Wednesday, 28 November 2012

28th November 2012 - An Epic Day on Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis

Approaching our target as the day breaks

NE Buttress, Observatory Ridge and Tower Ridge

Davie Scott, Kev Shields, Dave Anderson and Craig McDonald. Not smiling for long.

Approaching East Gully

Ascending to the Douglas Gap

The Gully taking us onto the Ridge proper

Try and spot Kev and Dave amid the jumbled rocks below the Little Tower

Preparing for what turned out to be one of the trickier ascents under the conditions

Dave and Kev negotiate the Eastern Traverse, while Davie looks on

Davie makes light work of the massively banked out Eastern Traverse
The Cave, filling nicely. Its more like swimming uphill through porridge than climbing!

The light fails as we reach Tower Gap. Dave crosses and makes tentative progress

Finally darkness consumes us, and the headtorches come out

Cold, tired, relieved and thrilled at the top. It's a long walk back down though....

On the tourist track in pitch darkness. A very different place to the summer track so many people know...
A few months ago, Davie Scott and I had a chat about our personal tick lists for this winter season. The past two seasons I have consumed my time preparing for my Winter ML Assessment, and now that this is done and dusted I am keen to do more winter climbing again!! The outcome of the conversation was that my absolute top-of-the-list target was Tower Ridge. Coming in at a cool IV, 3 *** I didnt have particularly high hopes of getting on it personally.

Fast forward to Tuesday afternoon, and Davie and I are again discussing what we want to get on with this good weather, and he mentions that him and a few others are going to attempt Tower Ridge the following day, and invites me along. After considering for all of 20 seconds, it was on. Needless to say, I was pretty nervous and certainly didnt want to hold the other guys up, but certainly didn't want to miss this opportunity!

And so it was that at 6 am on a freezing November morning, I met up with Davie, Kev Shields and Dave Anderson and headed on up towards the North Face. Under the cover of darkness we made quick progress, morale was high and the banter was flowing. We came across a few others hoping to make good ascents in the fine weather, and day was beginning to break as we reached the CIC hut. We didn't hang around long, but got moving up towards East Gully on the approach to the Douglas Gap. We harnessed and helmetted up, and after inspecting the snow pack on a few occasions we made quick progress up into the Gap. Dave and Davie made nice solo ascents of the chimney, and I got 3/4 of the way up before losing my cool and getting a rope dropped down - better safe than dead, but annoyingly as the rope popped into view I discovered an excellent foothold I completely and utterly missed! Kev came up quickly behind, and we were all content to be on the ridge proper!

We moved on over easy ground with poor, deep snow until we reached the Little Tower, where Dave and Davie again put up some excellent leads directly up the Tower, with Kev and I following on. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to lead this pitch, although in hindsight the gear was excellent when it was found. Again we were able to make quick progress after this tricky section, overcoming easier obstacles and enjoying the absolutely stunning panoramic views all around.

Finally we reached the base of the Great Tower, where we had to face the first of two traditional cruxes - the Eastern Traverse. It was seriously banked out, and the snow was falling away under our feet. Every step was a lottery. Dave and Davie laced the line with good gear, and the next thing we knew we were swimming up through the Cave, with barely inches to spare as we squeezed through the other side! From here Dave put up a stunning lead onto the top of the Tower just as the light was fading. I don't think any of us really realised just how arduous the ridge had been under the given conditions, but we pressed on into the darkness regardless and negotiated the second crux - Tower Gap. Climbing tentatively along this metre wide ridge, dropping your weight onto snow covered ledges with only some tat for support is certainly not for the faint hearted. Leaning across the gap and trying to climb up the other side seemed almost ludicrous at the time: but we did it. The screams and yells of exasperation from another team on NE Buttress certainly didn't boost confidence though! It was headtorch central as we moved up the final slopes and steps to the exit chimney, the only part of the whole day which provided secure feeling axe placements. And then that was it, we were on the summit, elated. Cold, wet, tired but elated. We shook hands, smiles all round as we snapped a few finishing photos and grabbed a quick bite to eat before making our way swiftly to the tourist track and back to the car park over the bog. It was here that I stuffed my expensive gloves down my jacket - the last time I ever saw them :( When I unclasped my waist belt they must have dropped out - I jogged up early the next morning to find them but they were gone! Absolutely gutted! Best gloves I ever had, and now the theme of many a good joke!

