Touching Base

neil On April - 29 - 2011Comments Off

Ive not been to good at keeping up to date with the blog! We have had one trip up to the Cairngorms that I haven’t spoke of, it was over a month ago that we last headed up there, we did the normal 5am start and kept our time table as usual arriving in Aviemore at approx 7am. We had not best of journeys as the snow had fallen heavily during the night, when we got to Aviemore there was approx 5 inches lying on the ground. We headed up to the car park of Cairngorms but we were halted at the snow gate, we were told that the road was closed and they were trying to clear it, but they were unsure if they would be opening the centre.

Apparently the wind during the night had been gusting over 100kmph, and still was very strong, by the time the blower got to the top the road had filled in behind it.
We waited until 9.00am, and then made the decision to drive down to Kinlochleven and book in for a two hour session at the “Ice factor” indoor ice climbing wall.
We had no luck that day as the road from Aviemore to Fort William was blocked with a stuck lorry, we had to back track approx 10 miles, before tracking a old single track road through the back country. Again that didn’t work that well as we came across about 10 young guys standing around a people carrier nose first in the fence. They had been traveling in two cars and the second one was blocking the road. So we got the winch out and dragged them out, drove up over the bank to get in front of them and left them to it. (we met them later that day back in Aviemore, they were on a stag party).

We got to the Ice factor and did our 2hour stint, had some lunch and then headed the long journey back home, it was a long day! So the winter season is finished, we’ve been into the indoor climbing wall a couple of times, but really we are just training in the gym, for me twice a day 4-5 times a week. Montblanc is booked for the end of July, so until then we will be back on the cliffs and in the Gym.

Check out the new photos from our recent weekend expedition to the Cairngorms, some really tough climbing but great practice!
Training, Cairngorms, January 2011

Lost in the fog

neil On February - 4 - 2011Comments Off

Another 4.30.AM start for me. Our intentions were the same as last time to be in the car park at the Cairngorms for the same time as last time. 7.30AM we arrived at the car park it was very foggy and very cold, the wind was blowing hard and it was snowing pretty hard. There were two other guys there who were slightly in front of us with regards to having there gear ready. We chatted to them at the weather info point briefly and they headed out before us.

Now in Hindsight it might of been better for us to have asked where they were intending going, as we have only been up there without a guide on one other two day trip. Never the less we headed out following there footprints that were becoming more difficult to track the further up the hill we went due to the heavy falling snow. Now, we were very unaware that the past three days had seen very mild temperatures causing the hills to lose a large proportion of its snow. Although the conditions were now good the hills looked very different from what we had seen before and remember it was still pitch black!

Two hours later we had completely lost sight of the tracks that we were following and although it was no longer dark the visibility was very poor with the fog and driving snow. We could just make out that there were hills to the left and the right, but we weren’t convinced that we were in the right place.

Now I know what you are thinking, get your map and compass map out and find out where you are, well you see the compass and map were in the Tesco car park in Keith in Radeks glove box, and me well I’ve not got round to buying a map yet and my compass was in the house. It’s fair to say we were lost and feeling a bit stupid. We kept walking on hoping that we might catch a glimpse of something we might recognise, but we didn’t. Then out of the mist came two climbers, I shouted to the “are you heading for the Sneachda” to which one of them said “no this is Lairig Ghru you’re lost mate”.

He then asked me to take out my map and he would show me where I was. I could see by the look on his face that he wasn’t impressed when I told him we had no map, he then asked if we had a compass, my i phone had one and as I took it from my pocket I prayed that we had service, which we did and so he sent us off in the correct direction basically about 2 miles back in the same direction as we came only bearing right. (I bought a map as soon as we got back down off the hill the next day).

We arrived at our camp site late and continued to set up the tent and sort out our gear, we had learned a lesson last time by messing about and not getting to the face quick enough so this time we were super fast and although we were later than we wanted to be, we hadn’t any choice. I had already made my mind up before leaving Kintore what I intended doing. We were going back to 28a in the guide book called “Direct Start” a grade IV, 4**, It has a 25mtr vertical ice wall right in the middle of the climb, this is the route that we had to walk away from last time cus of the poor conditions.

The weather was very cold and the wind was blowing towards the face and the snow was still falling heavy, this made the conditions good for climbing as the ice was well formed but it made hanging around on belay points very cold. I wanted to lead the ice pitch and Radek was happy for me to do so, I placed one ice screw about two meters from the bottom and one at the crux, I felt very strong and confident on the ice, It was great! We continued up the face, wasn’t to technical so to save hassle I continued to lead except for the last pitch. We topped out at approx 2.00PM and headed for the GoatsTrail, the wind and snow was wild at the top, we stopped and put on our goggles as the snow was stinging our eyes but they froze up in minutes and we had to take them off again.

