Monday, 31 January 2011

British Kyashar Expedition 2011 and the Nick Estcourt Award

This coming spring Nick Bullock and I will be heading back to Nepal and the Hinku Valley for an attempt on Kyashar, 6769m, via the stunning and unclimbed South Pillar.  This will be my second attempt on this eye catching line after an unsuccessful trip last autumn

Nick and I first set our eyes on Kyashar (then known as Peak 43) in 2008 when we were in the Hinku Valley to attempt a new route on Peak 41, an expedition which was cut short when we had all our base camp stolen.  Walking up the Hinku Valley we kept getting glimpses of this stunning distant peak through the afternoon cloud, drawing us in.  Kyashar dominats the Hinku Valley, standing proud over the village of Tangnag, named after the lower black rock buttresses of the peak.

The first and only recorded ascent of Kyashar was in 2003 via the west ridge, although it is likely there was an unauthorised ascent prior to it coming onto Nepal’s list of permitted peaks for climbing.  The South Pillar has seen three attempts so far including last years, the first two from strong Czechs teams which started up mixed ground below the upper pillar.  Last autumn there wasn’t any visible ice so Tony and I approached the upper pillar by climbing the rock buttress, covering a lot of ground up to HVS with some very loose rock.  Time will tell which approach Nick and I take in the spring.

We were both really pleased to hear last week that we had been awarded the 2011 Nick Estcourt Award for our expedition and would like to thank all the trustees of the award for their generous support.

We are still seeking further funding for the British Kyashar Expedition 2011, any companies or organisations interested in an unique opportunity for exposure and publicity in the outdoor market please get in contact for further information on the expedition and marketing potential.

 Kyashar dominating the Hinku Valley above Tangnag

 Andy on the 2010 attempt

Andy and Nick on the summit of Chang Himal

Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Needle

The plan had been to have a leisurely start and head in to the Corries for a quick hit on Saturday, getting Nick back for his talk at the Lodge in good time.  Simple plans are never the most exciting so it only took one beer, a photo of Shelter Stone looking fairly white and a promise we'd be back at the car by 7.00 in the evening for plans to change to an earlier start for a look at the Needle (VIII 8, 260m ****).  After a slight detour (must remember to get the compass out sooner next time...), accidentally throwing the map away down the Goat track and a brief loss of psyche in the unexpected morning rain a quick game of paper-rock-scissor decided who grabbed the rack and I set off up the first pitch a bit later than planned at 9.30.  A long 60 meters following a fun turfy grove brought us onto the terrace where you join the original summer route and follow this for the rest of the way.  

Nick quickly dispatched another long technical pitch and what turned out to be the crux, a steep flake line with a balancy traverse onto a narrow ledge to the final thin and pumpy moves up a bulging crack.  The next pitch was just brilliant, a ramp line lead round the corner to the start of the 'crack for thin fingers' pitch, a dream description for a winter pitch!  A couple of thin moves with a slightly worrying ledge to hit below gained the crack and great moves on bomber hooks and torques to a tricky move left to a ledge, one of the best winter pitches I've ever done.  

Reading the guide book after I should probably have stepped right instead of left here but either way it worked out and Nick was soon belayed under the main feature of the route, the Needle chimney.  A long move off a very helpful chock stone to a small hook got me established in the offwidth before a proper grovel got me to the top and the last 20m of easy ground to the plateau.  Nick emerged onto the plateau grinning and with just enough time left to get back, make some food and drink a well deserved pint before his lecture.  It was an awesome route, long, sustained, in an amazing situation and great to be out climbing with Nick again.

Else where in the Loch Avon area Carn Etchachan was plastered with a number of team on various routes.  I'm not too sure if Sticil Face had any ice on it but we saw a team in that arean and another on The Citadel.  Hell's Lum was quite busy and the Chancer looked like it might be close to touching.

Hell's Lum on Saturday 

Starting up the first pitch of the Winter Needle (photo - Nick Bullock)

 Nick exiting the 'crack for thin fingers' pitch

 Pitch 4 which lead to the base of the chimney and final pitch

 Looking up the final pitch

Getting established in the offwidth final pitch  (photo - Nick Bullock)

 A happy Bullock emerging onto the plateau

 Busy day on Carn Etchachan

Friday, 28 January 2011

British Mountain Guides Winter Training

Yesterday was the last day of the British Mountain Guides winter training and after a particularly miserable day in the Northern Coires on Tuesday I think we’re all hoping for better weather for the assessment! The 5 days of training started off on Sunday up at Aonach Mor where we a quick look at teaching basic winter skills before moving on to short roping techniques.  Monday was a long day looking at guiding techniques to move quickly over easy mountaineering ground in Stob Coire nan Lochan, finishing off with some night navigation over Bidean nam Bian and down the Lairig Eilde.  

Coire an T-Sneachda on Tuesday was probably one of the wettest and coldest days I’ve had out on the hills in a while. The aim of the day was to look at guiding on harder mixed lines but due to conditions and some very black buttresses we ended up climbing a very wet Invernookie and Fiacaill Couloir.  Still we got what we needed from the day and had some very enjoyable climbing on Invernookie which was is good icy condition.