So there we have it. My first winter route of the 12/13 season was on top of my tick list. It was in horrific condition, with no frozen turf, soft sugary snow, no consolidation whatsoever and not a drop of ice to aid our ascent. But it was done. So can I therefore rest on my laurels, glad to have achieved my number one target? Can I buggery - the next outting is already in the pipe line!!!

Thanks lads for a trully memorable ascent - certainly my most challenging to date and one that will take a long time to forget!

Monday, 26 November 2012

26th November 2012 - A weekend on Skye

The Cuillin from Elgol

Bla Bhienn - on the tick list!

Looking up towards Marsco

Excellent conditions today

Garbh Bhienn

The entrance to the Spar caves - tidal!

Calcium Carbonate deposits on the ground

Some amazing architecture on the walls of the cave

Someone has been here before!

Anna with some ectoplasm!

This evening Anna and I returned from a lovely weekend on the Isle of Skye. We had went up on Saturday, and had a lazy day meeting up with some friends, Beth and Matt, who live on the island. On Sunday, Anna, Beth and I went for a leisurely stroll up Marsco, a little gem of a mountain that nestles slightly east of the Black Cuillin, and a little north west of Bla Bheinn. The approach is rather boggy but very straight forward under foot, up Coire nam Bruadaran and onto the bealach seperating Marsco from its rather tougher neighbour, Garbh Bhienn. Upon reaching this bealach, the ascent North East is interesting, and you can incorporate some easy scrambling to make the slog rather mote interesting. At only 736 metres it is not a long days walk, and wont break your back, but it is full of interest, and as you gain height, the views towards its mightier neighbours are simply breathtaking. The small ridge before you reach the summit is surprisingly narrow and somewhat exposed, with steep, endless drops on either side, and with the slippy snow underfoot care was necessary.

The summit views are spectacular. We enjoyed glimpses of Alligin and Liathach to the north, the entire Cuillin ridge to the east, Garbh Bhienn and Bla Bhienn to the south west and Rhum's summits to the south. The wind was cold and persistent, and a flurry of snow greeted our arrival at the top, so we sought shelter and had a quick bite to eat before backtracking and finding a suitable route back down to Coire nam Bruadaran, and, after a further trudge through the boggy terrain which Skye is famous for, the car. All in all we had a great day - the weather was exceptionally fair, visibility was excellent and the craic was top notch too. It was great to catch up with Beth and get a bit of local knowledge whilst on the hill. The route only took 4 leisurely hours too, so well worth it if you dont have a whole day to get out and about but want to taste a slice of what Skye has to offer!

Today (Monday), Anna and I opted for a more leisurely 'tourist' approach and went or a visit to the Spar Caves which are down near Elgol. Matt had kept us updated as to the low and high tide times, which is important as the caves access is dependent on the height of the tide - if you get trapped, its either a very dodgy climb up and out, or a 12 hour wait...

The caves are evidently formed in limestone, and are trully amazing inside. You climb up and into the cave from a narrow sea cove. Once inside, you will need a head torch to help guide you deeper and higher into the cave recess. Underfoot is thousands of years worth of calcium carbonate which has been deposited from rainwater seeping through the limestone above. It is almost like ice in appearance, but is incredibly grippy. Our tour ended with a short, steep downclimb to a deep impassable pool. Next time we come to visit, I'll definately be bringing a wet suit and having an explore further into the cave to see whats going on further in....As we left, we were treated to one of natures wee spectacles - a sea otter hunting in the cove, catching a fish and coming ashore 10 metres from where we stood. It spent ten minutes eating its lunch and washing it down with some seaweed and saltwater, before heading on out to catch itself some seconds! Incredible little creatures and always a pleasure to see them in the wild!

After this we headed home, stopping of at the Cluanie for our own lovely meal surrounded by some stunning snow capped mountains. Off next weekend so maybe if the weather is alright we could pop up for some winter fun!