We made it back to camp and started to build a shelter for cooking in. Our tent had been pitched on what must have been a large pond that had dried up leaving a large flat area. We used the sections of ice around the large rocks, the ice had receded back from the rocks making them easy to break off in big bits, and this made a great wind break and cooking area. Again we were the only people camping on the hill and there would be no star watching tonight as the visibility was still poor. We cooked and ate our dinner and were both in our sleeping bags by 5.30PM, we studied the guide book and put the light out at 6.00PM.

The wind buffeted the tent and the snow kept falling for as long as I can remember, but believe it or not we did not waken till 8.00AM, I don’t know about Radek but I cant remember the last time that I slept for that length of time!

We were met with a completely clear sky, not a cloud to be seen anywhere, and no wind. We decided to only make tea and eat a cold breakfast so that we could get to the face quick. We headed in from the tent fully harnessed and geared up; we were miles ahead of everyone else! Straight to the base of Pateys Route a grade IV,5** 120mtrs up a obvious wide chimney-line, it has two tricky parts in it, the first one steps out ward and you can either go to the left, right or over the front and that’s the line that I took. Up and over climbing on all the to a belay point just below the next tricky bit. The next pitch was the most difficult, you had to climb to the left on a narrow slab of rock about 10” wide sloping down towards you at approx 45 deg, the fresh snow hadn’t adhered to the rock so it was very slippery. Then facing the rock reach up with your left axe as high as you can and leaning to your right, hook the tip of the axe over the rock, then reach as far to the right and make purchase with the ice. The stretch is easily over 2mtrs, the rock face that you are looking at is completely smooth and vertical, the slope that you are standing on has no grip and to make things worse I would say that if you didn’t make purchase first time on the ice you would have a fair chance of taking a fall.

I made purchase first go! You then have to make the move with your left axe across to where your right is, once you have done this its easy climbing! Radek is a far better climber than me on the rock and he is probable one of the most knowledgeable people about ropes and hard wear that there is on the go, but he said himself that he has no confidence in his axes yet and that is why I lead nearly all the pitches this trip. I on the other hand have trust in them, this may also come with spending 15 years of my life erecting steel with my father and never using harnesses!

We headed down the Goats Trail and back to the tent, packed everything up and headed down the hill to the Land Rover, down to Aviemore (bought a map) had some late lunch and headed home.

All round a great trip, I’ve stepped up my training to twice a day five days a week and I’m feeling very strong on the hill.
I’ll get the photos from this trip on ASAP.

We are going back in March!!!!

Goretex! Of coarse it’s waterproof!

neil On January - 5 - 2011Comments Off

As I said, our intention was to be in the car park in the Cairngorms for just after 7.00 AM, which we managed “just”. We packed our food into our rotund bags and headed for the mountains. My pack weighed just over 25KG, I’m used to carrying 40KG for my training so I thought “just a walk in the park” yeah a park filled with a consistent slope with half frozen snow that you kept falling through!

We made it up to the first of the rocks and found a spot to pitch the tent. The snow wasn’t great, it was quite mild and the pegs kept popping out, however we got the tent up, albeit it was on a slope. Then we geared up and headed in to the foot of the route we intended to climb. Unfortunately we had messed about for so long getting the tent up that we missed the boat for most of the routes. Our preferred choice was a Scottish grade lV/5 with a tricky 25MTR iced water fall half way up the face, but there were 5 climbing pairs queuing at the base of the water fall so we checked the guide book an came up with two other options, neither were what we wanted to do, the grades were quite low and they both had queues at them. We made our choice and stuck with it.

The problem was the weather, it was way to mild (just as the forecast had said) and the snow and ice was melting, every time you placed an axe it was like sticking a knife through the crust of baked mash potatoes, your axe just ripped clean out. We slowly climbed up the face, waiting our turn patiently for the belay spots, the climbing wasn’t too difficult, only thing was that placement of hardware was nearly non existent, I climbed one pitch about 40 MTRS without placing 1 piece of hardware.

