Winter is here

Winter is here
Ron Walker's stunning image of Tamsin, Heather & Rosie on Bellehaven, Fiacaill Buttress (to go to his blog, click on the image above)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Social Meet extravaganza 7-10th January 2011

The Chicks Unleashed annual Winter Social Meet, which is being held near Glenmore in the Cairngorm National Park, still has a few places left.

The big idea with our Meets is to have a good time and provide a network for women with a shared passion for the mountains, and to do this early enough in the season to help people to find adventuring pals and to polish up, or be introduced to, the very essential winter skills of understanding avalanche forecasts & informations & how to apply this, how to navigate in winter conditions, and how to use crampons and axes (especially to stop yourself in the event of a slip). We lay on a series of 'clinics' that cover these areas, and offer these at just £45!

Many of the women who come along will simply come along for the social and go out in the hills in the daytime to do their own thing; and many great adventuring partnerships have been formed at these weekends. It'll be a great weekend. If you want to read more please visit our Chicks Unleashed winter 2011 Social Meet page. We charge just £62, which covers 3 nights accommodation in one of the lovely Badaguish Lodges. There's lots more information about lift sharing and how the whole thing works at our site.

Come and join us! 

A modest outing & BBC Scotland's 'Blind Summit'

To say that my feet are itchey would be an understatement - that's 14 days since my last outing, and a week of commuting between Glasgow & Edinburgh felt more arduous than any trip I've had this season! Despite grand plans of all sorts of unspeakable climbing routes Natalie and I settled for a very lovely stroll up Ben Vrackie near Pitlochary.

As a total aside, here's a little piece I was involved in for Radio Scotland, I thought they did a great job in the variety of voices & perspectives. I've had the pleasure of working with a group of visually impaired people every year and we go climbing, walking and canoeing (amongst other things). It's always an amazing week and I'm always exhausted by the end of it because the organiser, Norma Davidson makes me play & work (more of the former though, if I'm honest) FAR too hard. It seems that opportunities for those who have come to the course are really sparse, finding themselves excluded from many activities (and not because of their own limitations), clubs and courses. If you would like to know anything about next year's Visually Impaired MountainCraft course please me by email.

So, here it is, a 30 minute programme presented by the well-known Lindsay Cannon - 'Blind Summit' which is only available until the 20th of December.

Yup, that golden afternoon glow is a golden afternoon light - we set off a little after 2pm! All set to go and you can tell we're off for a walk because of our rather dressy hats, m-mmmm!
Beautiful views all the way, especially after gaining the shoulder. Needless to say the day was absolutely bitter and the ground frozen solid. It was actually very nice not to be in the shade on the northern side of something, clutching a frozen rope and a pitch apart.
Oh, I love, I love, I love this hat. Just bought myself a crochet needle (that must have a technical name...?) thanks to a mini crash course from Jule and am hoping that I might be able to whittle out an almost exact replica. My hopes are high but the likelihood is very, very low...
 Very pretty, very icey views a few minutes from the summit. Brrrrr.

Friday, December 3, 2010

An afternoon in the office

Them crystals is a growing. Just one hour to the bottom of Number Six Gully, where once again there was another team just ahead.
Second pitch of the route. I led the first, which was brittle & slim for the first few minutes & turned all toffee pretty soon after.
Mark on the third pitch.
The team ahead, Olly & pal on the pitch beneath the main section of ice. Unfortunately i had to make a dash for Perth at this point.

Below: good view of Elliot's Downfall & the surrounding routes. There was some pretty meaty ice forming.

Having oggled Number Six Gully on the East face of Aonach Dubh I went back up yesterday with Mark and Iain. I led the first pitch, which it looks like others have been avoiding. It was a good, narrow pitch, with a few ice screws able to be placed full depth. Mark & Iain led the other pitches - 2 for Mark & 3 for Iain before descending into Stob Coire nam Beith. 

Unfortuantely I needed to be in Perth for a meeting early in the evening, so started scuttling after the 3rd pitch. I rediscovered how much more difficult it is to climb ice in rounded, mixed crampons! The ice was excellent though, and it must have been several degrees warmer given the dripping ice. The ice was thick enough to be placing plenty of ice screws too. Felt like stropping about having to drive away, but the stunning views all the way to Crainlarich appeased me pretty well.

