Sunday, January 30, 2011

Five Sisters

John & Ann were over west this weekend as part of Mary's 40th birthday antics. We took advantage of a good forecast for the Saturday to head up to Kintail and pay a long-overdue visit to the Five Sisters. I last did them nearly 20 years ago on my first AMC meet.

We slogged up the steep hillside out of Glen Shiel in thick wet cloud and arrived on the ridge soggy and breathless. Things soon started to improve though as we got through the freezing level, the ground firmed up and there was a glimpse of blue sky to the north.

First signs of a clearance

Unfortunately this didn't last and the cloud soon rolled back in. However, the ridge was quite interesting at this point so we were concentrating more on where we were going. The underfoot conditions were quite tricky - too icy not to have crampons on but too rough and rocky to walk easily in them.

Sporting route we found up Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe

The rest of the day continued in much the same way with bouts of frustration with the underfoot conditions soon disappearing whenever the views appeared. By mid afternoon we had to start retracing our route to get back to the car. We were not looking forward to the steep descent down an unknown slope but what looked like a good line on the map turned out to have an excellent old stalker's track down it, not marked on the map. A very good end to a fine day out, then back for tea and birthday cake.

View down Loch Duich, showing the contrast between north and south facing slopes

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Club meet: CIC Hut, 21-23 Jan 2011

After escaping from work on Friday night, seven of us made the long drive west and approach walk to stay at the CIC Hut. Situated at the foot of the cliffs on the north side of the Ben, this famous SMC hut provides an unparalleled base for access to Scottish winter climbing, and now comes fully equipped with a pair of composting toilets fitted since the club's last winter visit!

The CIC Hut
Fully laden with food and kit for the weekend, the slog from the north face car park to the hut wasn't exactly fun. It was, however, free of precipitation and easy underfoot.

The weather on Saturday was excellent but mild. Broken cloud was just scraping summit level with plenty of sun about and very little wind. We split into three parties, with early birds Romain and David heading for Observatory Ridge, then Derek, Phil and Alex beginning the Ledge Route shortly after, and mid-morning casuals Scuz and Linda finally dragging themselves out of slumber and following on the same route.

Romain and Dave arrived early at the base of Observatory ridge. However, after the first axe placement on cruddy snow / ice, they lost inspiration and decided to swap for Tower Ridge... So Tower Ridge here we go!

Just after Tower Gap
Dave high up on Tower Ridge

Dave topping out

"A great day on the ridge climbing with Dave and with great views."

Over on the Ledge Route, the ascent was straightforward and a real pleasure in the conditions. Having gained some ground, Scuz and Linda caught up at the top where we all passed over the summit and down to the start of Carn Mor Dearg arete. Derek and Alex descended here to play on some water ice on the way back to the hut, while the others continued along the arete to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg.

Linda and Scuz at 'the gangway'
Posing at the top
That evening, in a busy and rather dark (no wind to power the lights!) hut, the AMC culinary skills were on show once again, constructing a monster feast of modified minestrone soup, chunky vegetable curry and 'rustically-presented' banoffee pie. Early nights for all (a little later for Scuz who got locked out while walking off her dinner!).

Banoffee pie, CIC-style
With weary legs, Derek, Phil and Alex were first out the door on Sunday. After an hour or so of bumbling around high in Coire na Ciste in the clag, they managed to find the start of our intended route - Raeburn's Easy Route. This proved an entertaining route, with good ice on the initial steep section before an exposed traverse and final steep ascent over the top on snow slopes.

Photos from the Ledge Route and Raeburn's Easy Route

Scuz and Linda passed beneath Raeburn's to find North Gully for a nice pitch of grade II, while Romain and David impressively flew up the Ledge Route and down #4 gully to have the kettle on by 11am! We all made the walk out in good time to start the drive home at dusk.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Skilling up for winter.

On Saturday, four new club members bucked the weekend trend by NOT going to Lochnagar, and spending an afternoon in Glenshee learning some winter skills. With thanks to Alex for organising, Andrew, Chellapan, Naomi and myself were treated to the experience of local guide and mountain rescue volunteer Phil Glennie.
Essential skills for winter walks
The theory part of the course was conducted in Braemar mountain rescue post where we were given a grand tour of the facilities. Their arsenal included an indoor climbing wall for the volunteers to use for training, a photo wall displaying an award from the US military and various all terrain vehicles that have served as overnight shelters, ambulances AND delivery rooms for new born babies!
Scattered snowy patches on the hills
Afterwards, we headed out into a very wet Glenshee to play in the disappearing snow patches. The cloud was low but spirits and enthusiasm levels were high as we practised cutting steps and digging avalanche pits. At tea time, Phil pulled out an 8-person all-weather portable shelter (which had successfully sheltered 23 school children the previous week!), just in time to miss a down pour. A little higher up, a nice icy patch gave opportunity for crampon practice before we pace counted back to the dry haven of our cars with promises of hot chocolate.

