Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Photos from 2013

The weather is continuing to be abysmal and I can't get out climbing despite having three weeks off. It's been a ridiculously good year for me in terms of mountaineering and climbing with me greatly improving in pretty much every aspect. I have taken well over 1000 photos in the mountains this year so I thought I'd put up some of the best ones. click on them for bigger versions.

Liathach in pristine conditions
John on the Forcan ridge
Me on Sgurr nan Gillean
South from Am Basteir
South from Ben Nevis
Me on The Talisman (Taken by an unknown climber)
Me climbing on Clachnaben, taken by Russell
The Weisshorn and Matteral from the Rifflehorn
Pre-dawn on the Weisshorn
climbers below on the East Ridge of the Weisshorn
Early Winter on Ben Nevis
Hopefully 2014 will be at least as good with a solid winter and another trip to the Alps.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Video From the Weisshorn

I haven't done a lot recently as I've been working a lot but i had a few Videos form the Weisshorn that i've merged together. I also found this quote from Alan Heason who wrote an article on UKClimbing about the his experience on the Weisshorn.

and we had decided to attempt that most beautiful of mountains, the Weisshorn. The Matterhorn is brutal in its beauty and forces its image into one's consciousness. The Weisshorn is immense, gracefully proportioned and, in my humble and comparatively inexperienced view, the loveliest mountain in the Alps. Steep sharp ridges cup deep cwms and valleys and soar knife-edged to meet at a perfect summit, aloof and alone in magnificence, towering above all proximate peaks, even the Matterhorn.
Alan Heason - UKC article

I didn't take much footage and I'm not exactly Peter Jackson, I also think there is something wrong with my light sensor on my Camera. In any case here it is.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The Weisshorn (4505m) - From Dream To Reality

The Weisshorn, East Ridge is on the right hand skyline
I have had a great year this year with mountaineering both in summer and winter but the experience of the Weisshorn to me was on a different level entirely. On my first trip to Zermatt back in 2005 it was the Weisshorn rather than the publicly glorified and brutally impressive Matterhorn that caught my eye. It is a beautiful peak that seems to rise up in perfect proportions to challenge the sky. The great golden age guide G.W. Young does it better justice than I ever could.

"Though not the highest, in supremacy of form and of position, the Weisshorn is the snow queen of the alps and looks out on a concourse of lesser princes."

The Standard route on the mountain is the East Ridge which is one of the longest and most demanding standard routes to any 4000m peak in the Alps. It forms a knife edge crest initially consisting of rocky teeth shifting to a slender snow arete before finally a snow face and the summit rocks, from Randa to summit it is over 3100m (10170ft) of ascent.

We were Staying in Tasch and the weather was great. I had been up a couple of 4000'ders via the Klein Matterhorn and had felt good enough at such altitudes to feel comfortable having a go at the Weisshorn. I had planned to wait for the end of the trip but I had no guarantee of the weather so decided to go for it. Soloing seems to many a dangerous way to go about things but in my opinion it is just as safe in many ways when it comes to actually climbing, where less than perfect rope work can become a hazard in itself and more importantly a distraction from the reasons for being there in first place. To me the main reason soloing is more serious especially on big peaks is that you have only your own judgment to trust and go on, no one to keep you in check and spot the obvious. Personally I like having company in the mountains but being alone in such places is a completely different experience, not so much better or worse but certainly more focused.

I lazed about on Sunday and ate a lot, even managed a sleep in the afternoon before leaving at 2130. Most people ascending the peak will stay in the hut at about half height but given I was myself, I seen no real benefit to me doing so. Working my way slowly up the steep path in darkness it was quite warm for most of the night. I passed the Hut at 0115 where I seen a head torch moving about and later found out this was the warden, no doubt getting ready for the 0200 wake up call the hut users get.