Bears on Tour

Oh yes, full of the mirth after a very, very long walk in! How we laughed. The views weren't to be sniffed at (it was far too cold for sniffing anyway, my nostrils were sticking) and kept me pretty content all the way up.
Church Door Buttress with her winter layers on. The Arch is the prominant feature, left of centre, and provides an impressive, if gappy, belay ledge atop pitch 3. The route starts about 40 metres right from the toe of the buttress. Two climbers (Jim & Rob?) can be spotted at the toe, heading for our route!
Looking down at Natalie before turning the corner on the first pitch. Lovely opening pitch with a nifty move out onto the 'Damacolean' chockstone. Found out later what that meant, but happily, not by experience!

Below: Nataliecompleting the first pitch. The neve was five star for the whole route - such a joy to climb; could've done with exporting a bit of it to Observatory the other day!
This is on the brilliant 3rd pitch, which passes several more chockstones & boulders and then takes an unlikely line across the top of the Arch. The first ascentionists must've felt pretty pleased with this discovery.

 Looking back to Natalie after the crux section on pitch 4. The gear is good and the hooks are superb, with a delicious chunk of neve to sink a pick into at the top. There's a peg offering a veneer of protection across the initial traverse too (I do wonder what it'd be like without the snow we had). It was 3pm when I left this anchor and the light was breath taking.
I took a rediculous number of pictures over Aonach Eagach, and I think I was remarkably restrained to only post these!

After a particularly parky stay at Laggangarbh Natalie Feather and I took the long walk up to Bidean nam Bian's Church Door Buttress. Luckily, Natalie had fed us with incredible amounts of classy food the night before, including the best chowder I've ever had. I've been wanting to do West Gully for awhile (maybe it was the name that attracted me to it) and've never done a winter route in the coire before. 

The route was cracking - it takes a brilliant line, the pitches are really varied & exciting, every belay is wonderfully situated, and the views out across Stob Coire nan lochain, Aonach Eagach, the Ben & over to Skye kept me gawping all the way. I was relieved to find the climbing quite straight forward and well protected when I wanted it. 

It was Natalie's first route of the season, and first route of that grade, and she battled an annoyingly high rucsack and a lingering cold valiently! Thanks NBs. I will certainly be back to explore the other routes up there soon.

For more pictures from the day, visit the Chicks Unleashed Facebook page.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It's all about the colour (and lemons)

I'm not sure that Andy went for his bright gloves for the same reason that I did (pretty colours of course)! I like to think that he chose them to offset his glorious beard
It may be a two hour walk in to Druim Shionnach, but the going was gentle and the morning light & views gave me lots to gawp at all the way
We finally arrived at the shoulder of the coire where we dumped our sacks and strolled down to the base of the crag. There was a small release of the night's snow as we approached the bottom of the route
Mark and I belayed in a cave while Andy led the second pitch, and the views out across to the sisters of Kintail were lovely
This is Andy starting on the crux section. He paused for a moment and placed two pegs before embarking on it

I was suprised by how quickly Andy led this pitch, placing one more peg on the move. At the top of the grove he moved left in a rising traverse on some lovely delicateish ledges (very partial to my knees!)
I'd like to point out the loveliness of my colours here - I've got a new and already much loved new fluffy (ahem, pink trimmed) fleece on. This pitch was brilliant, and i've chosen a picture where I happen not to be grimmacing

Lovely walk in, lovely walk out. The ground was very frozen right the way back to the cars at Cluanie Inn

On Saturday, Mark & I drove up from Glasgow to meet up with Andy Nisbet at the Cluanie Inn, Glen Shiel. I was still a bit tierd after the Ben, but he promised me we'd go slow. Despite the snowy roads we got there on time & armed with all sorts of treats, including generous slabs of lemon, almond & polenta cake. The forecast had been touch & go, but we were lucky.

Not suprisingly the only prints we saw on the walk up to Druim Shionnach were from a hare. Andy did the main two pitches on the route and I did a tinsey plod to the top. The turf was absolutely solid, as were some of the hooks. Not having climbed much at all in this area I was struck by how good the rock was. Seeing Andy slink up the climb reminded me that I could do with placing a few pegs from time to time. The climbing was really enjoyable and it was great to be seconding! So, I think the route is V,6, about 90 metres and currently called Lemon Groove (after the cake, & given 10/10 by the way) and I'd personally give it two stars.

Such a good day and in brilliant company, and it's got me all fired up for going northwest this week. Thanks Andy.