It was a great day for all involved with heaps learned and we’ll look forward to using our new skills in the hills soon!
Cutting steps can be hard work! Careful!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lochnagar (again) winter climbing

Lochnagar seemed to be a busy day last weekend!

Chris, Stuart and myself decided to venture for a (cold) climb up Shadow Buttress A last Sunday. Good way to burn off some Christmas turkey and cakes!!

Stu coming up to the first belay. Snow defying gravity and moving upwards!
Chris just moving up from the crux.
Stu leading up.

Stu belaying close to the top. Rime and nevee like snow.


A "Second Mouse" Day On Lochnagar

Last Sunday John & Ann were the early birds that caught the worm of a fairly sustained snowy interval for most of their ski ascent of Lochangar.

Just before hitting the cloud
Faced with high winds, poor vis. and a face full of falling snow we headed straight back down....

Softshell doing a good impression of hairy tweed
.....only to find that all the second mice on their way up were to get the cheese of the snow stopping and the sun coming out. Pah!

First signs of the weather clearing

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Lochnagar, the long way

Incredible weather on Friday provided a fine incentive for those work-dodgers amongst us to see the festive holidays out in style. Myself and Yvonne did the full horseshoe round Glen Muick and the Dubh Loch, taking in Lochnagar and its four neighbouring Munros.

Ants on the upper slopes
The sun shone all day, nicely offsetting the low temperature (-8 at car park) and fresh breeze on the plateau. The paths were pretty icy lower down. Higher up, the snow was still rock hard, now with an inch or two of dense powder in places. The cliffs looked in good condition; at least one party could be seen in the corrie.

Coming up to the col with Meikle Pap
The going was good, and we reached Broad Cairn around half three, just in time to paparazzi a few ptarmigan in the fading light. An excellent day out!

Hogmanay - Rua Reidh Lighthouse

Rua Reidh Lighthouse
Located 12 miles down a singletrack road from Gairloch, the comfortable and well-equipped Rua Reidh lighthouse was the destination for the Hogmanay meet this year. A motley crew of 25 (plus wee Aoife) of us descended on this fully automated lighthouse and hostel, with most folk staying for several days.

After a few trips to the hills and around the local coast, including a rather long and wet trudge to Ben Lair by Chris and Donald, we all assembled for copious amounts of good food and perhaps a drink or two. Stuart, in full Highland dress, played in the new year on the pipes. Celebrations continued long into the night.

You're not getting a tip.
Clootie dumpling.

All but Ed and Scuz stayed fairly local on the 1st, with those two heading off early for a scramble up Ben Eighe. A large group of us walked up 'hangover hill' (An Cuaidh) and back along the coast via Ivor's Bothy.

Nobody wanted to join Mark and Phil
Descending An Cuaidh towards Loch An Draing
Identity parade
Ivor's bothy

That night we were treated to a Mexican feast, with elaborate deserts including margarita syllabubs and what is perhaps best described as Mexican tiramisu.

This almost killed me.
The forecast was more promising for the 2nd, although the clouds unfortunately still shrouded the higher tops most of the day. Several goups headed towards Torridon, including one ascending Ben Alligin via Deep South Gulley and continuing round the horns, one on the Liathach traverse, one up Ben Eighe, and one up the neighbouring corbett of Meall a' Ghiuthais. Where still present, the névé was rock hard. Exposed rock was frosty and occasionally coated in verglas. An incredible spread of Alpine delights (including much melted cheese) awaited us at the lighthouse that evening.

Mark, ascending Liathach
Passing roped parties on the pinnacles
Approaching the western Munro, Mullach an Rathain
Ben Alligin, viewed from the west end of Liathach
The summit of Meall a' Ghiuthais
Strong winds and morning rain limited aspirations on the 3rd, although a few of us headed round the coast again on something of a nature walk. Chris's nature encounter was certainly close and rewarding, if a little smelly. I'm sure it'll look great on his mantelpiece.

After a final fine feast, this time of an Italian theme, we presented Steve with a birthday cake scuplted in the form an Icelandic volcano. Apparently it was remarkably geologically accurate.
Less explosive than most he approaches.

More pictures from Yvonne here.