I kept going to the edge of the Schali Glacier where I geared up. I was carrying quite a bit of gear including my boots and a rope. I put my boots and crampons on and headed out across the glacier following the footprints with my head torch. The tracks took me low which felt unnatural but I knew to trust them as I was making for a break in the long rock barrier that skirts the western edge of the Glacier. By the time I had gained the barrier and began working my way up it, there were parties of head torch's appearing from the path to the hut. Moving on, I had a lot of time and the route finding here was at times difficult given it was pitch black. One of the parties was moving very quickly and caught me up about half way to the bottom of the rib that leads on up to the ridge. Turns out they had a GPS route logged in so had something to follow. They also seemed well acclimatized and where moving quickly. Having light ahead to follow helped a lot and I gained the bottom of the rib without too much bother.

The Rib leads up to point 3914m, known as the 'Breakfast Place'. The point is the start of East ridge as far as those climbing it goes. The rib for me was the low point of the climb. I hadn't struggled coming up the 1500m+ to the hut during the night but now life was getting hard. I knew nothing but darkness and I began to realise that bringing a rope for emergency's and not stashing my Approach gear where bad choices. Morale was failing all the time but I did have time on my side. None of the other parties seemed close to catching me up either so I knew I was not moving as slowly as I felt but the rib seemed endless. the rib itself was made up of ill-defined steps with loose rock all over the place all marked out with little cairns, to go off the rib into either of the bounding couloir's meant a mass of loose and treacherous gravel and rock would unleash itself on the abyss below in which head torches were stringing their was up at various intervals. Eventually I could feel myself getting closer the the top and the pre-dawn ambiance was beginning to light up the world. Suddenly I reached a large rock which I peered over and seen the summit of the Weisshorn in all its glory and my spirits lifted. I had reached the start of the Ridge and for the first time that morning I felt that this was possible and that it was perhaps even likely that I was going to grace the summit even though there was still a long way to go, at least it was within sight.

I left a lot of gear at the breakfast place and noticed the difference straight away. The ridge from here is extremely exposed with massive drops on both sides and gendarmes to climb or turn. The climbing is fantastic, never too difficult but always serious. I moved quickly over this section and by the time I reached the end of it the sun was beginning to rise. Where the ridge becomes a snow arete proper I stopped to put my crampons back on. While doing his I was treated to the Alpenglow. for a few minutes on clear mornings the peaks are bathed in a red gold. It is incredibly beautiful and well worth being awake at such hours to see. By the time I was ready to leave, a guided party on two ropes of two from Slovakia had caught me up and where impressed that I had come up in a single effort saying that they had gone to bed at 2130 when I had started.
Looking towards the Dom and Taschhorn
The View up the Ridge

Climbers below me passing a Gendarme

Alpenglow at the start of the snow arete

Heading up the ridge it wasn't long before it broadened to a shoulder then a bergschrund was crossed before the arete became a face. I was beginning to feel the altitude and was pausing often for breaths. At 4505m the Weisshorn is debateably the 5th highest mountain in the Alps and it sure felt like it going up the last 300m! The party of four that had passed me lower down now passed me on their descent, I reached the summit at 0800 and had it to myself. It was incredible and certainly the happiest and most emotional I can ever remember being in the mountains, after 8 years of dreams and plans I was there, I had started well over 10 hours before and had traveled up well over 10,000 ft, there was no anticlimax or dissatisfaction, I knew I still had the descent but felt not the slightest bit of dread. The view was superb, not least down the other two main ridges that also form the mountains impressive pyramid. I didn't have the summit to myself for long, one of the Slovak ropes arrived and embraced each other before shaking my hand and taking my photo for me on the summit. When the other Two arrived I left, with five people on the small summit it was very crowded!
on the summit

Looking down the East Ridge From the summit rocks

The first part of the descent was enjoyable and I passed 10-15 more people heading for the summit at various points. I collected the kit I'd left at the Breakfast place then headed down the rib which wasn't any more fun in descent. Being able to see now I skirted much of the lower barrier on a snow slope and thus made very good time over the lower sections before climbing back up the glacier to the path to the hut. I arrived back at the hut at 1140 and waited for John and my Dad to arrive.

