belay for the first pitch.

Dramatic cliffs and cornices

 There was a party of three ahead of us but they were already started the second pitch so we hoped they would not be a problem. While setting up the belay I got my usual dose of the hot aches but they passed and soon I was off up the first pitch. It was lovely. Never too steep but with occasional bulges there was great satisfaction in the bomber thunk of the axe placements into snow-ice. It was quite straightforward and I didn't bother faffing about looking for gear placements and I ran our the rope until the fixed belay after 45mtrs on the left. I clipped in just as the last of the trio in front left, I guessed we would be a fair bit quicker. Anyway I put Kevin on belay and he too fairly flew up the pitch. We were off. Without much ado Kevin led off the second pitch and unfortunately he had a fairly long wait until the party in front left the fixed belay that was on the right. Still it was reasonably easy ground he had a good stance to wait on. Eventually he was able to clip in and I followed on.

Kevin leading up

The third pitch had the first steep patch but again it was fairly straight forward and I ran out the pitch without any gear. The leader of the group in front was only just setting off on the next pitch as I arrived but I didn't stand on ceremony and I clipped in to the belay that they had set up. The stance was a little awkward so I stood a few feet lower than them and set about setting up our own belay. I found a couple of good nut placements so I was able to bring Kevin up without much delay. We were flying. I have no doubt that if we had the route to ourselves we would probably have been finished by now. This pitch looked looked it was the crux of the route. The climber in front went up and over the initial vertical step and continued on. Soon enough he came to the end of the rope and despite all kinds of shouting no communication was possible. This situation is never fun and so after a bit Kevin led on through in the hope of getting a better idea of what was going on. Before he had gone far the rope of the other party was being consistently pulled and they too set off. After a while my rope too ran to its end so when I felt Kevin give a series of long pulls I dismantled the belay and set off. It is always a relief when the rope is taken in tight and you are then sure you are on belay. I made a bit of a hames of the awkward step and I was glad to finally struggle over it. Not having leashes has its disadvantages. Thereafter the gradient eased and after a long icy pitch I was glad to arrive at the belay which was also the top of the route.

If you are going to climb the Ben this was a good way to do it.

The patch of yellow snow was not caused by me.

 On this day the summit plateau was a very pleasant place to be and being well satisfied with our route we went up to the summit and enjoyed a bite to eat. It was exactly one pm and we had made very good time on the route which would have been considerably better if we hadn't been held up by the party in front. We were both also really comfortable on the route which we felt that we could have soloed most of it. The descent from the Ben always serves to remind one that it is a big hill and we were glad to finally get back to level ground. The one mishap occurred as I descended the snow slope near the Red Burn. I managed to put my left leg into a hole and snapped my knee back like I had done a few months back. I think Kevin got a bit of a fright and was wondering how he could carry me down but it was not as bad as feared and I soon recovered and was able to get down with no problems. One final note, we learned that a climber had been killed on the Ben today. A pair had fallen 300mtrs down Zero Gully a Grade V climb further along the north face. A sobering reminder that our sport can be deadly.

Monday Feb 20th;

After the exhilaration of yesterday we hoped against hope that the weather forecast for the rest of the week was wrong. Such hopes were dashed when we woke to the sound of heavy rain splashing against the skylight of our room. It was warn and windy as well and any meaningful excursion was out of the question. We lazed about all morning and went into Fort William to do a bit of shopping. Fort William is a bit depressing at the best of times. Its soulless high street and dour architecture never inspires but now seeing that a large percentage of shops have closed and the weather being so miserable it seemed especially depressing. We had a look around a couple of gear shops and 'enjoyed' one of the worst cups of coffee imaginable in Cobbs before Kevin decided that he would go to the leisure centre and spend a couple of hours in the gym and I opted to run to the road head in Glen Nevis. At least we had a plan for the afternoon. I dropped Kevin off and went back to the Hostel and changed. I had reckoned that the run was about six miles but like the great George Bush Jnr I misunderestimated the length and it turned out to be almost nine. It was a little tough after the previous days exertions but still satisfying none the less and it is still (even in these conditions) one of the most beautiful places imaginable for a run. The lower falls especially were thunderous with the flood of water in the river.

