Sunday, 31 March 2013

31.3.13 - Stob Ban, North Ridge

Today again I was out working for Lochaber Guides for the second day of Tony and Mia's adventures into Scottish mountains!  After a great day on the Ben yesterday, and keen for something a bit more challenging, we opted for the North Ridge of Stob Ban in Glen Nevis.  The North Ridge of Stob Ban is a great little route which in my opinion is very under appreciated.  It offers some great introductory terrain and situations without ever been too serious, sustained or difficult.  Tony and Mia confidently took the ridge in their stride, enjoying both the challenge and the stunning views of Glen Nevis and the Mamores.  We soon found ourselves on the summit at 999m, Big well done to Tony and Mia on a great day out, well done!

Mia and Tony starting the ridge

Looking Cool! 

On the summit of Stob Ban

Saturday, 30 March 2013

30.3.13 - Ben Nevis via the mountain path

Today I was working for Lochaber Guides, guiding Tony and Mia on the mountain path.  Let me just say that the weather today was absolutely fantastic and sunglasses were worn throughout! Setting off from the Ben Nevis Inn, we had a very enjoyable stroll up to the Red Burn path junction, where we geared up with axes and crampons.  Making our way up the zig zags, we opted to leave the beaten track and left at the corner of zig zag 6/7 we headed directly up to the top marker of No4 Gully where Tony and Mia enjoyed spectacular views of the north face and across to Carn Mor Dearg and the Aonach's.  From there we headed to the summit and then after a brief stop for some food and water, we descended the Red Burn all the way back to the half way point, ditched the crampons and had a leisurely descent down the mountain path back to the car park.  Big well done to Tony and Mia on their day!

Mia and Tony shortly after starting out

Tony and Mia on the summit of Ben Nevis 1344m

the view over to the North Ridge of Stob Ban

The Red Burn

Friday, 29 March 2013

28.3.13 - Dorsal Arete II,3 with Andy and Amanda

Yesterday I headed up the hurt lochan for a wee solo on Dorsal Arete as the weather was good and I didnt wanna waste a good day.  Knowing that my friends Andy and Amanda were heading for Dorsal Arete II,3 , I caught up with them just below the plateau and once on the route solo'd up in front of them to provide Andy, who'd never taken a novice out in winter before with the odd bit of advice and to point out the belays/protection options.  After Andy and Amanda made short work of the route, we headed to the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan and then back down Broad Gully.  A very productive day for all involved, well done guys!

Andy looking confident on P1

setting up the initial belay 

Andy brings Amanda up to a good stance below the crux

Andy making short work of the crux fin on Dorsal Arete II,3

Amanda's turn to tackle the fin!

Job Done!

26.03.13 - Vanishing Gully V,5

On Tuesday, I set off up the allt a mhuilinn from the car park at Torlundy along with Dave and Andy.  The goal for today was to climb Vanishing Gully V,5.  Making good time to the hut, we were treated to a cup of tea in the CIC hut.  I had never been inside the CIC hut so this was all very new to me and I found it quite inspiring as I sat with Dave and Andy at Raeburns original table, drinking tea and pondering what ambitious plans had been drawn up upon it over the years and by who.  After our tea we geared up and headed to the base of our intended route.  Vanishing Gully V,5 consists of 2 pitches, Dave lead off on the first pitch, an increasingly steepening icy chute that narrows into a gully where he set up a belay with some use of insitu pegs and tat directly below the crux of the route.  The second pitch starts abruptly with a very steep (vertical) water ice crux which I definitely remember feeling it in my arms as I got continuously bombarded by multiple spindrift avalanches, turning my face into a frozen white facemask which resulted in instant brain freeze and zero visibility.  After the crux, easier ground above and some good insitu gear on the right wall leads to a final icy steepening before a good block belay at the top of the 1934 route.  We used this insitu belay to abseil back down the 1934 route down and to the left to another abseil station directly above a V shaped groove, one more abseil got us back to the base of the 1934 route, from which we walked off.  A great day!
Vanishing Gully V,5

Dave on the approach

Andy making his way to the base of the route

Dave Anderson, high on the first pitch

Smiles from Andy!