Looking Down the Rock section of the East Ridge
The weather began to turn bad the next day and was poor for the remainder of the trip until the day we left making me very glad that I had taken the opportunity when it was there.
John, my Dad and I before the edge of the Schali glacier

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

From the Cuillin to the Alps

Im off to the Matteral valley tomorrow for 10 days, weather and conditions look good so hoping to get a lot done. Plans vary from rock climbing on the Riffelhorn and running to huts to the sky-piercing Matterhorn and if I'm really lucky, the elegant Weisshorn. I thought I'd put this post up as I haven't posted in a while despite doing quite a lot since my Cuillin traverse.
Alpenglow on the Weisshorn

The Matterhorn
After my trip to Skye i was up in Sutherland for Alan's last corbett. done a fair bit of climbing up there too.

Scrambling on Stac Pollaidh
I have been on Ben Nevis quite a bit recently mostly soloing but a few weeks ago me and Steve climbed the Long Climb which is the longest face climb on the UK mainland at 420m and takes a line up the Orion face. I have also solo'd Observatory buttress and ridge, Castle ridge and down-climbed Tower ridge twice.

The Orion face

Me and Steve on the top of NE buttress after climbing the Long climb

Back in June a few of us went into the Hutchinson memorial hut for 2 nights to do some climbing. We had fantastic weather and done some routes in Coire Sputan Dearg as well as Creagan a'Choire Etchachan. Me and John finished the trip off with an ascent of Eagle Ridge on Lochnagar
An Adder

At the Hutchinson hut

Crystal Ridge

On the Talisman

Me on Violet Wall
Eagle Ridge

 I've also been out for days here and there doing walking and climbing in various places.
Leading Cairngorm club crack on Clachnaben

Will post up again post alps. Thanks for looking!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Cuillin Ridge, solo in a day

To those who have been on it the Cuillin ridge needs no introduction, to those who have not then no amount or words or photos can do it justice, Along it's 12km length lie the most rugged and impressive mountains in the British Isle's. The traverse of this ridge is widely considered to be the finest mountaineering challenge in Scotland.
Me and Gary at Glen Brittle after the long Drive up

I have been meaning to do the ridge for a long time but have just never had weather, time off or partners land just right for an attempt. This time after seeing a forecast on thursday morning I was on the ridge in less than 20 hours. I decided to do it in one day as I was soloing and seen no real advantage over carrying more water and bivy kit that would slow me down when there was no reason I could not do it without a night out. Had I had a partner to do it with then depending on their fitness and aspirations, two days might have been better as it would also have allowed us to do some of the harder options.

Because I was soloing, my choice of route was limited by how hard I was prepared to solo. With this in mind I would have to avoid the TD gap and would not be able to do Naismith's route on the Tooth, despite wanting to keep weight down to a minimum I would also have a rope with me for abseiling so would be able to do the Inpin and this also meant any difficulties on the complex and to me, unknown, Bidein Druim nan Ramh section could be tackled should I be unable to downclimb.

The Cuillin Ridge from Gars-Bheinn
My brother was off and decided he wanted to come up as he had never been to Skye before, he was also happy to drive which meant I could try and catch some sleep as I hadn't slept since awaking on Thursday morning. We left at about 2330 and arrived in Glen brittle at 0430, I'd manged to get 2-3 hours car sleep, not ideal but better than nothing. I left my Bother to sleep in the car and I headed out on the path towards Coir a'Ghrunnda as the sun rose and brought the cuillin of Rum into a new day with a red glow. It had been some years since I have been up this path i'm pretty sure it had been done up in that time. I certainly didn't remember the impressive bastions of rock that terrace and make the coire far more high and secluded than it's more popular neighbor. Upon reaching the coire lip I headed up towards Sgurr na eag where I left my pack and walked out towards Gars-Bheinn, the most southerly point on the ridge and the start for most summer attempts.

