Thursday, 18 September 2014

Serious fun on classic rock (and earth and vegetation)

It was the Freak's idea, Murko phoned to check I was up for it and being in need of a little adventure I said yes.
The Chasm "One of the most enjoyable gully climbs in Scotland and highly recommended. The length and modest grade should not be underestimated". Which explains why we didn't opt for an early start and I had a second breakfast of bacon roll at Murko's.
Lovely day

"Why are you hiding in the back of a gully in this lovely weather?" Jane's question was logical but the lure of a return to the Chasm overcame any logic. The last time I went in there I was left clinging to a couple of tufts of grass soloing low on the route as a ledge peeled off the crag and fell into the gully below :-(
The walk in is short and soon we were soloing up the first few small obstacles in the gully bed and then on the fern covered walls, rainbows formed by water splattering over chockstones.
Here we go!
Then it got a little more serious, the Freak putting his money where his mouth is and leading up the first steep crack to outflank a chockstone the size of a large camper van.
The first 'proper' pitch for us

More similar fun ensued, the Red Slab pitch a particular lowlight- wet loose and with a verdant coating of moss. Murko untied and sunbathed whilst I watched The Freak at work.
Contemplating the next pitch
Red Slab

When it was my turn I unleashed my secret weapon, an old thick pair of wool socks over my shoes- old school!
Going old school- my secret weapons!
Murko traverses off of the Red Slab

At the fork we crossed a huge pile of debris swept down by the winter snows, unfortunately much of it still covered the rock (which turned out to be not much more solid).
Tiptoeing past the debris covered shattered rock

Still the Freak's block of leads and as we seconded carefully I had a moment of deja vu. Slow motion slithering as the ledge of gravelly mud I was standing on began to slither downwards. Murko behind me stepped aside as I escalatored down until looking him eye to eye. And stopped.
The freak leading and standing on the ledge that collapsed with me on it

Sniggers. Lucky the big perched block above us didn't come down with me. Murko back heeled it in passing an it crashed to the bed of the Chasm scaring the Freak on belay above.
Sniggering and surviving

Pitch follows pitch, some steeper some not.
More climbing and even some solid gear

The steeper 100ft Pitch

More sniggering and bantering up to the Converging Walls. I take a shower on belay in the back of the cavern refreshing in the heat of the afternoon. Murko leans across and climbs the polished holds out of the dampness and onto a small ledge. One side overhangs and both look like they have been sanded by aeons of water and debris from above. Murko is climbing well bridging at his limit.
But an air weight only brass micro and much prodding with a nut key to produce a poor cam placement are followed by more impressive, grunting contortions as he seeks a way off of the ledge.

The high point

Even more impressive is his grumbling retreat bringing the gear with him (the micro fell out under his glare). The Freak has had a call from his wife ill on Skye. Its late afternoon. Peering into the rock amphitheatre  above its a long way to go. Murko has launched himself upwards in an outflanking manoeuvre and is holding on, standing on and gearing on a detached flake looking grimly determined to pretend it is solid. I glance at my watch and ask the question? Man points to be gained, work to be prepared for, last orders of coffee and cake at the cafe. A route to come back for… maybe… the rat fed starter and mains, but maybe not dessert...
In the mean time the banter, gossip, excuses and recriminations continue through the laughter and cake back to Fort William!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014


I got a copy of the American Alpine Journal through the post today (subtitled 'The world's most significant climbs'). We've page long piece in it on our Qara Jeelga mini epic last year (read it on the AAJ Website here).
What a publication it is. That there is so much amazing exploratory climbing of all levels of difficulty going on today all around the world is pretty awesome and that you can read about most of it in one journal is fantastic. This year's stuff on the Cordillera and Monte Sarmiento makes me dream of 2 trips I did to Tierra Del Fuego 15 years ago…
Fortunately I've got something exciting panned for next year!
If you are feeling jaded at all or want some ideas just get a copy.
 Global climbing porn
 Make my feet itchy
Our little trip