The Ben Today, Smiling down upon us

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Comb and Gardyloo Gully - 13/3/13

On Wednesday, Dave and I headed back to the familiar ground of the Ben to get Comb Gully IV,4 and Gardyloo Gully II/III done.  After gearing up at the hut and an awkward moment when we realised that our intended route was also that of another team (who were fresh out the hut at 0900) we set off on a direct approach to the base of Comb Gully, making our way up through the Gultch, passing under Garadh Gully and straight up to the base of the route.  We did wonder when and if we were going to bump into the other team who had left the hut area 10mins before us, we wondered this right up until about the base of the comb where we seen them gearing up.  We continued to solo up to the narrows where we got a good belay in a vertical crack on the left and Dave had already started off on the first pitch by the time the other two reached the first belay.  They were not happy campers.  Comb Gully itself was very pleasant, never too steep and the steeper sections were relatively short lived.  After we topped out, we had a quick bite to eat at the top of Tower Ridge before down climbing Tower Gully I and traversing across to gain Gardyloo Gully.  Gardyloo had been on the ticklist for quite some time and I can honestly say it is the strangest route I have ever climbed, due to the very narrow ice tunnel!  What a great day!

Dave traversing to Gardyloo 

Getting to used to these top outs! 

Dave below the Comb

Myself enjoying the view. Photo Dave Anderson

Me on the traverse from Tower gully to Gardyloo Gully.  Photo Dave Anderson

the entry to the Cholkstone

Very surreal vertical ice tunnel 

seconding the first pitch of Comb Gully

Monday, 11 March 2013

The Pumpkin, V,4 - Creag Meagaidh 11.03.13

Just for a change today, Dave and I decided to head over to Creag Meagaidh.  We knew the day would be a cold one due to weather forecasts and this was soon seconded as the thermometer in the car read -6oC at the Creag Meagaidh car park, very befitting for a 'Cold Climb' we thought.  Today was without a doubt the coldest day out so far this season.  We chose The Pumpkin (V,4) as the route of choice and geared up and headed to the base of the climb.  The climb itself was very stepped out and a total hook-fest, but a very interesting and worthwhile route.  P1 lead us up a steep water ice pitch (Crux), P2 continued up slightly easier angled water ice, finishing up a snow field to a good rock belay on the left, below an interesting ice bulge, P3 continued up a turfy groove on the right and to easier ground above, just below the cornice, after a very quick and very short 5th pitch, we found ourselves on the summit plateau.  after a quick decent back down in to the coire via the Window, we headed back to the car, a long walk out that didnt take too long!  Another great day in the mountains!

Pumpkin V,4

Enjoying my Banana Soreen loaf after leading P2

Dave about to head off on P4

Unknown team topping out on Cinderella II 

Dave on the descent 

smiling as usual! 

Creag Meagaidh summit plateau 

Saturday, 9 March 2013

09.03.13 - Ben Nevis by the Moutain Path

Today I was working for Lochaber Guides, guiding Agata and John, two Norweigans enjoying all Scotland had to offer on holiday, on the mountain path from the Ben Nevis Inn.  After a quick kit check and explanation of the route we were taking, we set off.  Conditions throughout the day were fairly good with the odd bit of wind, that was until we had cleared the top of the zig zags and then the force of the wind nearly blew us off our feet, with strong gusts blowing the odd bit of stingy spin drift in our faces and periodically obscuring visibility to less than 20m.  The wind was so severe that Agata even had to wave good bye to her glove!  After some compass work, given the low visibility, we made our way to the summit and after a brief rest from the wind, descended via the red burn.  A great day out for Agata and John, bagging the top in challenging conditions, Well Done Guys!

John and Agata about to start off!
Half way at the Red Burn!

Agata and John proud at the summit!