Me on Gars-bheinn
I started from Gars-bheinn at 0725 and made good progress through the first easy section towards the TD gap. I didn't feel the need to go out to Sgurr Dubh Mor as it is off the main ridge and I really wasn't interested in purist ideas or ticking things. I cut down and skirted the TD gap towards the Easy Chimney on Alisdair's SW ridge. There was quite a lot of snow about and although it didn't hinder me at this stage I was quite apprehensive for the coming traverse to the Bealach Mhic Connich, not unjustly it would turn out. after Alasdair I descended to the top of the Great stone chute and headed up Thearlaich. There was a lot of wet snow on this section which made it problematic and I was very glad to have brought an ice axe. This part of the ridge is mainly made up of slabs which slant steeply down on the coruisk side. because of the snow on these slabs the route down traversing round the steep buttress at the bealach was very delicate and treacherous, what in dry conditions takes 5 minutes took me about 30.

The TD gap
Veiw form Sgurr Mhic Connich
From the Bealch Mhic Connich I went round Collie's ledge which was easy despite having snow on it. I back tracked to the summit of Sgurr Mhic Connich then headed towards the formidable tower of An Stac. I passed some guided parties at this stage, heading for Mhic Connich. An Stac is one of the most impressive features on the Ridge, it is perhaps under appreciated due to the Inpin resting a little beyond it's top. I progressed quickly up the exposed crest of An Stac and was soon at the base of the Inpin, the 'Hardest Munro'. The Inaccessible Pinnacle is a fine blade of rock perched upon a slab and it is extremely exposed. I put my harness on for abseiling before starting up. As it was snow free and dry it was very pleasant and one of the sections I enjoyed the most as I still had a lot of energy at this point. I abbed off the short side and continued towards Banachdich.

The Inpin
The next section passed without great event and was the busiest section with multiple parties at various stages. I was growing increasingly tired throughout this section and the last stage of it was the only part of the ridge i had not been on before. After the main summit of Mhadaidh a Woman passed me who doing a round of the Coire. She obviously know where she was going and it was good to have someone ahead for the complicated Bidein Druim nan Ramh summits. I had to abseil the final section off the main summit as I could not find the downclimb although I noticed it once I was at the Bealach. The next section up to Bruch na Frithe was a lot more time and energy consuming than I had expected and the mist had come down on the northern tops.
Looking back at Sgurr Mhic Connich and Sgurr Alasdair

Leaving the summit of Bruach na Frithe I passed a couple one of which asked if I was doing the traverse before saying well done. Later on i was thinking although I cannot be sure, I recognized him as the guide Mike Lates who's fantastic Blog I check quite often. The next top was the impressive Basteir Tooth. Since I was soloing I had little choice but to go up the scramble route from Lota coire. The route involves descending from the main ridge for some distance then climbing a weakness in the cliffs that run down form the Tooth. upon reaching the Tooth's summit I got a pleasant surprise. The Krab I had left to abseil at the end of march was still there! I retrieved it then continued up to Am Basteir via an awkward move above the Tooth also retrieving the other 2 Krabs I had left before.

After descending off Am Basteir, the west ridge of Gillean was next, choosing to go up one of the chimneys below the Gendarme's old stance. Before the summit I threaded the window and then arrived on Sgurr na Gillean the final peak at 1800, 10 hours and 35 minutes after I left Gars-bheinn. I felt no great elation as I knew  I still had a misty decent off the SE ridge before the long path out to Sligachan to overcome. By the time I reached the Sligachan MRT post it was 2020 and I was shattered and hungry. My feet did not look too healthy either! my Brother was happy to drive again as he had slept a lot of the day so a big thanks to him as it would have been a lot harder without his support.
Me on the top of Sgurr nan Gillean and the end of the travese

I am very happy with the 10.5 hours it took from peak to peak and I did not do it to set a time. I think it's a time that I can and will beat although not anytime soon! I was not as fit as i have been over the winter and I also didn't get a proper sleep before hand, will also look for it to be snow free next time!

