Monday 30 July 2012

Hill Running... there's nae fells in Scotland!

After the disappearance of the snow, and the recent rains of summer, the motivation to get out in the mountains has changed a little in the last few months. The desire to run/trott/crawl up and down the hills has caught the imagination of late! Having been out half a dozen times in the last few months, it struck me yesterday the variety of thoughts that go through your head while indulging in a relatively greulling sport....hmmm on second thoughts I'm not sure if 'sport' is the right word. It might be if taken in the same context as 'the only sports are racing driving and mountaineering, all others are games! In no particular order are a few thoughts which popped into my brain yesterday while doing something which I enjoyed doing.... well for a few minutes anyway! You might guess it, but Beinn Bhreac and Beinn a'Chroarainn (Cairngorms) might not be the best hills for fast flowing, high level running! :-)


* Jacket on or jacket off….


* Oh oh I'm going to get soaked


* Stupid bog!


* Great, wet feet already and I've only been out half an hour


* Aaaarggghhh can't believe I'm ankle deep in frogspawn!


* Wow, what a view!


* Shit that was close, don't want to do my ankle in here!


* Those clouds are very black, wait for it… wait for it…. And the rains on, great.


* Ah the hutchison hut, what a place!


* They look like their prepared for the weather (couple in full waterproofs, me in lycra leggings and t shirt)!


* My lungs hurt


* My legs hurt


* I wonder if my heart rate has gone through 200bpm yet


* I could just stop for a seat….


* Stupid knee-high grass and heather


* Bollox, I'm on the wrong hill, stupid map!


* Damn, turdoclock.


* Aaawww my eyes, stupid sweat!


* Bet the GB mens road cycling team wouldn't be slacking it right now….


* This was a terrible choice of route!


* Mmmmm I'm glad the suns out!


* This is summer and I'm starting to lose feeling in my hand….. Stupid wind and rain.


* Damn, my trainers are filled with mud…. should never have worn road shoes.


* Damn it, I think my nipples might be bleeding…..


* Wow, there's Loch Avon! I'm glad I came out.


* Wooowwww this slopes too steep for road shoes!


* Oh oh, that better not be cramp coming on….


* I wish that woman would bugger off so that I can take my pants off……ok maybe that was in the carpark!







Wednesday 25 July 2012


I'm just back from an excellent couple of weeks in the Dolomites. I'm a big fan of Dolomites climbing - the combination of big routes, adventure, quality rock, incredible scenery and good food is hard to beat!

The first week was just Ally Fulton and I. The plan was to climb hard this week then have a slightly more chilled out week the following week, but forecasts for afternoon thunderstorms deterred us from doing too many big routes. In the end, the whole week felt surprisingly relaxed despite getting a fair amount done.

The first route was the Steger Route on the Catanaccio. This takes the strikingly obvious big cracks visible from the valley. Definitely a three-star line, although maybe not quite the same rock quality or interesting climbing as we got from some later routes.

Looking up at the Catenaccio. The Steger takes the obvious cracks leading to the highest point on the wall

Ally loving the chimneys!

Nice exposure on the upper section

The next couple of routes we did were shorter so avoid thunderstorm risk - the Messner on the Second Sella Tower and Via Irma on Piz Ciavezes. Both were really good routes, short by Dolomites standards but longer than most Scottish routes! The Messner felt pretty bold in places and route-finding wasn't obvious, so it would probably warrant E2 5b back home, whereas Via Irma was technically harder but the difficulties were short & well-protected, maybe E2 5c (or maybe even stiff E1) overall.

Wondering if I was still on route on the Messner

Ally pulling through the roof on Via Irma

Next, we headed to the Tofana di Rozes, intending to try the Pilastro. Unfortunately though, the weather was still a bit unsettled so we opted for the easier line to the left, starting in glorious sunshine but, in true Scottish style, finishing in the clag.

The second week was more sociable. I did two routes with my wife, Elizabeth. The Hexenstein seems to be one of the most popular Dolomites routes, being relatively easy, non-serious and high-quality. The next day, along with 2 friends, we did the Delaggo on the Cima Casson di Formin, which was less well known and a little more serious but still very good.

Elizabeth enjoying the Hexenstein
After that, Ally and I made time for one more big route - the Vinatzer (with Messner finish) on the South Face of the Marmolada. I'd wanted to do a route on this wall for years and the Vinatzer/Messner is the classic mid-grade outing on the face. We had ideal weather - clear, settled and mild without being outrageously hot (we are Scottish after all), and beautiful views from the approach.

The view from just above the hut on the approach to the Marmolada
 When we got to the base of the crag, there was another team just setting off up the original start. We set off up the alternative start and, but the time the two lines merged after 3 pitches, we had passed the other team and seemed to be going really well.

