Saturday, 31 March 2012

31st March 2012 - First Mountain Route of the Season

The North Peak. North Rib is just right of Great Gully, the obvious gash right of centre
Anna ascending Pitch 2, her first time using twin ropes

The view from the belay stance, Pitch 2

Anna summitting the final pitch, North Rib completed

Just time for a quick pose with some stunning scenery

Looking west towards crowds at the Cobbler summit and down to the Clyde

South East towards Ben Lomond and Arrochar. The Campsies and Ochills in the distance
 Today me and Anna were heading down to Lenzie to celebrate Grahams engagement to Anne, and on the way down decided to make the most of the lovely weather, before it disappears! We opted to stop off at Arrochar and climb a classic route on the Cobbler called North Rib. It is only a VDiff but was ideal for introducing Anna to bigger, more exposed climbs which we will no doubt be trying to do alot more of this year! The guide book gives it one star, which given the good rock and fine situations of pitch two, is well deserved.

After a reasonably early get away from the Fort, we made good time down Loch Lomondside and looked massively over-packed with all our gear compared to the masses of people heading up with shorts and t-shirts and tiny little back packs. We were a little jealous of their lack of weight and equipment! The walk in was not anywhere near as long and sluggish as we had feared and we actually made really good time, even overtaking some of the other groups heading up. It took just less than two hours to reach the bottom of our route, which was not very easy to find initially, as the guide book description is rubbish and the diagram could have been drawn by a three year old! None the less we got ourselves sorted out and racked up for the first lead, which looked a bit of an initial haul up the shallow groove in walking boots!

The gear was good (regardless of what others may say) and above the groove it unfortunately became a grass fest for 15 metres until a rocky corner provides an excellent belay and some nice views. Anna came up second, slowly at first while she negotiated the awkward groove, and we sorted out the ropes on her arrival ready for me to take the next lead. At this point I opted to change into rock shoes as the route above looked much nicer. An awkward step up to a block, and round left on an interesting traverse brought the best of the climbing: up a well protected and fairly easy rib with superb views into Great Gully and out down Loch Long towards Dunoon and the Ailsa Craig far in the distance. I couldn't help but stop and enjoy this superb vista, in warm sunshine, in March! The climbing was nice enough not to worry to much about placing regular gear, but my heart did miss a beat when I wrapped my fingers round what felt like a cracking hold, only for it to come away in my hand!! Panic over, I found a stunning belay spot on a large grassy ledge and a bomber boulder for an anchor. Again, the views were breathtaking and we were glad at the decision not to go cragging as the plan had initially been. Anna came up next, smoothly climbing and removing gear as she came, thrilled at the belay spot I had chosen. 

The final pitch was reasonably short, maybe 15 metres, and started with interest around a jumble of rocks, and ended on the summit of the rib, beside the top of the North Peak, and another excellent anchor was devised using two threaded slings. Realistically I could have led pitches 2 and 3 as one pitch, but the guide book is very vague on the actual route to take, and its length so better safe than sorry. Plus pitch 2's anchor position was worth the extra time required, and it ensured that Anna did not feel too cut off from me.

We skipped to the North Peak summit, took some pics and jogged back down in good time to the car, objective completed. Off to Cumbernauld to see family before going to the Engagement Party and a cracking night out (she said yes, of course!!!). Looking forward to our next venture out, but with a turn in the weather due, who knows if it will be a winter or summer route...

Sunday, 25 March 2012

25th March 2012 - Teaching to Lead

Placing a nut in a good crack
A bomber bit of gear
Anna on the lead, placing passive protection
Looking out over Glen Nevis, stunning
Today Anna and I opted to enjoy the wamest March day since 1988 (apparently) with a jaunt into Glen Nevis to go over some lead climbing techniques and anchor building with Anna at Poll Dubh in order to increase her confidence and get leading more routes this year. We went on up to Upper Pinnacle Buttress where we could comfortably, and safely, go over placing gear and considerations when building an anchor before Anna got the rope involved and got set up properly. Once she was happy, and had ironed out any issues, she dropped a rope down so that I could climb up, allowing her to refresh her belaying techniques, and see the anchor in action.

