Spring 2012 was absolutely stunning. People flooded to the North West Highlands to experience some of the driest rock for 20 years, classic routes that are hardly ever in condition were springing up on everyone’s blogs as were reports of Skye Ridge traverses under clear skies and minimal rainfall. What was I doing – I was working, like a dog!
Typical that this year as May approached and the promise of the whole month off its still snowing in the mountains and dry mountain rock is still very much in the distance. I have managed a few days at the climbing wall all of which have confirmed my apparent lack of stamina and being as weak as ever. A few sessions on though and ive managed to get up a few V4′s although routing at anything over 6a takes its toll on my weak arms and fingers.
Lovely weather at Dunkeld
Davie and I had a leisurely day at Polney Crag near Dunkeld. We wandered along the crag ticking off the classic VS, 5a routes and attempting Twilight which I failed on miserably. Polney is now a crag where the routes I haven’t done are all too hard for me just now but a glorious day to be out nonetheless. Friday we went up to Kirriemuir and clipped a few bolts doing laps on routes upto 6b for a bit of stamina training. We packed belay jackets and gloves thinking the predicted 8 degrees would be a bit nippy but on walking into the Quarry 3 teams were climbing in shorts with shirts off! Unbelievable as it was we were in a proper heat wave – it felt like summer at last!!
Ive been home from work a week and although I wanted to get straight into some descent rock routes the weather has been appalling I did manage a day at Cambusbarren Quarry on Tuesday working a route I have wanted to lead for some time but so far I cannot link all the moves from bottom to top, another day may solve this though. Good to see plenty of other people at the crag on the more popular routes too, hopefully it will stay dry enough to get the route led before heading back to work in June.
After pulling my calf twice in the last 4 weeks it was great to get out in the hills today and put some miles under the feet again. Its amazing how much fitness can be lost though as I started to struggle toward the end, calves and thighs burning!
I have been on the hunt for a synthetic vest for some time, the problem being I wanted one with a hood that would fit over a helmet. Enter Peter Hutchinson Designs (PHD), who agreed to incorporate the hood from their Sigma Jacket into their Sigma Vest.
Being a lightweight freak I wanted to use the vest as a synthetic insulation layer whilst Scottish winter climbing. The vest was going to replace my ‘heavy’ 550g synthetic jacket, the idea being it would just be enough to keep the cold at bay whilst hanging around on swift belays. I have always felt that just being warm enough whilst keeping weight to a minimum is a good compromise for a super light pack. The jacket packs down to the size of a grapefruit and comes with its own stuffsack.
Yesterday John and I walked into Meagaidh to climb Staghorn Gully (III). Dave decided to join us as we had a last minute change of plans so it was a sociable outing in what felt like a heat wave! We made short work of the lower section by moving together as it was very well stepped with easy short sections of grade II which landed us at the foot of the main pitches. There was only one other team on the route, which surprised me after all the good weather we have been experiencing and another just round the corner on South Pipe (who reported it running with water and being very soggy). Knowing that John was keen to start racking up the grade III’s whilst getting plenty of crampon time it suited us perfectly. it was a lovely, still day on the hill although a little too warm meaning most of the routes were dripping/pouring, im sure we wont loose them but another cold snap should bring them back into pristine condition.
Today John and I decided to get on the Aonach Eagach as it was on Johns ‘list’ in preparation for his attempt of Island Peak later this year. The route itself was in good condition, not full-on winter as the sun over the last week had stripped Southern aspects although as expected there was plenty of helpful snow and ice along the way. It was nice to get out with John and hear about his Personal Training qualifications and particularly the nutrition side of mountaineering/fell running, take a look at his site HERE for more information. A nice day out and about with great company and my first winter traverse for a couple of years.
With no partner and keen to make the most of a day I thought I would have a look around the Northern Corries to see what was about after the weekend thaw. I made swift progress into Coire an t’Sneachda thanks to the path now being well frozen from the recent drop in temperature. With visibility down to about 30 meters I had to get quite close to the crags to make out what was looking good or black and to be honest none of the lower rocky mixed routes looked appealing but the classic entry level gully’s were in top shape. I dug around at the base of Patey’s, The Runnel, Spiral Gully, Red Gully and the Goat Track where I found the snow to be excellent before heading up onto the Plateau and wandering over to the lip of Hell’s Lum. Although the skies were super bright it was pretty much a white out accompanied by a strong head wind which made going tough although I noted the wind doing a great job of riming up any exposed rocks.
Believe it or not Fluted Buttress is behind me…
Lower grade Gully’s in top condition today
Top of Western Rib and Fingers Ridge riming up in the wind
After heading back to the Goat Track I bumped into Ken and his clients who were heading for Hells Lum and possibly Deep Cut Chimney which im sure given the aspect would have been whiter than most routes in t’Sneachda. I had hoped to get up and down a load of classic routes today but with the visibility being so poor it was impossible to see if there were cornices or where other climbing parties were on the routes (Ive never been keen on soloing past or amongst others). To get a look at what conditions were like on a route I walked round to climb Red Gully (FAT with ice) which I have done many times before but unfortunately there was a party of 4 waiting to start so instead I plodded up Goat Track Gully II which was full of lovely ice and frozen turf (near the top). From here I traversed across into the top part of Red Gully where it was clear that the top of Fingers and Western Rib were getting nicely rimed up by the wind. I expect routes such as Pygmy Ridge would also have been a good option. On a whole if your wanting to bag loads of Gully’s then there’s plenty to go at whilst the snow pack is nice and firm…..