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!!!!

21 hours awake, 15 on the moutain, 10 on the face! The North Face of Ben Nevis, half a kilometer of vertical rock face hidden from the sun by it’s own presence, leaving a damp mossy surface in most of the foot and hand holds.

The “long climb” as it’s called in the handbook, is well named and it doesn’t help when you lose your way on the last 3rd, adding an extra 50 mtrs to the root! That’s what happens when neither of you have ever been on the face and your only guide is a photocopy of a page out of the guide book folded into your hip pocket.

Radek lead the first pitch, our ropes were 50 mtrs long, we were climbing with what you call half ropes, two of them, thinner than standard ropes but safer than a single, but heavier to drag up. The second climber has to carry the rucksack with all the gear that you need, like jackets, gloves, walking in shoes and food etc. I’ve never climbed more than one pitch before, so I’ve never climbed with a laden pack on my back, it’s far more difficult than I had anticipated, climbing is about technique, balance and keeping your body as close to the wall as possible.

Climbing with the pack on changes everything you have learned about climbing! The footing felt very greasy and with little places to set our hardwear (hardwear is equipment that you place into cracks in the rock or hook over rocks, there called freinds, nuts or slings, your life depends on these!) If there are few areas to set the hardwear the climb can be very frightening, sometimes having to travel more than 15 mtrs before you find anywhere good to place one, if you slip with that much slack then it’s 30 mtrs you fall on the face (your both toast!) you know I spent 15 years erecting steel, walking on beams only 100mm wide hundreds of feet in the air, I never felt vulnerable, I always knew that if I slipped I could grab on to the beam I was walking on, up there there is nothing to grab onto, only a vast rock face of nothingness.

Pitch after pitch we climbed on, each one becoming more difficult as we went on, by the time we reached the 6th pitch we had been on the face for more than 5 and a half hours, the tecnical difficulty of the rock became hard for me, I new that I was climbing at my limit, we also new that we had lost our way on the face, heading in to ungraded routes, there was no way I could let Radek know how vunerable I felt, each time I lead, I could hear my heart pounding in my chest, fighting for each purchase on the face, jamming my fingers onto every tiny crack, grinding my feet against the slippery surface, sometimes wiping the soles of my shoe on my trousers to try and dry them.
The thing is that you are so committed you can’t go down nor is it easier to go sideways, you can’t just give up and say “ok time out, I want to go home now!” You have to go up!

Two hours later I had set the 8th pitch on a small mossy ledge about 18 inches by 18 inches, I stood with my back to the wall with three freinds in a small crack, the only crack that there was to fix anything into! When Radek arrived we had to swap the gear, he took the hardwear off me and I took the pack, only I couldn’t get it on to my back, not standing where I was anyway! Radek set the next pitch and shouted for me to climb, I couldn’t get the pack on, if I did it would surely push me out off balance.

The pack had now become the most hated part of my climb, it felt like the Devil was hanging from my back, trying to pull me off at every single chance it had!

I clipped it to my harness and tried to climb to a better spot that I could get the stupid thing back on my back! At the base of the 10th pitch I felt spooked, it seemed to be going on for ever, I was now mentally and physically fighting the fear, I had taken my phone out to briefly try and take a photo, catching a glimpse of Linzie and the kids on my screen saver, now I’m wandering what the hell I’m doing nearly half a Kilometer up a vertical slab risking everything that I have by placing myself in such a vulnerable situation!

At the top of the 11th pitch we reached the first Plato, this was the first time that I felt safe, the first time that I could actually have a joke with Radek, the fear dissolved and my confidence returned.

We short roped the last 3 extra pitches that we had created as the climbing became less demanding, on to our prize.
Over ten hours on the face, fifteen mins to the summit, a few photos and a mouthfull of red wine then a down climb down gully number 4 and hike back to the LandRover followed by a 3 and a half hour drive home.

Nothing was going to stop my from going Home!!!!