With a slightly improved forecast for Wednesday we went up to Ben Nevis to put all the guiding techniques together on Tower Ridge and finished off coming down Ledge Route. Conditions up high on the Ben look good with Tower ridge covered in bomber neve. We saw teams on Hadrian’s Wall, Point Five and Zero Gully which all looked good.

We finished off the week yesterday with Mark Diggins from the SAIS with a very informative presentation on Scottish specific avalanche issues and forecasting before heading up to Aonach Mor to look at the current snow and chat through a few topics. The snow in Lochaber was mostly very stable yesterday which has been great for safe travel in the mountains but didn’t lead to the most interesting snow profile to have a look at.  With it been so wet except for yesterday the camera stayed at home so no pics of conditions on the crags I'm afraid.

I’m over in the Cairngorms now and plan to be out climbing here and in the Northwest all next week so I’ll try and get some condition reports up a bit more regularly and remember the camera!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Loch Avon Basin and Cairngorm Conditions

We headed over to the Cairngorms on Wednesday morning for navigation practise up on Cairngorm plateau and a days climbing on Thursday.  After a prolonged coffee and bacon butty stop in Aviemore we wandered up to Coire an Sneachda and up onto the Cairngorm plateau via Fiacaill Ridge.  Conditions on the plateau were great for walking around on with firm snow everywhere and after visiting various practise navigation point we ended up on the top of Ben Macdui to be treated with an amazing brocken spectre.  Our plan of getting some night nav in was curtailed by a stunning full moon that lit everywhere up like day light...

On Thursday Derek and I headed over to the Loch Avon basin, originally we’d wanted to go and do Sticil Face on Shelter Stone although this aspect of the Shelter Stone was very white (the steeper lines are definitely black) the ice on the crux corner wasn’t there.  We opted for Guillotine on Carn Etchachan, looking across at it we’d been a bit dubious about whether it was white enough to be in condition but once on it was fine and gave three great pitches of climbing.  The atmospheric second (or third if you do it in four) pitch giving the route it’s name as you feel like you’re tunnelling into the mountain with the ‘guillotine’ a massive blade of rock, hanging above you followed by a short crux pitch to finish off.  We saw another team at the top that had climbed Scorpion and reported good conditions with a spicy top pitch and another pair starting up Route Major which looked in good condition too.
Elsewhere in the Loch Avon basin Hell’s Lum looked to be quite icy although The Chancre wasn’t touching down.  The Cascade was forming but the start was very thin and had melted out by the end of the day, the rest of Stag Rocks was very black.  A few photo’s of the crags below.

Yesterday we went out with Blair to pick his brains whilst he was doing his avalanche forecast for the SAIS in Creag Meagaidh.  The low cloud meant we didn’t get a good look at the crags to see what ice had survived the thaw but we did see a team starting up South Post Direct and one on The Pumpkin.  

Derek on the first pitch of Guillotine

 Climbers returning from Hell's Lum

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Observation days with Jagged Globe

I've been out the last couple of days observing on a Jagged Globe 'Winter Mountaineering' course to pick up some tips on teaching winter skills and general guiding in the Scottish winter environment.  We spent the first day up on Aonach Mor refreshing the groups basic winter skills and looking at the snow pack before heading up into Stob Coire nan Lochan today to put these into use with the students safely leading themselves up Broad Gully.  Its great to be able to get out with very good and experienced instructors to see how they make the most of every situation throughout the day to get teaching point across and demonstrating them.
 teaching in full on Scottish conditions

Condition wise there had been quite a bit of fresh snow high up over the last 24 hours and the buttresses in Stob Coire nan Lochan were looking a bit whiter with lots of snow on ledges but the steeper lines are still a bit bare.  

Stob Coire nan Lochan today

Sunday, 16 January 2011

New blog and Scotland bound

Welcome to my new blog, it’s still a bit of a ‘work in progress’ quiet like my writing! But I’m hoping to keep it updated as regularly as possible with general climbing bits, trip reports, my progression through the British Guides training scheme and reviews of the gear I’m using.  I've also copied all my posts from the Mountain Equipment blog that I've been contributing to over the last year or so.

I’m up in Scotland now for the next couple of months for the Scottish winter part of my British guides training, 5 days of training at the end of this month and then a 6 day assessment at the end of February. With lots of prep to do for this and hopefully some personal climbing too I should be out on the hill most days so I’ll try and get some useful condition info up on a fairly regular basis.  I’m really psyched to be up here as it’s a whole new play ground for me and the first winter I’ve spent in the UK for a lot of years. So with lots of classics to go at and hopefully a few visits to the more wilder venues over the next few months I’m just hoping the conditions will return as it’s safe to say there is a massive thaw going on at the moment...

We wandered up Carn Mor Dearg on Thursday and then into Creag Meagaidh on Friday to potter about on the plateau just to try and get to know the area. In the end we didn’t even make it up to the Window as the motivation to struggle on in horizontal rain and very strong wind wasn’t there! If the ice survives the thaw though it should come really good as the main drainage lines were still looking fat.

 Creag Meagaidh today