Monday, December 23, 2013

A Wee Wild One

Last Sunday saw John and Ann finally escape DIY hell for a blast on the hills. Unfortunately it really was a blast. As we got further up Deeside it became clear that anything on the bigger hills was out due to the combination of very high and gust winds, and it being a lot snowier than we had imagined. All of that, plus the need to replace Ann's disintegrating skis, led us to the ordinarily short dander up Craig Leek above Invercauld.
The pictures tell most of the story. Billowing spindrift and wading through knee-deep powder were the main features that made such a small hill feel much more of a day out. The cuppa while we waited for the binding to be fitted to the new skis was seldom more welcome. 
Starting out

Bit of a winter wonderland lower down

Barely over 400m but starting to get tricky

And windier still...

The sun came out for the summit view

Into the wind on the descent, goggles on!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Another Sunday Walk

Last week’s wintry weather caught out a team of AMC Sunday Walkers who arrived in Inverey to find their plans for a bike-assisted bagging trip thwarted by tracks covered in refrozen snow and ice. Bruce, John & Ann instead opted for a walk up the only reachable Munro, Carn Bhac. 
Starting out
The going on the track was predictably slippery but the rest didn’t look too bad, with only a healthy dusting of snow visible. This early confidence was misplaced, as the hillside we ascended was covered in deep deep heather, hiding quite a bit of snow. A bit of a flouter followed, and it felt like a very long time before we reached the thin heather and firmer going of the higher slopes.
A rare bit of easier going on the first ascent

View north into the Cairngorms

After a welcome elevenses we trekked around the ridge from Top of the Battery to Carn Bhac, where we glimpsed in the distance the only other people we were to see all day.
First lunch was a bit rushed in the biting northerly wind and we were soon off west to follow the long undulating ridge that runs north before curving round back to Inverey. 
Approaching Carn Bhac
Despite being into the wind and having areas of breakable crust, this section was very pleasant as by now the sun was getting low and the light was fantastic. All day we seemed to have been under clear skies while all around was cloud. Then the sun set and it got very cold, but before long we were back at the cars after a good recovery from what looked like a doomed day out.
Breaking Crust - Yuk!

Panorama of the Cairngorms

Beinn a Bhuirid just before sunset

Monday, November 18, 2013

Morna's Morven & Mona

Last week's Sunday walk was a bit of an M-fest. Organised by Morna, the objectives were the two Deeside Marylins of Mona Gowan and Morven. We set off from the high point of the Gairnshiel-Corgarff road at over 500 m, which made the first ascent on a landy track quite easy.
Denis in action, Ben Avon behind showing how much snow had gone since the previous week
Enjoying the bright sun that was taking the edge off the sub-zero air temperature we made good progress along the ridge to a well-earned elevenses sheltered behind the huge cairn on Mona Gowan. Here Rod left us and headed back to his car, leaving the rest of us to tackle Morven. 
Mona Gowan (L) and Morven
After admiring the interesting rock features of the Slacks of Glencarvie we were soon on the final ascent of the day. Here Denis decided to pioneer a bold route around the hill and took Morna with him for company, leaving Ann, John & Judith for the summit team. 

Home of the summit logbook

The ascent duly recorded in the summit logbook, we made a rapid descent to the south where we met Morna and Denis, slightly dishevelled after a bout of juniper bashing. All that was left was the pleasant wooded descent back to Denis' van in the FC car park, and some very fine pieces in the Ballater tea shop. A real Sunday walk.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Winter day out with the Madman

Despite being out ceilidh-ing into the wee small hours, Sunday morning saw Rod, Ann John and their old friend Mad Malcs, who was visiting for the weekend, pile out of the car into a freezing wind just north of the Glenshee ski centre. The objective was helping Mad Malcs bag some of his remaining Munros.
Although we had expected a bit of snow we hadn’t expected it to be quite so wintry right down into the glens, with plenty of ice about. This had the upside that the often boggy approach to Carn an Tuirc was frozen and much less messy than normal. We took the direct route straight up the front, which was a bit of a novelty as the rest of us reckoned that we probably hadn’t walked the hill for at least 15 years, although we had skied it at least once a year for that long.
Heading up Carn an Tuirc
 We didn’t hang around long in the biting wind at the summit and trotted off south towards Cairn of Claise. Soon we were off the boulder fields and wishing that we had brought our skis as the reports of it being baseless cosmetic fluff proved incorrect. We could have easily skied most of the day in conditions that, in many winters, would be about as good as it gets.