Ally starting across the easy traverse pitch (P10 or thereabouts)
We were at the big ledge over half-way up the face by 11am, so thought we'd a good chance of making the last cable-car down. Sadly, the route-finding on the Messner finish was a lot more complex. After much uncertainty about the line, we ended up in a dead end (with loads of tat - we clearly weren't the first!) and had to do a long diagonal abseil to get back on route, costing us more valuable time.

Tricky route-finding on the Messner finish
In the guide, there are 3 pitches on the route given UIAA VI+: pitch 4, pitch 7 and pitch 28. Clearly there was a sting in the tail waiting for us! I ended up getting this top crux: probably E2 in its own right (albeit with quite a lot of pegs in situ) with hard-to-read sequences and mind-blowing exposure. In the end, none of the moves were that hard but when tired, it would be very easy to make a mistake here.
Glad to be topping out, even if we had missed the cable car
From there, it was relatively easy to the top. We ended up missing the last bin by about an hour, but the descent of the ski slope in trainers was straight-forward and we managed to hitch back from the Fedaia pass to Malga Ciampela easily enough.

Descending towards the Fedaia pass

All in all, a great trip and a part of the world that I'll be keen to visit again.

Saturday 21 July 2012

Catching Up

It's fair to say I've neglected the blog a bit recently. Life's been hectic but there's been plenty of good stuff happening, particularly with the good run of weather on the west coast in spring & early summer.

Alps Trip
Heike and I had a great week in Chamonix at the start of March. For once, we were lucky with the weather. We made the most if it with ascents of the Petit Viking, Swiss Route on the Courtes, Fil a Plomb and Frendo-Ravenal. Anyone who's ever skied with me will know that I'm not exactly comfortable on skis, so the approaches and descents were probably the crux for me!

Spring Cragging
We had some brilliant clear, dry weather on the west coast this spring which made for cold conditions in the mountains but great cragging weather at low level. Highlights for me included a weekend in Ardnamurchan with James, Heike and Brian, a trip to the north-west with Ally and a visit to Neist with Matt.

I'd been wanting to get to Ardnamurchan for ages and it didn't disappoint - the climbing and the scenery are both incredible. Return of the Jedi and Star Wars were the climbing highlights, but the views across the Small Isles and the magic of the Ring itself made them all the more special.

The NW trip coincided with warmer weather so Ally and I got up onto Stac Pollaidh for ascents of Jack the Ripper, Wingless Warlock and Vlad the Impaler. We also made it to Inbhirpollaidh Rock Gym, a crap name for a great crag! The steep, physical Gneiss was the perfect complement to the rough Sandstone slopers & jamming of the day before.

I'd been to Neist years ago but it poured so I'd never actually climbed anything there. The big, intimidating face of Supercharger had made an impression though, and I was glad to get back there & get on it. It turned out to be more solid than expected and had some great climbing on it.

For the bank holiday weekend at the start of May, Elizabeth and I embarked on a journey through one of Scotland's greatest wildernesses - the Knoydart peninsula. Day 1 was a little bit epic - we started from Glenfinnan, ran in almost to Loch Arkaig, then turned left, went up & over the 3 munros north of Glen Dessary and finished at Sourlies bothy. Day 2 was fortunately a bit shorter, taking us up & over Luanaidh Bheinn and down to Inverie for massive feast in the Old Forge. The ferry to Mallaig and bus to Glenfinnan completed the loop the next day. With great weather, phenomenal scenery and blissful solitude, it was a weekend to remember.

Mountains and Sea-Cliffs on Skye
Whether you're a monarchist or a republican, you'd have to admit that the Royal Family gave done a good job of giving us extra bank holidays in the past couple of years. We celebrated the jubilee (honest) with a 4-day trip to Skye in perfect weather and with barely a midge in sight.

Andy and I started a little over-optimistically, heading for Vulcan Wall area first thing on Saturday morning. After I'd experienced the joys of leading an E2 crux with no feeling in my hands or feet, followed by hot aches at the top belay, we retreated to a slightly warmer crag. A great link-up on Sron na Ciche allowed us to get the blood flowing again, with a dubious topo for Atropos adding to the fun.

The next day, we headed North for some warm rock at Kilt Rock. What a great crag! 4 50m lines of E1 & E2 up impeccable rock had us grinning all the way to the pub!

Monday gave another adventure, this time teaming up with Lisa to do Kung Cobra on the back of Sgurr Coinneach Mor. This 4-star classic clearly doesn't get much traffic but is worth the walk for the solitude & views alone. A circuit of the Coure Laggan round with Elizabeth on the Tuesday completed an excellent weekend.