We had a spot of lunch, enjoying the heat and finding it difficult to motivate ourselves to do anything else! Just as we did motivate ourselves, Mike and his family came by, and we let them skip on the route ahead of us (giving us some more 'nap-time'!!!). Once they had finished (the kids making the climb look like a trip down to Morrisons..) Anna skipped on and led confidently up the crack line, placing solid gear and setting up a bomber anchor before bringing me up. At the top we discussed her gear placements and the 'head game' involved in leading, before setting up a quick abseil to retrieve a bit of gear (yup, it was that good!) and to give her a wee shot of abseiling as we may be doing quite a bit of this in the coming months...

All in all a productive day in glorious sunshine, rounded off with a stroll by the Nevis where the water was invitingly cool! Hopefully Anna will lead a route or two this week in the good weather, giving her the confidence to start pushing the grade and seconding up harder routes. Physically and technically she has no issues what so ever...

The Gutter on Pine Wall follows the obvious crack line up two pitches to the obvious Pine tree, then beyond it.

As a wee post script, a few days after we had practiced the above, Anna comfortably led the Gutter in Poll Dubh one evening after work. This was her first multi-pitch and she led all three pitches comfortably. Her gear placements were solid and her anchors were bomber, even finishing in half light! So well done Anna! Her only let down of the night was leaving her jacket at the foot of the crag with the house keys in it....unamused is not the word I would use to describe my thoughts on this subject...

Saturday, 24 March 2012

24th March 2012 - A Recovering Walk by Arisaig

On the way to Arisaig
Entering the Bay
Anna on the beach
Turqoise waters!
Feet up!
Anna scrambling about
Leaving :(
So my original plans for this weekend just passed were dashed by a mysterious illness that struck late on Thursday night. Bed-ridden from the nose down on Friday left me feeling pretty depressed, especially with Scotlands micro-Summer conditions we are experiencing just now! Feeling a tad better on Saturday, Anna and I headed for the coast to soak in the rays by Arisaig, and go for a gentle but lengthy walk. A few years back while I was working at Castle Toward a group of instructors and managers had sea kayaked from Glen Uig out to the Arisaig peninsula, setting up camp at a trully picturesque little bay with excellent camping areas, rock for scrambling on and a true sense of isolation and solitude. Since moving up to Fort William I have been keen to take anna out there but weather and other commitments have always stood in the way, but we thought it would be an ideal venture while I was feeling a little out of sorts! It was a pleasant 15km round trip, along a road mostly (sadly) but it ends maybe a mile or so before the coast and luckily no one in a car seems to venture out that far, so we had the area to ourselves and had a right good explore, with me pointing out memorable spots and incidents, while reflecting on days gone by and memories shared with others now spread far across the UK.

We enjoyed a spot of lunch and took some photos, before heading back to Arisaig and on to Mallaig for some Fish and Chips from the Tea Garden (delicious and worth every penny!). It was a delightful day and just what I needed to perk me up a bit :)

Monday, 12 March 2012

12th March 2012 - A visit to Creag Dubh

Graham making early moves on Inbred (HVS 5a***)
The view from my belay on pitch 2 of Inbred
Graham moving up pitch 2. It was an excellent, interesting route well worthy of its 3 star status
Graham approaching the crux roof of King Bee Direct (HVS 5a**)
Placing protective runners before the tricky move to gain the belay ledge
Graham upon reaching my perch after pitch 2 and 3 (crux) of King Bee Direct
Graham dropping over the edge approachinh space on the final descent
Looking justifiably happy after pitch 1 of Inbred, a Haston classic
The view from the belay ledge on pitch 1, Inbred. Pumped and cold, it took me a while to take the next lead!
So today Graham and I headed east to look for some dry rock. I cant believe that this time last week I was on my Winter ML assessment, and now I'm doing my first rock climbs of the season, its pretty mental! But best to start as we intend to go on, so it was a trip to Creag Dubh that was in order, a crag that neither of us has ventured to before - and it delivered the goods!

We decided to get straight on something with a bit of kick, so G led the first pitch of Inbred (HVS 5a***) which was steep and sustained, but on good positive holds. He belayed on a decent ledge, and as I seconded up my hands were so cold and pumped I couldn't feel anything. A great start to the season for G, he will be leading to a great standard by the time the season ends! I then led the second pitch over easier ground, with some decent gear if a little run out. Positive holds and a lack of over-polished rock made this route an immediate favourite, and after a lovely abseil back to ground level we were keen to grab a bite to eat and hit the rock again.

