Creg Na Eighe

Creg Na Eighe

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Well Well Well...

Its the 28th of February and it seems that winter 2017 has only just begun (physch)

When I asked for a month off from work my boss's face was a picture. I work in retail and we're normally not permitted to have more than 2 weeks off at once but chasing a Scottish winter is a never ending circle. A circle of constantly driving, getting up at ungodly hours and keeping motivated when it doesn't work out.

This season has been a case of blink and you miss it. Routes have been getting ticked but nothing compared to a 'normal' winter season. This week's forecast looks fairly positive but lets see what GLOBAL WARMING has in store for us.

I am half way through my time off and have managed do get out on some good routes, the most of them have been solo efforts on some easier graded stuff. One route that we managed to climb was the northern corrie's test piece Invernookie. It defiantly lived upto the hype but we both felt it was a little tougher than 3/4.

It was a long day for me, getting up at 4 (I live in the Scottish borders) picking up Jarek at 6 (Perth) then driving to the Cairngorms. A strong southern wind was making the walk in a slower plod than usual but once you were deep into the corrie it didn't seem to bad. Once we started the first pitch the clouds parted letting the sun shine. Jarek leading the first pitch comfortably with me following. Just as I arrived at the belay that wondrous feeling of blood rushing back through my fingers gave me my first case of screaming barfies! 

My lead next, a fantastic 50m pitch with 3 pieces of gear and some long run outs between them. Can't have it to easy now?

I'm not sure what the 'crux' of the route was but if someone wants to enlighten me I'd appreciate it. Some nice snowy turfed ramps led to the next belay. Then one more pitch to freedom. "its ok, you've got the full 60 metres, you'll get to the top" I said to Jarek. After what felt like an eternity waiting for him to finish the climb, the radio crackled "Connor, I am nearly finished but I have saved last 10 metres for you". "BASTARD". I was thrilled. I wasted no time stripping the belay in the fading light and I set off on what I thought was the last pitch. I would have much rather led this pitch than the sparsely geared 2nd pitch. Loads of confident hooks and you could lace the cracks with gear to the top. One little traverse and a short chimney to freedom, topping out with a sunset over the west coast was well received the 50mph gusts felt like a real kick in the balls. But it was a well earned sunset. Descending Fiaciall ridge with a headtorch in 50mph winds was tough after a big day out but you have to take the rough with the smooth.

We stumbled back to the car at 7:30pm, Jarek was slightly late for his 8pm shift. But my fantastic efforts behind the wheel got him back to Perth at a decent time. Then pulling up outside at my house at 11:30pm. A 20 hour day that turned me into a ghost the next day at work.

Lets be honest though. You'd much rather be standing on a mountain ridge in the dark with the wind and rain than working???

Sunset. Photo C Grady

Lunch on a frozen ledge. Photo Jarek Hora

Starting P2. Photo Jarek Hora

Sunshine on belay. Photo Jarek Hora

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Pushing Yourself

I have been meaning to update this for a while, but life seems to get in the way...

Before the winter season started i set myself a goal of 10 routes, and happily I have managed this. With 15 outings this season, which have been a mix of classic Scottish conditions, from amazing blue sky's and fat ice, to horrendous 80mph winds with whiteouts and spin drift up the wazoo!

The one thing I have thought a lot about this season is the mental capacity when leading. Someone asked me at the start of the season what grades I lead in winter, my answer was a mumbled response. " uh grade 2, 3 sometimes...."

Now when you see the likes of Greg Boswell, Guy Robertson. Dave MacLeod etc, leading grade 10's. A grade 2 gully doesn't seem too substantial. But then I thought, get a grip. Your average weekend warrior isn't leading these kind of grades so just get out as much as you can and see how far you can push yourself.

Having spoke to Jarek (the Czech beauty) about climbing hidden chimney in the Northern corries, which is probably the most popular route on the buttress, I have manged to climb the normal route twice before, so still high on my efforts of leading my first 3/4 the week previous we opted to try the direct start, which is given a 4/5 mix grade.

Starting the Direct Pitch. Picture Jarek Hora

The hooks on the direct pitch are mostly positive, but the foot work requires some smearing placements, which is kinda hard when you have big spiky things on your feet!!! But I managed to moan and groan up the pitch, there are also some impressive torques to be had at the top of the pitch. From here it was a simple traverse up to the main chimney pitch. Now like i said this is probably the most popular route on the buttress, when sitting on the belay I had 8 people passing me on the slant through to the main chimney. When we arrived at the main chimney section, there was a group half way through the pitch, with 2 guys standing across from us. Now as these guys were first, when this group finished they were free to start climbing, but when we were waiting our turn a guide turned up with 2 clients and blew past us, crossing ropes in the process. Not taking notice of people waiting to ascend, now this is bullshit!!!