Friday, November 26, 2010

How many hours in the day?

Oh how forshortened she is! The ground was absolutely solid from the car onwards
One of the direct starts taht leads into the 'normal' route up Observatory Ridge
Well, precisely 72 minutes less than everyone else if you use the watch that I had yesterday! I'd wanted to measure what my heart was doing over the day - the monitor actually slipped down after a couple of hours (sure there's a pun there about heart in the mouth or some such...). Fortunately, the consequences were good: all day I thought we were on the brink of dusk and impending weather, resulting in fairly frantic climbing all day and a reasonably early top out. Lou and I headed to the CIC and left for Observatory Ridge at about 8am so that I could get a good oggle of it before we started.

I certainly feel a bit more in touch with winter now. We climbed with 60 metre ropes and I went more than 60 metres for at least half of the eleven pitches. For the final 'few' (four) we scuttled in to Zero. conditions in there were fairly typical early season I guess - axes not holding on that much, a whole lot of digging should you be into that kind of thing and wonderfully quiet. We only saw two other teams - Richard Bentley heading for Number Two (I think) and a team heading for the same area around mid morning. Tower Ridge looked beautiful. 

The first two thirds of the ridge was brilliant - great moves and what a situation. I'd like to return to do the top section when there's a bit less swimming involved. Once the initial steepening of the route eases off and the ridge turns more ridge-like the snow became a little spooky: very deep soft snow with a thick icey crust. During the day we did here several loud 'whomps' but I couldn't spot anything. Despite all the beauty of the route we both felt pretty relieved to see the plateau, and doubly so that the weather was so benign. We were back for a cuppa at the hut by 4 - bliss (thanks Richard! - always good to have a man about for tea advice and the like).

Monday, November 15, 2010

White Magic - the most sociable route?

Everything was wintery - the food (Stollen, slightly frozen), the walk in wasn't even on the path because there was that much snow, the starts of routes were piling up with more and more snow and we all got the hot aches. Lovely!

We headed for White Magic but after the first pitch we bumped into two other teams. After quite a lot of chatting with the team in front (Mark from Aberdeen and Tristan from Glasgow) we decided to move elsewhere. This is my third winter outing this season and there have been teams on this climb every time - not bad for a two star route.

Two long pitches took us up Original Summer Route. It's a great route & I'm especially fond of it because it was my first grade 6 all those years ago. Actually, the first pitch gave me a bit of a kicking for being inattentive; fair enough. I enjoyed the 2nd one a lot more.

More hot aches all round and one ab' into Alladin's and we were back down the hill. Turns out that White Magic was very icey - it certainly looked wintered up. Guess what I had after - a fish supper, still not reached my fishy capacity!

 Uh hum, this is the Eagle Pose (after the much sought after head band Im wearing, called 'The Black Eagle' found in a trinket shop on a mountain pass...of course).
 This is the opening pitch of White Magic (and the Genie) - very different to last week's experience.
The first pitch of Summer Orginial Route on Alladin's Buttress, normally lovely delicate but straightforward moves.
 The first tricky bit on the second pitch.
Martin Wiggins, prepared as ever!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Relocating the office

An interesting mixture of pursuits I thought.

Stornoway angler, Gillies Mackenzie, kindly set us up with a rig to catch turbot. Within 10 minutes I'd caught my supper, and I don't think it was even slightly to do with skill. Kingsley pulled in 4 fish on a 3 hooked line. Yum.
I LOVE fish, I'm just slightly crazy for them. They are so perfectly built, beautiful & delicious. I think this is a Flounder; appropriate really.

When Gillies left he gave us four more fish, what a lovely guy.

See (sea?) - perfection!

This little beauty was Another breakfast after a good run & yoga session with Fran (before settling into a big pot of thick coffee, in case I was sounding too saintly there!).

My friend Kingsley was going on a voyage to Lewis for the week & I couldn't think of one reason not to go. I planned to work every day for a few hours and play the rest. Actually we couldn't get the government gifted broadband to work, there was no mobile reception & our landline could only call local numbers. Talking on the phone was challenging. So, for just a few days we made the most of this stunning island - every pair of socks I brought (& I'm generous on the sock issuing) got soggy & sandy, I almost got sick of saying how amazing & beautiful things were, got rediculously excited about fishing & waves, and we tried to get fat on a diet of seafood & tablet.