Although the rock was generally dry, there were some irritating areas of wet which disturbed some lines which may have taken our fancy, so we opted for the classic King Bee Direct (HVS 5a**). Again G took the first lead (which gives this VS classic its HVS grade) and after some deliberation made easy work of the overhanging crux to a solid belay above. I moved up after, impressed at his lead, and then took over to attempt the 'original' crux at VS 5a. The line was lovely, with alot of interest, a good mixture of holds and body positions and just the right amount of exposure for someone just getting into multi pitch VS+ climbing. In some guides this long pitch is split in two, but I led through both as one. Having made short work of the well protected crux, I scaled the shallow arete to the exposed but comfortable belay and brought G up. He then led through up the final pitch, which started with interest and ended like a scene from the Lost World: grassy, slippy and overgrown. We rigged up an abseil rope, and nicked down to our original hanging belay before heading on down the looong Great Wall to the ground and packing up.

A superb start to the season, my intention being to be climbing comfortably at VS 4c multipitch by the end of the year seems much more achievable. Cheers to Graham for coming out and as always, having a right blast!

Check out some pics of the handsome man at the other end of the rope at Grahams blog! :)

Sunday, 11 March 2012

5th-9th March 2012 - Winter Mountain Leader Assessment

Sean and Julie in our snow hotel, getting kit ready

The view from our snow hole entrance. You can't really beat it

Looking into the snow hole with our new lintel and the safety rope

The view from my bed. The door was almost blocked with spin drift in the morning

Half way through developing our snow hole entrance
So last week I was up at Glenmore Lodge on my Winter ML Assessment, which I have been working towards for the previous 3 years since my training in 2009. My hard work and perseverence has all paid off, as I passed first time :) Below is a wee look at each days proceedings, and how I felt on this demanding emotional rollercoaster...

Day 1 - Teaching Approaches, Crampon and axe use, Self-Arrest and Navigation.

We met with the Course Director, Phil Sanderson and our other assessor, Heather Morning and submitted our log books and First Aid certificates before heading out to catch the bus up to the Ciste car park. Here we were set in to two teams (4 and 3) and went looking for snow! I was in a team with Sean and Julie, and we were being assessed by Heather. I took the first nav leg, on which my timing was slightly out but given the absolute adrenaline rush you get when you first start such an assessment, I wasnt too far out! Julie then took the next leg round into Coire Laogh Mor where we found some hard neve to play on. At this point Sean took over, and was asked to lead a group over this terrain and then up the slope without crampons. He cut some efficient steps and showed some superb group management skills. Half way up the neve patch Heather wanted to look at different methods of travelling with such underfoot conditions, and we looked at slash steps, step cutting, master blaster steps and pigeon holes.

I then led us up to the 1028m point where we had a spot of lunch before moving round to the east facing slopes of Cnap Coire na Spreidhe (1151m) to look at coaching techniques and personal application of crampons, ice axes, self-belay and self arrest. Needless to say it was a bit sore throwing yourself down bullet hard neve, so I had borrowed some rather fashionable waterproofs from the Lodge stores to protect my own kit. We performed self arrests on our front, back, upside down, out of control, and with packs on and off. My only little problem was keeping my head down, but I overcame this soon enough. We then looked at teaching self-belay techniques and its progression through to self arrests, before navigating off the hill and back the the Cas car park for some debriefs. No problems today apart from breaking my watch (during self-arrests!), I gave it my best and recieved some excellent feedback.

Day 2 - Security on Steep Ground and Navigation

Day two saw us heading into Coire an Lochain to look at security on steep ground, rope work techniques and confidence roping. We each took a nav leg in, and kept stopping to 'teach' our peers about the mountain environment and areas of interest. Upon reaching the snow pack I made my first and only real school boy error of the day - pass me the dunce hat would you? Having been given my scenario (unconfident client on steep ground, too steep for confidence roping) I strolled straight on up and started preparing (what I thought) was an excellent snow bollard anchor, and a nice deep bucket seat (alot of hard work in the conditions!). I then brought up Heather on the rope, lowered her down, handled a few falls and pendulum swings, answered some questions about the anchor, its construction and uses and then got faced with the biggie: where are your crampons??! Like an idiot, and again surging with adrenaline, I had sauntered up without necessary precautions. Furious at myself, I continued with the day, building a buried axe belay, another snow bollard which I lowered someone off and then abseiled off, then a snow pit to analise the snow pack. We finished with some confidence roping scenarios down the Twin Burn area to the lochans at the coire basin, before naving out and back to the bus. Another strong day apart from that one silly blunder, but it meant that I was going into the expedition phase feeling quite confident. Only my nav could go wrong...