Monday, 1 April 2013

The Cuillin in Winter

The Cuillin
Usually I try to get to Skye at least once every year and some times manage a second trip. I had never been there while the ridge had on its winter coat on despite years of wanting. I'm not much of a twitter user and only really go on once or twice a week at most so it was by chance that last Thursday I noticed a tweet by the guide, Alan Kimber, with a link to a photo of the Cuillin taken that day. upon opening the link there was only one thing that i was going to be doing over the Easter weekend! The snow was down to at least 3-400m and the forecast was near perfect too. I set about trying to find someone else who would be available and enthusiastic enough to head up to the far North West. John was Skiing in Glen Coe when I phoned him and was very keen. I arranged to meet him the next morning at Spean Bridge.

Me and John with the Forcan Ridge behind

After meeting on Friday Morning we decided to do the Forcan ridge on the Saddle on the way up. It was a fine day with a cold wind and the ridge was under good winter conditions. Unfortunately John twisted his ankle whilst descending and then found two hollows under the snow with the same foot in the space of 5 minutes, dreadful luck. After getting down we continued to the Croft bunkhouse in Portnalong, which is now under new ownership. It was apparent that John would not manage anything the next day as although giving little pain, his foot had swollen up considerably. I decided that I wanted to have a go at a traverse of the northern three Munro's on the ridge. Being solo it would be the most serious thing I've done in the mountains anywhere but there was no reason I couldn't mange it.

John on the Forcan Ridge

I got up at 0730 the next day to a beautiful morning. I chose to sort out my kit outside the bunkhouse where it was very pleasant. I opted to take two 45m ropes with me which would give me a larger margin of error when it came to needing to abseil. Personally I didn't mind carrying the extra weight as I had three (ended up doing five) planned abseils to do although after adding food, water, some slings as well as personal climbing kit from harness and helmet through to waterproofs did make my pack quite heavy. When climbing with someone the fact that the ropes are out and not actually being carried makes movement a lot easier as opposed to carrying them on your back like I would have to do. I drove along to the MRT post at Sligachan where I started along the path.

Sgurr nan Gillean and Am Basteir

My planned route was to go up the South East ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean, down the West ridge, up Am Basteir from the col before descending onto the Tooth and finally heading over Bruach na Frithe and then down the North West ridge. I moved quite quickly up towards and then through Coire Riabhach, all the time the towering bulk of Gillean and the crooked fang of the Tooth in all their awesomeness doing nothing to inspire me with great confidence and certainly making me thing twice about my plans. Upon reaching the Coire that is bound by the SE ridge and the famous Pinnacle Ridge, it was time to get geared up. The snow ahead up to the ridge was solid of the nature that only shows spike marks from crampons as proof of your passing. I put on my harness now rather than wait till reaching an abseil and fumbling around in an exposed position where the added hazard of crampons could be serious, then I begun ascending the slope that eventually formed into steep easy gullys on the SE Ridge. I made quick and efficient progress on the snow mainly due to its perfect constituency and as I reached the crest the view beyond was nothing short of phenomenal  The rest of the ridge held its winter bindings down to a low level on all of the flanks that were visible and also the route to Gillean and beyond to Am Basteir looked very intimidating.

The ridge up Gillean with Am Basteir beyond

I headed up the ridge sticking to the crest until it steepened, the route then went round the Coire Lota side following ledges with some exposed rock steps until rejoining the crest at the eastern end of the summit. The summit crest was impressively exposed and after a few photos I continued on the traverse down the West Ridge constantly subconsciously weighting up the chances of a fall with the consequences of that fall to judge what speed I would allow myself to move at. The crux of the day came just after threading the window (which didn't seem to be optional in winter) when the route involved descending on steep crusty snow with no decent axe placements or handholds above the NW face of Gillean. After this section was complete the rest of the descend was easy up until the top of Tooth Chimney was reached which was the first of the planned abseils on the route. There was good gear at the top and one rope was long enough. From the bottom I traversed back onto the ridge and made my way to the Col.