Cairn of Claise

By the second summit the weather was clearing up nicely and the wind dropping. Stopping for first lunch in a sheltered sun-trap felt more like alpine touring than November walking in Scotland. Then we saw one of the strangest sights we’d seen in the hills for some time – a snow bike for want of a better term. It was like a mountain bike with massively oversized tyres, wide wheels and presumably very low gears. By the look of the trail it left it was going in about twice as deep as skis would and while that was an improvement on walking none of us felt envious – it looked like hard work.
Heading towards Glas Maol
The plod up Glas Maol was just that but by now the weather was stunning and we were enjoying topping up the tans. At the summit there was quite a collection of people. We had been wondering where everyone had got to on such a nice day as we had only seen

three up to then.

After second lunch it was time to split. Rod and Mad Malcs went south for the final Munro of the day, Ann & John headed back north to fetch the car and drive back to collect the others. 
Descending towards Cairnwell

Glas Maol

Glen Clunie and Beinn a Bhurid

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Proper Soaking

Last weekend Ann & John ventured south to the Lake District. The forecast was, optimistically, poor for Saturday with severe gales and heavy, at times torrential rain moving in from the west in the middle of the day. Heeding this we were on the hill by 8, the mighty Marilyn of Blake Fell above Loweswater. Apart from the odd gust it wasn’t very windy, and we even had a brief bit of sun but it wasn’t to last. The cloud thickened very rapidly, the drizzle came on and the wind-chill kicked in earlier than expected.
Towards the Grasmoor group from Blake Fell

After traversing Gavel Fell we dropped down towards Hen Comb, just as things started to get seriously wet. Hen Comb was bypassed in favour of Marilyn number two, Mellbreak. We nearly didn’t bother as by now sheets of rain were marching across the fells and the gusts were nearly knocking us over at only 250m.
Red Pike hiding in the rain

Grasmoor from Mellbreak
It was a choice of going back over the hill or wading through unusually (for the Lakes) tussocky and swampy bog. The hill won and it wasn’t too bad, the wind now being behind us. The rain even eased a bit and we got some views of Grasmoor. The steep, at times scrambly descent, demanded care but soon we were back at the car in the now intermittent sunshine, cursing our timing. 
Decending Mellbreak
Half an hour later though we got a reminder of what torrential rain rally is, making us feel like the early start was worth it after all. This was reinforced by being down in time for Keswick market to stock up on genuine Cumberland sausage. Yum!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Keen Beans

The morning after the club Annual Dinner is never a good choice for an early start but given that Saturday morning seemed to offer the only chance to get up a hill without being soaked and flattened the alarm clock was duly set.
Ann & John rolled out of the car in Glen Tanar at 8 am for a bike-assisted bag of Mount Keen. The crisp air and bright sun on the autumn colours did their best to cut through the fug induced by the previous night’s Brewdog Hardcore IPA, with little success. An hour of cycling later things were looking better, with the hill still cloudless, the threatened gales holding off and a clearer head. The final grind up Mount Keen is not the most inspiring hill walk around, but the views were good and assured us that we had made a good choice as most other big hills were in cloud. 
Cycling up the glen

Just to prove it was sunny earlier

By now the wind had picked up considerably but we carried on around to the neighbouring HuMP of Braid Cairn just to make more of a walk of it, then back down to the bikes via Gathering Cairn. The wind and gravity assisted ride back down the glen was fast, interrupted only by a few sadly false mushroom alerts through the woods, to get back to the car just as the rain started.
Traversing from Mount Keen to Braid Cairn

Clachan Yell looking appropriately autumnal

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Unexpectedly Wintry...

