Alex, Hugh and Charlie traveled all the way from London for a quick hit on Ben Nevis yesterday. We climbed Ledge Route which was soft and well stepped out before traversing over the summit and sliding all the way down Coire Leis practicing ice axe braking on route. The Ben is loosing snow fast unfortunately, but there are still a few good climbs in condition. The guys had just a couple of hours to spare this morning before jetting off back south. We utilised the time in the Ice Factor which is a great way to get some mileage on steep ice. I was working for West Coast Mountain Guides.
I have been working for West Coast Mountain Guides over the last three days, two of which were spent with Palvi who has done a reasonable amount of overseas water-ice climbing but just a handful of Scottish routes back in 2010. On Monday we took a steady walk upto Stob Coire nan Lochan and climbed the three star Dorsal Arete which was great fun as always. Palvi enjoyed the route but like many others thought the fin was a sting in the tail!
Tuesday dawned with tired limbs and irritated injuries so I took Palvi down to the Ice Factor where we had a day of coaching on ice and rock all washed down with plenty of tea and coffee whilst the arms recovered.
Today Tim and I needed a sheltered East facing route that we could escape the high winds quickly if we needed to. We climbed East Ridge of North Top Stob Ban which although wasnt frozen did provide a good route at the right level for Tim that was also sheltered all morning. We battened down the hatches before reaching the top then scurried down the North Ridge braced against some ferocious gusts, we even dropped to our knees at times to avoid being blown over completely! Well done Tim.
What a day to be in the Highlands! Matteo had flown over from Italy to climb some steep ice on Ben Nevis but as the classic routes aren’t quite there yet the big ridges are brilliant. A few teams already established on NE Buttress and a few more heading that way meant Tower Ridge was going to be the ticket. The route is in brilliant condition and thanks to the teams ahead of us there was a nice trail up to the Great Tower, following which we managed to bypass the jam and get into the gap before the front runners. Thanks to the team who casually allowed us over first, there’s a picture of you below! More strong climbers at the CIC hut today, hopefully objectives were sent…….
After an unexpected week off I am now back to work for a while. To kick start it off I was working for Abacus Mountain Guides with David who I took up Tower Scoop and Good Friday Climb last spring. In stark contrast to last years Alpine feel the walk into the CIC Hut was windy and wet, more like Scottish winter I suppose? We made our way over to SW Ridge of Douglas Boulder which is a great route at the grade. David who has done allot on ice in the past hasn’t done much on snowed up rock so it was great to see him climb it in good style and get used to moving around on edges and ledges.
Quite a few teams about, Steve and Rab climbed Cutlass, Graeme and Ross climbed the direct start to SW Ridge then went back for the main pitch of Jacknife. A couple of other teams on SW Ridge too which created a traffic jam that in turn made me start rushing resulting in me pinging off a hold. I landed on my feet in soft snow a few feet bellow unscathed but very annoyed with myself. It boiled away in my mind for the rest of the day but lesson learnt.
The good weather just keeps on coming. Today I was out with Stu and back in Glencoe searching out one of the few grade VI routes I have left to do in Stob Coire nan Lochan. Tilt (VI,7) was superb. Although a little dry, the cracks and ledges were covered in snow and ice making for an alpine feel to the day. Four climbing Jedi’s on routes to our right, I am sure their ascents will appear on social media soon enough!
Yet another fine day to be climbing in the Highlands. Graeme and I fancied the Douglas Boulder and after hearing from Tim lastnight, thought we’d do Cutlass (VI,7) which climbs a well protected open corner and tight chimney. I was quietly happy to get the corner after thrutching up Chimney Route yesterday! Fine route, which is in excellent condition at the moment.
This week I am am meant to be on my MIC assessment but unfortunately it has been cancelled due to poor conditions. I thought I may aswell make use of the current alpine weather and go climbing for the week instead, so first up was a day out with Hannah on Chimney Route (VI,6) in Stob Coire nan Lochan.
I had a feeling the route would be quite icy but thought it may make the climbing simpler even if gear was difficult to find. Each pitch had its own character, lots of ice, not so great turf and a few rattly holds along the way made for an interesting day. I’m no fanatic about chimney climbing but its a great route, especially if your into vertical grovelling……
A Load of snow fell on Wednesday night turning the Highlands into a winter wonderland, at last it was time to get stuck into some decent winter weather! The last two days I have been working for West Coast Mountain Guides.
Yesterday I was joined by John and Gavin who were keen to summit Ben Nevis via the CMD. After such a dump of snow and some suspect forecast winds I thought Ledge Route would be a better, more enjoyable outing. Aside from a bit of wading the guys had a great time but started to feel the effects of such hard work. I have to admit I was loving it, I have really missed the physical days winter throws at you but with John and Gavin’s legs starting to tire the summit was forfeit for a more leisurely approach and a descent down the red burn.