About 3.15PM we ended up stuck in a chimney for about an hour getting soaked with the water running off the ice above us, we topped out at just after 4.20PM, sorted out our packs and headed down the “Goats track”. The wind was quite strong and icy cold, our clothes soon froze up, making each step that bit harder. Wet clothes wouldn’t normally bother me, except we weren’t going down the hill to a nice warm bath, dinner and bed. We were going back to a boil in the bag stew and a tent with broken central heating, “mmmmm lovely”.

The sky cleared as we ate our stew and the temperature plummeted, we sat around Radeks little gas stove looking at the stars and listening to the ice falling down the faces, the Corrie is about a mile across and you can hear a person walking through the snow at the other end, its amazing!

We were in our sleeping bags by 7.00 PM and slept on and off through the night, to be woken by our alarm clock at 7.00AM, We cooked our breakfast, geared up and headed in to the base of our climb, we had a free choice of anything we wanted, only thing was the air had turned very mid during the night, we had expected to wake to frozen sleeping bags and inside of the tent, except everything was soaked.

We now began to wander if the reason that we had a free choice was down to the weather as apposed to our early arrival, cus to be quite honest we weren’t that early! We climbed to the base of the waterfall to carry out an inspection of the ice, it looked very poor, I’m by no means an expert on ice climbing, but when the waters running down the inside as well as the outside I’d say we might be risking it a bit with our ice screws!

Radek made a suggestion that he would climb around the waterfall up the gully and see if he could set a belay above, drop the rope, and I could then have a go on the waterfall with the security of a top rope, 30mins later he arrived back to where I was standing, no belay point above, no placement for hardware and hardly no purchase with the axes.

Radek had to climb back down cus he had left his rucksack to make the climb easier on himself. So we snared up all the hardware, short roped to each other and headed up the gully, right to the top without placing 1 piece of hardware, packed everything into our rucksacks and headed down the “Goats trail” to the tent.

At the tent we had a bite to eat and then packed up the tent and headed down the long track back to the Landover. This trip was by no means an epic like “the Ben” in the summer, but it was time on the mountain and we need lots of that, lets face it spending one night in the Cairngorms is no match for three months in the Himalayas!

We’re going back in January.

To the mountains and beyond!

neil On December - 28 - 2010Comments Off

We leave tomorrow at 4.30pm, heading for the Coire an t-Sneachda in the Cairngorms. We will head north to the town of Keith and then head for Granton on Spey, we could cross via Dufftown, because we will have the Landrover, but it ain’t no Ferrari for overtaking all the Dod & Buntys on their ‘Crimbo’ drives.

Our plan is to get to the car park ASAP do the 1.5 hour walk in, establish a base camp and pitch our tent. Then depending on the weather we will bag one of the less difficult multiple pitch routes before it gets dark. This will be the first time that Radek and I have climbed a mixed route without the aid of a guide. However we are both competent rock climbers and Im sure we won’t fall off!

Mixed climbing differs from rock climbing by having to use ice axes in your hands and crampons on your feet to get purchase on the face. Because we will be cilmbing traditionally, we will be setting and removing all our own protection on the way up. This is one of the major differences compared to our summer climbing as the cams that we normally use don’t work to well in the frozen rock, they have a tendency to slip out (not good!).

We will also be placing for the first time ice screws. They can be quite tricky to place as you have to hang from one hand while you screw the ice screw in with your other hand. Sounds easy eh! Try this with pumped forearms hanging on to one axe hoping you’ve made a good placement on the ice whilst below you is 800 vertical feet of snow, ice and rock.

Once we have bagged our first climb we will find a good gully to down climb and then head back to the tent (hopefully in the daylight!). Then we’ll cook a lovely 3 course meal, well kind of (boil in the bag stew with dough balls) mmmmm! Then it’s into the tent for a shower and off to the thermostaticly controlled bedroom for a good nights sleep, well that’s what it says in the brochure anyway!

Then up early next morning to bag another climb, then back to the camp pack up and head home.
I’ll let you know how we got on when we get back.


Winter is here!

neil On November - 16 - 2010Comments Off

Yes that’s right the Cairngorms were declared open last weekend “yippee!”
Next chance I get I’ll be heading into town to purchase a new set of ice axes and ice screws, then we will set a date for our first two day trip (the first of many). It’s important for us to get as much time in the mountains as possible, it’s all good for us to push out bodies to the limit in the gym, but as the best mountaineers in the world say “the best place to train for mountaineering is in the mountains”.
By the way if anyone knows of any amateur film maker that would be willing to come up to the Cairngorms and do a bit of filming, no climbing involved just a bit of hiking through the snow. Give me a shout.