The weekend before last saw Ann & John returning to decent days out after a summer of keeping on tick-over. We headed for the NE Ridge of Sgor an Lochan Uaine, right in the middle of the Cairngorms.
Driving up Deeside we got or first glimpses of how white it was high up, the result of a few cold days earlier in the week. Thinking this was just a usual early season dusting we set off undeterred for the long approach via Derry Lodge.
Up Glen Luibeg to Ben Macdui

Into the Larig Ghru, Devil's Point left

As we got higher up the Lairig Ghru the ridge looked great and the trek was starting to feel worthwhile. We had only climbed it once before, years back in thick weather so the stunningly clear day was welcome. We couldn't remember much except that we had been carrying backpacking gear, so a dusting of snow shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
First view of the ridge

As we got up the steep pull to Lochan Uaine it became obvious the snow was a bit more serious – wind blasted and refrozen, with plenty of real ice around. Suddenly things didn't look so promising and we discussed heading straight up the easier slope to Cairn Toul. This was disappointing after a 3 hour approach so we decided to give it a go and see how we got on, rarely the best mountaineering decision.
Looking up the ridge

Cairn Toul (r)

Heading up

Most of the way up was OK taken steadily with any trickier bit being very safe. Above us though loomed the much steeper and narrower top section. By the time we got to this we had been on the route for 2 hours and were staring to wish we were just up it. Luckily it wasn't any worse than the rest, just a bit more sustained and we soon burst back into the warm sunshine and incredible views all around.
On the top bit
Austin leaving the summit. Ben Nevis back right
A late first lunch was accompanied by meeting fellow AMC-er Austin, who had come in from the north over Braeriach, and was the first person we had met all day.
Cairn Toul and Ben Macdui

After enjoying the views we headed off to Cairn Toul, then Devil's Point not long before sunset. The long way out was livened up a bit by a very colourful sunset, and we got back to the car after 11 hours. Not had one of those for a while.

Friday, September 13, 2013

AMC in the Dolomites

This year the club organised a summer trip abroad and those keen opted for the sun kissed (s)limestone of the Italian Dolomites.  After last year successful trip to the Cortina area, folk fancied trying a bit further west and so headed to the town of Canazei as a cracking central location.

We certainly weren’t disappointed!  Driving up from Venice over a couple of high winding passes, past the Marmolada a we were greeted by awesome looking walls and spires everywhere!  Hard to keep my eyes on the road, but eventually we did make it to Canazei in one piece.

Luigi had done a sterling job finding us accommodation – we’d recommend these serviced apartments to anyone looking for somewhere to stay in the area.  To make us feel at home, the local supermarket had shipped in some bottles of this:

Can’t top that kind of service! :O)

Dave was catching a bus down from Germany, so we picked him up and headed back to the flat for a bit of plotting and planning (and beer)…..

Weather was mixed on the Sunday so we decided to go cragging nearby rather than head up high and had a cracking day on some water worn limestone slabs in a fantastic setting – appetites were well and truly whetted!

So with great forecasts for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we headed to the mountains.

Monday we decided that a traverse of the 3 Sella towers would start us off nicely.  After a bit of a faff looking for the start of the route, we gave up and just decided to climb.  Following our noses towards the first features we knew to be on our route lead to some great climbing on lovely slabs – more or less approximating to our route.  The upper pitches of the 1st tower where really good climbing, culminating in a VS pitch – not normally a problem but with a freezing wind blowing over the preceding belay numb hands, polished sloping foot holds and only old rusty pegs for gear added to the “excitement”!  Back in the sunshine on the summit all cold was forgotten as we looked up at the 2nd tower.

West Face 1st Sella Tower

SW face of 2nd Sella Tower

Dave took over leading for this route and we headed up.  3 pitches with a lovely central groove took us up to the top of the 2nd tower and yet more basking in the sunshine!  Time was wearing on though, and we decided we’d struggle to get the last tower done and be off the down climbing before losing light so decided to descend after the 2nd tower.  An abseil and 40mins or so of scrambling saw us back at the car, chuffed to bits at our first mountain route together!!

Dave leading Kostner Route, 2nd Tower

Sitting on the belays on the Sella Towers, you can’t help up notice the Sassalungo group opposite and ideas had been planted for the next day…….


Glancing through the obscene number of guide books we seemed to have, the ordinary route up the 
 Punta Della Cinque Dita aught our eye.  At only UIAA III it seemed the perfect route up onto a spectacular summit for us.