An old and bold slab climb

Stretcher Lower the gear is half way up
Sometimes work and family combine to mean that It feels like a while since I've had the pleasure of a little cragging with a mate. Rich and I went to Scimitar buttress at Polldubh today. The 2 VS's and the VDiff here are probably less often climbed than any other roadside routes of the grade there and are much steeper than most climbs at my local crag. On the walk up to them I mentioned the obvious slab on the crag just before you reach the main buttress and on our way down (not having a guidebook with us) we went for a look.
It looked straightforwards enough but not long on gear, a little overlap at mid height offering the best opportunity. We found a belay at the bottom and I launched up from a good cam placement excavated near where I left a Smidgey Rich in the buggy bracken.
Its a nice rough slab of schist and lower down there are a couple of horizontal crack lines offering reassuring holds. Standing on one of these I wiggled in what Rich described as 'convincing' gear under the overlap (a small brass offset and a walnut 2) before proceeding. Moss and lichen seem to grow on the same small scallops I wanted for my feet and nearby there was only one more horizontal feature before the top. Stopping I tarried in a dalliance with an inconstant crack. I looked with my head cocked at Rich's smallest cam now decidedly unconvincing. 'It might pop out under its own weight' I said and as I turned back to the rock it it did.
Onwards then. The whole slab is only 20m of climbing but the top 10 rear up a little with have no gear just increasing moss and dusty crusty lichens. I pushed the thoughts of 'what if it gets harder' to the back of my mind and concentrated on holds and moving as smoothly as my creaky knees allow. Almost topping out and I ask Rich for a little encouragement 'Say something nice Rich!'
'…..Ummm…. your bum looks good from here….' half heard over my final breath to easier ground
'You what?!'
Rich has a strange way of psyching his partner up.

No belay but a good rolling edge on Scimitar Ridge. He topped out to my raised eyebrows 'VS4a?'
'I was thinking HVS4a!' he comes back with.
We reckoned it easy but 'interesting' the climbers codeword for 'you will be scared'.

Highland Outcrops mentions Stretcher Lower VS4c 1969 on that slab. Standards have obviously increased- if only in terms of rock shoes- but they must have been more used to climbing without any gear!
Here's Rich climbing it at x2 speed

Friday, 12 September 2014

Last day of the MIA Assessment

Today was the final day for the MIA Assessment candidates and I was examining their ability to coach navigation at Summer Mountain Leader standard. Another hot sweaty day on the hill for Glenmore Lodge!
Take a look at the MCofS E Active for August 2014 pp 28-31 for some pictures of me at work in Glen Nevis with the Stirling Spiders- some great future climbers.
Sam spots something midway through one of his legs
Unfortunately it was dead
 Cairngorm walkers


Day 4 of the Glenmore Lodge MIA Assessment and today I was watching Caroline and Andy being taken along the stunning ridge line of Liathach. It was hot, sunny and sociable and the guys were treated to a full traverse on the crest of all the pinnacles.
Late blog post tonight as we were held up on the way home for a few hours near Achansheen whilst the road was cleared after a fatal crash :-(

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Cummingston climbers (MIA Assessment)

Back out on the MIA Assessment for Glenmore Lodge again today. The candidates chose to take their teams to Cummingston and with some strong and experienced students there was lots of lead climbing happening. The weather was fine, the temperatures perfect what a great day to see some new climbers taking their first steps on the sharp end. Even the harbour porpoises came out to watch!
Looks like the perfect day for some sunny mountaineering tomorrow :-)

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A bonus day's mountaineering for me

So today I was supposed to be in the office doing fairly mundane paperwork at Glenmore Lodge but owing to a sudden staffing change I found myself packing a bag to go out as part of a large group from Ellis Brighams/North Face stores. Today our group was getting an intro to mountaineering and we took them up the Twin Ribs and the Fiacaill Ridge before carrying on in fine weather to the summit of Cairngorm. It was good to have some chat on the gear they were using and what North Face have planned for the future too. Much better than paperwork!