Day 3 & 4 - Expedition skills, Navigation and Snow Holing

The dreaded exped has arrived. This time our assessor is Phil, and if anything was going to let me down I worried it would be my nav. We headed into Coire an t-Sneachda and up the Goat Track navigating as we went. From Coire Domhain we navigated around the plateaux in very high winds and varying visibility. Goggled up, we came across some fresh wind slab build up and negotiated it safely, choosing good tactics to get from place to place avoiding suspect slopes and hazards. We snow holed at the Zero's, above Loch Etchachan. Luckily we only had to tidy up and develop some in-situ holes which had been dug the previous week. We blocked up one entrance, and excavated the other so that cold air would sink out of it. We also put up a new lintel and built a cooking platform inside. By the time we had finished we had a cracking little snow hole for the three of us, see the pics above!

We didn't do any night nav on the first night, and managed to get some rest and sleep before the next day began. Again, conditions were poor with loads of spindrift, very high winds and the threat of rising temperatures as the day progressed. We navigated around the plateaux to increasingly more difficult points. The other guys in the team did really well, and looked confident and comfortable in the harsh environment. I'm sure we all made a few silly mistakes, but regardless we all thought we had failed out right!!! On returning to the snow hole it was clear that the thaw had set in, everything was stripped black and the snow hole had developed an in-built shower (not as bad as the other lads hole though!). Phil decided we would nav out at night, so we made dinner and packed up, nerves stretched at the thought of night nav in deteriorating conditions. However, we managed to do fine for each of our legs until we got onto the Goat Track,. The wind was gusting 120mph on Cairngorm summit that night I heard, and on the precarious slopes going down into Sneachda I got blown off my feet and thought I would meet my end! But only busted my knee and wrist, and made it safely down to the bottom. The way the wind caught the big exped packs was scary at the best of times, but we had survived and got back to the Lodge at about 11:30pm, meaning we would have both a good nights sleep, but also a long waiting game the next day...and long it was!

Day 5 - Nerves, Cold Sweats, The Long Wait and Results

6am. Wide awake. Thoughts form in my cloudy, tired head. Where am I? Oh yeah, I'm on the nervous side of the table on my WML assessment. Sean is up now too, we start disecting each leg we did over the past two days, analysing, critisising, peading for confirmation that we had nailed each one. Nerves increase over breakfast. We are all there, eyeing each other, comparing ourselves, wondering who has cut the mustard and who has fallen short, if any. Half ten, we think it will soon be over, Phil comes in as agreed and tells us its gonna be a 3 hour wait till results are given. I need a shower, the cold sweats too much. One minute I'm fine, the next I'm shaking. We laugh, we joke, we jibe and reminisc over what has undeniably been an excellent week. The banter top notch, like minded folk and yet such a wealth of different back grounds and ambitions. Great people who have showed support to each other through out the week, who made the week what it was, and people I would certainly like to meet up with and share adventures with in the future.

Half one, the time has come. John heads in first, but comes out deferred. The nerves step up a gear, t-shirt soaked, hands clammy. Have faith boy, you know your stuff and you did well out there. But what about that nav leg? Was I in the ball park or was I out? You were fine lad, relax. No. big Paul goes in, its a pass, well deserved, the guy is a legend and was so strong all week. Matts turn, only a year since training and a self critical mind like my own. He has passed, good man! Julie to go. She has decided her self arrest and nav would get her a deferral, and unfortunately she is right, but she isn't phased, one day required on nav and thats it. My turn. My mind is in 5th gear, heart pounding, nav legs and images scanning through my head. To the Ryvoan room, theres Phil in the door way. He offers me a seat, I sit down as he slaps my log book in front of me. Congratulations Craig, it was a very strong pass, no problems in any aspect...' he could be telling me I am a complete moron, good for nothing and he regrets ever clapping eyes on me, but I cant hear him. All I can hear is 'you've passed'. Theres the green sticker, job is trully a good one! My sigh of relief was as strong as the rogue gust which nearly blew me off the Goat Track, but this one welcome, hard earned and relieved.

Well done to Sean and James also, who both comfortably passed and genuinely earned it. Well done to us all for the effort we put in. I for one am glad it's over, now I can focus my attention elsewhere, towards my MIA training in a year or two...after a bit of a rest of course...:)