Up early the next morning we were at the foot of the route too early!  And the sunshine hadn’t reached it yet making for a chilly first couple of pitches!  Luigi lead 3 very run out pitches up to easy ledges and slabs which we soloed up into the gap between the “thumb” and the main summit.  I took over the lead here and headed off up steep but juggy rock which after a few pitches took us back out into the (now very welcome!!) sunshine.  Briefly basking in the sun we were amused watching a guide with some clients descending.  The clients nervous on the down climbing, the guide skipping down facing out.  Oh to be that comfortable on that kind of terrain!!

A few more pitches of lovely limestone took us under a massive jammed boulder and hence to the summit.
summit of Punta Della Cinque Dita
2nd last pitch of Punta Della Cinque Dita

With a long descent ahead (reversing the route we’d just climbed) we didn’t hang about so while Dave and Luigi sorted ropes I wandered off to find the abseil point to start the descent.

A long abseil brought us down to the start of the first 2 pitches of downclimbing.  Traversing back out over the sunny face was a little never wracking (why is down climbing always so much scarier than climbing up???) but very easy.  More abseils, down climbing and obscene rope fankels in my old ½ ropes eventually brought us back to the foot of the route – just in time to see the last cable cars grind to a halt for the evening.  Damm………..

Dave Abseiling 6th Pitch
Dave on Last Abseil

Oh well, the walk down was pleasant enough, and we were full of cheer after the route so no probs!

Day 3 in the mountains was back to the Sella towers.  Not particularly adventurous, but they are so striking you can’t help but go back!  
The Sella Towers

This time we were looking at the South East Buttress/ chimney.  

The reason for the route choice was pitch 4.  A 3m pitch which involves jumping 1.5m from the top of the buttress onto a ledge on the main tower.  This distance would be an easy leap between peat hags, but with 100m of chimney and another 200m of buttress after than beneath us, it seemed a wee bit scarier……

SE Buttress/Chimney
showing the gap to jump

A worse thought than not jumping far enough, was jumping too far though – with a rock wall on the far side, the over enthusiastic jumper risks an embarrassing face plant followed by drop down into the gap – double embarrassing!

Dave went first, after a few deep breaths and barely a whimper was on the far side secure!  Luigi and I followed with similar noises / expressions on our faces!
Luigi making the leap!
The rest of the route to the summit was very fine easy climbing in the sun, followed by a quick descent back to the car and a celebratory beer at the sella pass.

At this point however, the weather broke.  The mountains were forecast to start being hit by electrical storms through the day and rain at night.  Luckily however the forecast was still fine in the glens and we decided on a bit of cragging while the mountains shouted at each other above. 

Day 4 was to a neighbouring valley, with some lovely looking slabby climbs – definitely a nice change after the steeper juggy mountain routes.  And suitably humbling as we struggled up 5’s and a couple of 6as!

An improved forecast for day 5 lead to us planning via ferrata for the day.  Unfortunately the weather didn’t co-operate and we woke up to cloud down into the valley and river levels up significantly.  Loitering about in the hope that it would improve lead to a day wandering up and down the valley and Dave accidentally buying a new pair of rock shoes.

The next couple of days were much the same, bad weather high up meant valley cragging – with us trying some different styles of crags to keep ourselves on our toes!
Cragging shot
another Cragging shot

The last day was planned for climbing at Col Rodella, but a roaring and cold wind put paid to that after the 1st route!  Luckily there was a basic / easy via ferrata nearby so we ran up that, conveniently finishing at a refuge serving tea and cake…….not such a bad result really!
Col Rodella Via Ferrata
Walking down, the weather gods decided it was time to get us re-acclimatised for Scotland so 10mins from the car the heavens opened and nicely soaked us for the return drive to the apartment!

Luckily since we weren’t camping, a brew and snack and some lazing about on sofa’s soon used up the rest of the afternoon before we headed off for a luxury night in Venice airport.  Dave then headed off to Venice for the day, before catching the sleeper back to Germany and I caught the morning flight back to Edinburgh.

All in all, an absolutely cracking trip where we managed something everyday and got a few superb mountain days in.  Roll on next year!!!