Monday, 21 March 2011

A week of entertaining failures

It started on Tuesday when Di and I headed over to the north-west and Beinn Eighe. We’d planned on doing Kami-Kaze on the Far East Wall but were stopped well before we even reached the plateau when we both ran out of patience wallowing through deep unconsolidated snow up the side of Beinn Eighe.

Round two with Beinn Eighe was with Nick on Thursday which turned into a very amusing ‘mini-epic’. Blood, Sweat and Frozen Tears was the aim for the day and with slightly more consolidated snow and some old tracks to follow we even made it onto the summit plateau this time.

We found the abseil point ok and Nick headed down, 15 minutes later the rope was still tight and I could hear some muffed shouts emanating up from below. Wandering round to get a view of the wall from the top of Central Buttress we figured he was off route.  On a ledge but unable to find a decent anchor Nick decided he’d untie from the ropes, let me abseil down, find the correct anchor, pull the ropes, continue the descent and pick him up on the way past.

Sounded great... I found the well used abseil anchor, pulled the rack up from Nick, backed it up and started pulling the ropes. Then the inevitable happened, just as the end of the rope goes out of sight above me they jam.  

'Umm, this could get quite interesting' was an initial thought after shouting a few choice words up at the ropes to no avail.

So I was on an anchor with 30m or rope and Nick was somewhere below me on a ledge with no rope or rack, great! After a brief conflab the knife came out, brand new Tendon rope got chopped and I just made it down with the remaining rope to an anchor Nick had spotted to his right on the girdle ledge. The rope pulled this time and I managed to throw a rope to Nick who reacquainted himself with some caving techniques and grovelled over to me. 

As with all these sort of situations we found the light hearted approach worked best, ignore the seriousness and have a good laugh about it (it’s blood, sweat and frozen tears not bagels, must have had food on the mind...):

We tied the rope off and abseiled into West Central Gully, down climbed this and then slogged back up Fuselage Gully to our kit and retrieved the stuck rope from the top. Didn't like leaving a rope littering the crag but Nick managed to get back across on Saturday to do the route and retrieve what we’d left. 

Trying (and failing...) to be artistic with ice tools and the Lancaster 
wreckage in Fuselage Gully

Roll on Saturday and one last attempt to grab a winter route. Andy Sharp and I made an exhausting post holing approach to Shelterstone to climb Citadel which we thought might just have been in condition. Unfortunately it looked from the approach that the top was probably going to be black but we started up with open minds to see what we found. 

Andy starting up the second pitch of Citadel

After the lower crux, which is really fun steep climbing on bomber hooks and torques, it was pretty obvious the meltdown had set in, water was running down the rocks everywhere and turf wasn’t exactly frozen anymore. Yes there was snow on the ledges but it was far from wintry enough to justify continuing up the summer line. Decision made Andy quickly took us out via the top of Sticil Face in a monster 120m pitch and we started the final post holing mission back across the plateau.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Adidas Terrex Pro's and Lorpen Socks

It's still snowing and the ski road closed with almost 3ft of snow up at the Cairngorm ski centre, definitely looking like a ski day tomorrow if we can see anything. I've been meaning to post for a while about a couple of bits of gear that I originally got hold of before heading out to Nepal last Autumn but have found just as useful up here in Scotland as above 6000m in Nepal. This may look like a bit of a plug, it probably is but it's genuine kit that I believe in and have found to work very well.

The first as the Adidas Terrex Pro's a modular glasses/goggles combo.  Ok so you're probably not going to use these for walking down the high street but in the hills they are awesome.  Maybe it's because I liked to play with Lego all those years ago that I love these so much, they're like a pair of Lego sunglasses, fully modular so you can build them up how you like.  It would take me ages to explain every feature of them so just have a look at their web site for all the finer points.  This modular design also means if you sit on them or wipe out and land on your face, as a friend discovered when he caught an edge skiing, they break where they're meant to and you just pop them back together rather than having to get the duck tape out and do a botch repair on them.