One aside I forgot to mention was the fact that we had only booked in to the hostel for two nights and our original plan was to stay the remaining five nights with the Mountaineering Ireland meet in Inchree. So we had checked out that morning and passed time as I said in "The Bill". We were both dancing around the issue of moving. I was mindful that Kevin really wanted to meet up with the Irish group and perhaps get some information of conditions etc and also avail of the evening lectures. The problem was where we were was really comfortable and clean. Anyway we drove down and at the reception area/bar we discovered that they had no record of our booking. Still we were assured that even though they were busy there would be no problem and were sent to check out our accommodation. The actual sleeping area was OK with large bunk spaces with curtains. The cooking area was tiny with barely room for the one cooker and a chopping board. After the facilities we had been used to we took one look at one another and there was now no dithering, we were off. Kevin returned to reception to inform them that we had changed our minds but there was no one about so he reclaimed the check in form he had filled out and we made a quick exit. We were very grateful to check in that afternoon to the original hostel and reclaim our spacious beds in the room.

Tuesday Feb 21st;

After the continuous rain of the previous day the only surprise we got on Tuesday morning was that the river across the road from the hostel was still contained within its banks. Yet again it was pissing down and windy. Today we resolved to at least go for a hike and we drove around to the North Face car park and go up as far as the CIC hut to have a look at what things were like. Although it was fairly miserable we enjoyed the exertion. Kevin is bloody fit and therefore bloody fast. Every so often he would put on a spurt of speed and then wait for me. We still brought full packs with all the gear including ropes for the trip and we still took just an hour fifteen to reach the hut. Unsurprisingly there weren't any climbers about. The Ailt a Mhuillan was swollen with rain and snow melt and crossing it didn't appeal so we opted to continue up its left bank on past the Douglas Boulder and the North East Buttress into Coire Leis. When we reached around 850mtrs we about turned and strolled a little dispirited and truly sodden back to the car.

We changed out of our sodden gear and headed into the bright lights again. Over more coffee in Cobbs we decided to check the weather forecast again and if anything it had gotten worse. We were a bit depressed and the prospect of another four days of this didn't appeal so we got on line and checked every possibility of returning home the following day. The airlines really take the piss when it comes to last minute tickets. We could bet nothing for less than 300euro each and Aer Lingus took the biscuit with a fee of 480euro each. We were stuck but at least now we gave up wondering and decided to make the very best of it. Kevin is a great guy that way and nothing seems to get him down for long. Soon he was his usual jovial self and he went to work off his frustrations in the gym. I searched  the whole town for a pair of shorts so I could visit the pool but I only managed to get wet and draw a series of incredulous looks that said I obviously didn't realize that shorts are only sold in summer. Of course when I picked Kevin up I discovered that the leisure centre sold shorts but at £12 it would have meant that my swim would have cost £17 so I passed. Another relaxing evening sipping beer (or whiskey in Kevin's case) and listening to more Serious Tuneage ended another day.

Wednsday Feb 22nd;

We were in for a big surprise this morning, yes it was still raining. In the morning we headed to the Ice Factor in Kinlochleven in the hope of getting some ice climbing done. We should have guessed that it would be busy and it was no surprise to discover that it was fully booked for that day so we booked ourselves in for eleven the following day. Kevin went to the gym again when we returned to town.  In the afternoon went for a run up the track behind the hostel to the spectacular viewpoint of  Dun Deardil. It was a tough run on a constant drag but we didn't rest on our laurels for getting up there and we did a quick about turn and ran at a fast (for me) pace back down the way we came until we arrived at the turning point for the hostel. I was well pleased with my effort as we had been on the move for over an hour at this stage so I'm still trying to figure out why I agreed to Kevin's suggestion to continue on the track. I didn't even have the excuse of not knowing where it went as I knew it went all the way to Poldudh Cottages. This added another five miles to the run and its fair to say that I was knackered on the return leg along the road. One bright moment (literally) was when you know who dropped his shorts as he ran along and I was treated to the sight of his bony white arse. Thankfully a car came towards us and decency was restored. I didn't have the energy to overtake him and return the favour (not that I would of course). So I was mightily relieved to arrive back at the hostel one hour and fifty minutes after we started. I suspect that Kevin, if pushed would knock a ridiculous amount of time off that.