Me on the Summit of Sgurr nan Gillean

Veiw down the West ridge

I raced up the easy but exposed crest of Am Basteir until reaching the notch about halfway up. A short abseil was required and once again there was good gear in place so I didn't have to leave any. After the summit of Am Basteir is passed the route goes down left on to the Coire Lota face until the Neck with the tooth is reached. I had thought this would require one abseil but I ended up doing two and leaving gear at both. It is far better to leave gear when you feel it necessarily rather than trust dodgy looking anchors or risk getting a rope snagged or jammed whilst trying to retrieve it. After reaching the neck I ascended onto the top of the tooth.

Half way down Tooth Chimney

View from the bottom of Tooth Chimney

At this point I had an internal dilemma  I had seen people abseiling off the high overhanging nose of the tooth some years ago and it was impressive to say the least. There was already a thin but new looking bit of cord in place and I had no desire to abseil down the enclosed King's Cave as I had done a few summers ago. Added to this I had lugged around a rope that I had so far found no use for. I was running thin on excuses not to do it and despite being very apprehensive and the view off the nose doing nothing to settle me I decided to do it. I got out my other rope and tied them together, I left a crab on the cord but was unable to back it up. Throwing the ropes over the edge and watching them sway out into the abyss above Coire a'Bhasteir before disappearing below the overhang also done nothing to settle my nerves but I had gone too far now and this was getting done. The anchor was such that until I was out on the initial hoared up slab before the abysmal drop below it could not be properly tested yet it was only the niggling doubt that arises from fear that told that it might not be as solid as it looked. Once the initial push was done and I was over the edge I began to enjoy what is probably one of the most exciting abseils in Scotland. About halfway down I heard a click and realized despite being methodical I hadn't done up my screw gate to which my belay was on and had heard a bit of gate chatter! The last 10-15m of the abseil after passing the final over hang is completely in mid-air and by the end you find yourself on a wide but exposed platform.

Gillean form Am Basteir

After retrieving the ropes and with the major difficulties behind me I continued along to Bruach na Frithe. I had not encountered anyone up until reaching the col with Sgurr a'Basteir but Bruach na Frithe being one of the Easiest Munro's on the ridge, gets a lot of traffic and this showed with me passing in excess of 20 people form the short distance form here to the summit. The high cloud that formed and lingered since the blue skies at which I had left Sligachan to had now given way to the sun again and this took its toll on the snow(as well as my face as the sunburn showed the next day!). descending the narrow NW ridge was enjoyable at first but as the snow softened it became more and more of a task. About halfway down an opportunity to descend into Fionn Choire by a solid snow slope in the shade arouse. This would also allow me to traverse over the col above Meal Odhar and onto the Basteir gorge path. After reaching the path I stopped and dipped my feet in the river as I was feeling the effects of wearing rigid boots and crampons all day, then I headed back down to the car.

Me after Descending the Tooth

On top of Bruach na Frithe

Looking down the NW ridge

John tried to go up with me to Coire Lagan the next day but had to turn back unfortunately. We had planned to do a traverse from Sgurr Mhic Choinnich round to Sgurr na Ciche. I went up myself and traversed a very exposed Mhic Choinnich before abseiling down kings Chimney and then descending the Grade one gulley 'Bomb Alley' which joins onto the stone shoot. I might have went further and even stayed away for a few more days but I bruised my ankle at some point the previous day and it wasn't getting any better.

From the ridge up Mhic Choinnich

The Exposed crest of Mhic Choinnich with the ridge beyond

Looking down Bomb Alley into Coire Lagan

The two days on Skye are certainly the most serious and committing things I have done in the mountains and the traverse of the front three was probably the best day I've ever had. Skye is special at the best of times and in winter, it is surreal.