The thing I've noticed most and what sets them apart from previous glasses/goggles I've had is I actually use them a lot, I've never liked climbing in full goggles or even carrying them for that matter.  But with these I have them in the pack all the time, get them out more often and therefore look after my eyes better, not just protecting them from the sun but as is more common in Scotland the wind and all that dust and grit that is getting blown about in the snow.  For use in the mountains you can get the Space lens which is super dark and they have a nose piece you can attach to give great protection from high intensity sun or strong wind chill.

In Scotland with the LST Bright lens (photo-Andy Townsend)

Acclimatizing on Mera peak, Nepal with Everest in the background, Space lens and nose piece

The second bit of kit is socks... yes boring I know but if you suffer from cold feet like I do quite a vital bit of gear.  I knew of Lopren socks from their ski range but had never realised what an extensive range they had until Nathan from the Mountain Boot Company introduced me to them and sent me away with a load of samples to try. The stand out piece for me was the Trekking Expedition model, made from Polartec Powerstretch with a thin layer of Primaloft insulation around the foot bed, toes and ankle. A concept I'd never seen in socks before but all makes for a very warm sock.

Initially I was a bit dubious about them thinking you'd get a lot of movement between the layers leading to a not very precise feel on technical ground. Having since tried them out on quite a bit of technical ground I've found this not to be the case and the only thing you have to watch out for is that you don't get a slight crease under your foot when you put your boot on.

I've used them in Nepal with the Scarpa Phantom 6000's whilst acclimatizing on Mera Peak and an attempt on Kyashar and never had cold feet once, on Kyashar as we were on a south face and they were almost too hot!  In Scotland I've been using them on the colder days with the Scarpa Phantom Guides, they're not for everyday use in Scotland but if you suffer from cold feet or you work in the outdoors and end up standing around a lot they'd be great and also give you the option of using a lighter more technical boot than you normally would in colder conditions.  For both boots I've used them with I haven't found size a problem, i.e they're not that bulky that you'd have to go up half a size in a boot compared with your normal socks.

Warm boots and socks all help towards warm feet but the key factor is a boot that fits well.  If you've got a boot that's too small and you foots crammed in with no movement possible or too big and you have to engage a 3:1 pulley to get the laces tight enough to climb without an inch of heel lift you're going to get cold feet no matter how good the boots and socks are.

Tony changing back into his socks and boots after the rock buttress on Kyashar

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Winter Returns

Nipped out for a quick ski with Pete Benson today, unfortunately the weather came in a lot earlier than forecast so we didn't get to see much.  We skinned up Lurcher's Gully and over to the March  Burn from where we dropped down to the Lairig Ghru.  We'd intended to head up onto Braeriach and find some gullies to ski but with the weather rapidly deteriorating we took a rising traverse back to the top of Lurcher's and back down to the car.  Not the best ski ever but good to get out and stretch the legs.

Up high there is a lot of snow being transported by the easterly winds we're getting at the moment which will be loading a lot of slopes and giving a very high avalanche danger.  But back at the car park there was very little wind and a lot of snow falling.  Could be some good skiing low down over the next few days.

Not the best skiing in the world, an inch of fresh on top of bullet hard neve...

Ski touring Cairngorm style

Monday, 7 March 2011

British Mountain Guides Winter Test - take two next year...

After a very hard 6 days on the winter test we eventually finished on Friday.  Unfortunately I didn't quite get the result I was hoping for and have to come back next year to redo two days.  Anyway it wasn't all doom and gloom so a big congratulations to Andy, Andy and Chids who sailed straight through, my heads still a bit hazy from Friday nights celebrations with them!

It's definitely a disappointment and a bit of a blow to plans but looking back at it I think it's a very fair result from what I thought was a really well run assessment week.  I had a shocking day on Thursday, the first client day, and my teaching definitely wasn't up to scratch, I knew this from the summer test so I've only got myself to blame for not doing more about it.  Most importantly though I feel I've come away from the week having learnt A LOT about guiding, something that can only stand me in good stead for the future.

So the plan now? In the short term it's hunt for some work, hopefully get out climbing for myself again and get my head down with last minute plans for the fast approaching Kyashar expedition.  After the initial disappointment that I won't be heading out to the Alps for my first season as an Aspirant Guide I'm now really looking forward to spending the summer in the UK enjoying rock climbing again and maybe even pushing my grade that seems to have plateaued for the last 7 years.