Summit trig point today

John and Agata descending the Red Burn

Dave and Jamie, also descending Red Burn

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

06.03.13 - Tower Scoop III and Tower Gully I

Today Peter and I set off up the Ben to see how Peter fared on some grade III ice.  We chose Tower Scoop as the route is in my opinion, perfect for an introduction to ice.  The route itself is a fair trek up Observatory gully and although only 65m in length, has some great situations without ever getting too steep.  The route is (or can be) split into 2 pitches.  At the first belay (at the foot of the first pitch), I used an insitu bulldog/piton and equalised it with a good wired nut before heading up the first pitch which was about 20m to reach a good rock belay on the right.  The second pitch starts off up an easy angled snow slope and gradually eases in to a steepening ice groove before topping out on the snow slopes of Tower Gully.  Peter had fared very well on his first ice route, climbing it in good fashion and enjoying the challenge. Once we had topped out, the weather was crapping out a bit and it was quite windy with a lot of spindrift being blown around, so we opted to continue up Tower Gully,I and descended via No4 Gully which is almost a perfectly formed snow staircase.  A very big well done to Peter on his first ever ice route!

Peter enjoying Tower Scoop III

Head down looking for foot placements!

Peter topping out of Tower Gully I

Peter and I just before descending No4 Gully

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Zero Gully V,4 - Excising My Demons 04.03.13

Zero Gully V,4 on the North Face of Ben Nevis has long had a reputation as a very serious and dangerous place to be, its history is littered with epics, accidents and fatalities.  As described in Scottish climbers bible, 'Cold Climbs' (compiled by Ken Wilson, Dave Alcock and John Barry)

" The winter ascent is a serious expedition and should only be attempted by parties experienced in advanced snow and ice techniques.  The lower section of the gully presents sustained high angle ice climbing with minimal natural protection and exposure to spin-drift avalanches in wind"

This climb, and the thought of attempting it has always haunted me, even more so as of the 19th February 2012, when a friend and I were climbing on Good Friday Climb on Indicator Wall and were horrified to hear the scream of a climber echoing round the North Face as he fell to his death whilst climbing in Zero Gully.  Since then, this climb had cemented itself in my mind as a very serious and consequential endeavor.  I take no shame in admitting that when my climbing partner, Dave Anderson and I were considering an attempt on this route, that it took me a few days to get my head in the right place and to try and excise my demons.

The day of the climb started at the North Face car park in Torlundy at around 0600hrs, from there we drove to the top car park and started the walk up to the CIC hut where we geared up initially  leaving the crampons off until the bottom of Observatory Gully.  On our approach to Zero, we could see a guided team already making the first few moves on Orion Direct and two french teams heading into Point Five Gully.  After a bit of a slog we found ourselves at the start of the first pitch and after the usual first belay faff, Dave started up the first pitch, which was a very pleasant but ever steepening ice chute, and got a good belay off a spike at the top of the pitch before the traverse.  After seconding the first pitch and feeling happy with the ice (shit for screws but good for axes), I left the belay and made my way across a very delicate traverse over a rocky rib to reach the gully proper.  Once in the gully another 30m of sustained steep ice lead to a good Stake and nut belay in a snow bay.  Once Dave had seconded the pitch, we both breathed a collective sigh of relief, knowing that the main difficulties had now been climbed and were behind us.  We were however still very aware that most accidents in Zero had occurred whilst parties were moving together on this easier grade II ground and with this in mind, as tedious as it was we opted to pitch the remainder of the route which we did in good time and soon found ourselves on the summit, another classic V in the bag!

So how do I feel about Zero Gully now that I've climbed it?  The first 2 pitches of the route were as steep,enjoyable and challenging as any other route I have ever climbed and deserve the 3 star rating. However, the lack of good belays and protection make for a very serious 'don't fall' approach for both leader and second and merits the grade V.  Would I climb it again?  ask me later.

Zero Gully (center) and Point Five Gully (right)

Zero Gully V,4

Dave leads off up the first pitch on an ever steepening ice chute

The view looking down P1, the tiny blue dot at the end of the rope is me!

A very delicate traverse on thin ice as I start P2 

Sustained steep ice nearing the top of P2

Smiles all round as Dave seconds the last of the difficulties on P2

Leading off on easier, but serious ground up Zero Gully

Looking back down Zero, with Dave,dwarfed by the scale of the climb

Dave just before topping out