Thursday Feb 23rd;

A climber showing good form



Guess what, it was raining again this morning. Still we didn't mind as we had the ice factor to look forward to. As we were about to leave Kevin realised that he was missing his MP3 player and despite an extensive search it was nowhere to be found. The last place he remembered that he had it was at the gym the previous day so we decided to call there on the way in the hope that it was there. He entered more in hope than expectation but to our great joy it was indeed there and we were able to enjoy more tuneage on the way to Kinlochleven.


Me exiting the cave
Kevin in the cave
Thin overhung and (for me) desperate
We had both been here before and we weren't really expecting great things from it. Still we got ready with all the others and got stuck in straight away. Nearly all the others booked in with us were beginners who were being shown the ropes by a couple of guides on the nursery slopes which left the rest of the routes free for us to play on. It was all going really well except that going leash less with my Quark axes soon left my forearms feeling pumped and I reverted to using Kevin's Aztars for the most of the climbs as I was then able to hang on the leashes much more. To both our delight we found that we were climbing well and enjoying ourselves immensely. We tackled some thin and overhanging routes that were little bother to Kevin but which I was delighted to get up any old how. All too soon the two hours had flown by and we left well satisfied with the whole experience and feeling that after the previous few days off the mountain we had at least got some quality climbing done. We decided to forgo the gourmet delights of the in situ cafe and headed to the Clacaigh Inn and enjoyed a fine lunch. We then passed a relaxing evening in the hostel. The weather was to improve on the following day and we resolved to go back up the Ben and scout about to see if there was anything left that was climbable.

Friday Feb 24th;

We got up at 7am and enjoyed our usual breakfast of porridge and toast and we were leaving the north face car park at 08.10. The backpack felt heavy this morning but the weather was quite good and the cloud was high on the cliffs. There were some rain showers about but we managed to avoid them and the only brief one to come near us fell as snow near the CIC hut. Despite trying to slow Kevin down we still managed to reach the hut in 75minutes. There were many like ourselves about today, all looking for somewhere to climb. We had been looking at the guidebook and we had decided to head up again to Coire na Ciste and look at No 4 gully buttress, Central Gully III and Central Gully right hand IV were supposed to give good sport and it was supposed to be possible to abseil down above the first pitch and climb the other one. The routes, though short were high and we were hopeful that they would be in condition. The snow had retreated all the way up to the corrie but when we entered the corrie we were once again in a winter wonderland.
Get back,, you too fast

Still ice about

Looking up No 4 Gully

Once again took all the gear for a ride




Kevin making short work of the cornice
 Crampons were once again necessary as all the soft snow had been washed away and what remained was solid and icy. Traversing under Trident Buttress there was much evidence of avalanches and some stone fall had occurred. Progress was rapid and as we rounded the corner and headed up towards the gully we could see that quite a lot of ice had survived. Across the corrie Green Gully still looked complete. We scoured the buttress to our right but there didn't appear to be any obvious lines left to climb. There was some short fat looking spots above and to the right but as we neared them we could see the water running down behind it and a clear separation from the rock had occurred. This decided us as we had no intention of being on a slab of ice when it decided to separate from the rock and fall so we opted to continue up the gully. We were a little disappointed that we wouldn't be getting any serious climbing done but it was still great to be here in this winter wonderland in decent weather. The cornice was quite solid and easy and we were soon on our way back down towards the halfway lochlan and then across the boggy ground to the hydro scheme on Ailt a Mhuillan and then to the car.
Steall Waterfall




Exciting wire bridge
Still having a bit of energy left and I suppose not wanting the holiday to end just yet I decided to drive to the road head in Glen Nevis and go for a walk in as far as Steall waterfall. The walk through the gorge is always lovely and the first views of the waterfall never fails to inspire. I sauntered in and crossed the exciting wire bridge and relaxed and reflected on the trip. I was a little melancholy and regretful that it was coming to an end but still happy I had come and at least we had done some good climbing. I have no doubt that the quality of climbing we would have done had the weather been kinder would have been first class. A good reason to head off together somewhere again I think. So ended the climbing and all in all while we were disappointed with the weather we felt we had made the most of our lot. An interesting conversation over some drinks with a pair of Belgians finished off the day nicely.

The view towards the Grey Corries
Saturday Feb 25th;

Yet again the rain had returned but it didn't matter. Our flight home wasn't until 1pm so we had a leisurely breakfast and an uneventful return journey. I for one look forward to the next opportunity that I get to climb with the master of serious tuneage and fine climber that is Mr Kevin Ring.