Today I was taking members from the Co. Mayo MRT team through some winter skills and a bit of security on steep ground. This including the use of a rope to aid walking wounded off the hill in an emergency but also a few tips they can use whilst out scrambling with their friends. It was difficult to find suitable ground to practise ice axe braking but made use of Aonach Mor and its Nid Ridge to ensure Mark, Harry, Pat, Odette, Mary and Elaine had a good understanding of winter equipment and its correct use. Of course there’s plenty of snow about in drifts but otherwise a benign day with little wind or precipitation.
I have been lucky enough to receive a pair of Grivel Tech Machine Carbon Ice Axes to review. The awesome looking carbon fibre climbing tool looks brilliant for Scottish Winter Climbing, so I couldn’t wait to put them to the test.
Weighing just 612 grams per axe they feel light but nicely balanced in the hand. The carbon fibre wrapped alloy shaft is not just lighter than the (yellow) Tech Machine but stronger too. The carbon fibre also retains heat much more efficiently than alternatives making this an ideal ice axe to use on continental ice routes aswell as Scottish mixed.
Grivel have used what they call G-Bone construction along the shaft which is basically a groove that allows a better grip above the handle. It is streamlined allowing it to fit into narrow cracks to reach placements and feels ergonomical at 49cm in length. Here’s the really great bit and a major advantage over the Petzl Nomic for Scottish Winter Climbers – the head is double riveted as is the handle meaning these tools can be used for what they are built for. Its no secret the heads of Petzl Nomics can become wobbly due to the single rivet construction, well you can use and abuse the Tech Machines as you please, they feel bombproof!
At the head of the axe is a large hole, ideal for securing the axe to your harness or pack especially with gloves on when things become fiddly. The ‘Ice Blades’ that came with them (3mm at tip) are made out of Chromoly Steel; a material that is used to produce things such as race-car roll cages and tubing for racing bicycles. It has the advantage of being exceptionally strong yet reasonable lightweight. I used the Ice Blades for a few routes but decided I needed a hammer for mixed climbing so replaced them with Grivel’s Mix Blade (4.2mm at tip) which are necessary to customise with a hammer or adze.
One notable difference in the two picks is the drop angle. The Mix Blade is significantly more aggressive which is brilliant for hooking on steep mixed but on water ice became a little harder to penetrate. A possible solution to this is the Ice Plus Blade which although I have not tested has the additional attachment for the hammer/adze without the aggressive angle.
The handle is again double riveted to the shaft for strength and I find it as comfortable as any axe I have previously used. My hands are medium sized used with gloves such as the BD Punisher or Mountain Hardwear Hydra Lite the handle is snug and responsive. I would describe it as on the thin side of average but secure whist hanging on steep routes. Big advocates of very hard drytooling may find the index finger mould on the handle a disadvantage but even whilst using stein pulls at a dry tooling wall I didn’t find it uncomfortable or irritating. Constructed of duel density foam and rubber, it also has a large spike to clip lanyards and carabiners to.
I’ve used the Tech Machine Carbon axes on mid grade ice and steep mixed routes. On ice, the swing is brilliant but they really perform at their best on steep ground where the aggressive angle clears bulges readily whilst hooks and torques felt secure and accurate. I’m struggling to find something I don’t like about these axes but I suppose a retail price of around £250 per axe will put some off, and if it does I recommend the Tech Machine which are cheaper, slightly heavier but mechanically the same axe with a slightly different balance.
As you can see I haven’t just took them out the box and written my observations. This review is based on practical use on various ground from grade III ice to VII mixed. For Scottish winter climbing I feel there are few better options – well done Grivel!
The Highlands are experiencing some unusual weather at the moment. Very strong winds accompanied by a temperature inversion coupled with a significant lack of snow for this time of year means some crags are becoming black and stripped back to rock. Some that are slightly out of the worst of the winds are holding out well so it wasn’t without lots of thought we decided to risk the lower but (hopefully) colder Bridge of Orchy hills today. It was soon clear as we drove south at dawn we were going to be in for a good days climbing. Hannah joined Duncan and I as we planned on climbing the classic; Messiah (VII,7) which was to be Hannah’s first tech 7 – not that you would have noticed as she cruised her way up the route! The line looked to be in good condition, enough snow and frozen turf and plenty of ice on the upper pitches. The only downside was that the hand traverse was fully iced up, so it was an axe traverse instead and the upper pitch although looked quite good was slushy and delicate. Probably how the route holds its grade to be honest. It wont be there tomorrow unfortunately as we climbed out the top pitch everything was melting……