I don't care if you're a guide, Chris Bonnington or the pope. Wait your turn, don't be that arsehole that pisses everyone off in the process of trying to rush of the top of a route. There was another guide on the route who also expressed his feelings of the attitude of this 'guide'

Despite the hold up in the chimney myself and Jarek waited our turn and topped out rather happy with how the day had gone. We hope for another route, but by this time we weather had come in and we where chilled to the bone.

The Men in Red

A couple of weeks passes and the weather got increasingly mild. Having spoken with friends traveling from England-shire, there plans were to hit the Ben, as was every man and dog over the weekend, either the Ben or Stob Coire an Locahin up in Glen Coe. Scott was keen for an outing and we settled on Coire an Lochain in Cairngorms, hoping to avoid the hoards of people heading up west. Keen to try climb the Vent, we walked up a little over an hour and had the place to ourselves. Now I'm not a superstitious person, but they say it happens in 3's. Well number 1, I fell when gearing up and ripped a hole straight through my climbing pants and took a nice chunk of flesh of my knee. Number 2, for some stupid stupid reason I didn't clip my axes into my leashes when traversing into the bottom of the route, you know were this is going. Never have I seen anything move so fast as my DMM Apex axe vanish down the slopes of Lochain to the bottom next to the wee loch, a lot of profanity came out of my mouth at this point, sliding on my arse for about 200m to retrieve the axe and doing my best Ueli Steck impression racing back to the top. Number 3, was the vent cascading with water as i tried to lead the first pitch, hypothermia was not worth it, every time i lifted my head I was met with pouring water filling my face and jacket.

So down climbing with our tales between our legs we decided to solo the coloiur to escape. We did look at the milky way, but the buttress was black as the solar system.

Black As Night. Picture Scott Fraser

Scott's Face Completes the Day. Picture Connor Grady

I really can't complain about how the season has turned out. 15 outings and 10 routes. Ticking a route i have been looking at after 2 years was a highlight and leading my first 4/5 route was also great fun.

But the best thing I can think to summaries the season is the people. Jarek, Scott, Liam and Joe

Thanks for the banter fella's. 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

I Turned 22...

February has been a pretty good month.

A flurry of texts and phone calls the night before we're due to go out, was the norm now. It was either to be the Northern corries, so we could attempt Invernookie ( a grade 4, 2 star route) Or the alternative was Lurchers crag, so we could try Central gully ( another grade 4, 2 star route)

I am now use to the alarm waking me up at ugly times of the morning, my mindset all night and morning was either Invernookie or Central gully. So when i got to the car with Scott and Liam, i found that the plan had changed and we where heading east to Bridge of  Orchy. Salamander Gully was the plan, i wasn't complaining. The majority of the climbing i had done in Bridge of Orchy had been great conditions and even better weather. Well this time was by far the best conditions and weather we could have hoped for. The sky was clear, the sun was out and the ice was fat.  The route was climbed in 3 pitches. I had first lead over a slight lip, then a gully to the start of the ice, Liam got the second pitch which was the bulk of the fat ice. Then Scott took us to the top via a cracking ice gully.

Scott Fraser descending in the sun. Photo Connor Grady

Feeling mightily pleased with our efforts on Sunday in Bridge of Orchy, i had a plan to explore Beinn Udlaidh with Yarek on the Tuesday. Knowing how great the ice was in the area we planned to climb the classic test piece in the corrie, Quartveins Scoop.

Thinking we would have the place to ourselves being that it was early on a Tuesday morning. We where wrong, it was busy. Very busy. As we sat on a rock having a brew and gearing up we noticed people topping out of the route, another party half way up on the belay, another party of 3 just starting to climb and then another party of 2 standing waiting for their shot at the route.

"sod this" i said to Yarek

We decided to climb the route to the left, Ice Crew. As anticipated the weather and ice were near perfect. I had the lead through a nice section of ice through to a mixed gully, topped off with a run out of ice to the first belay, which i didn't notice until later was ideally placed below an intimidating ice chandelier. From here Yarek led through a steep section of ice and traversed right wards near to the top of Quartsvein scoop and out to the ice fields above, which provided a windless sunset over Glencoe. Now to have bluebell sky's when winter climbing in Scotland is a good thing, but to have 3 in the space of a week is a rarity. 

Fantastic conditions, Photo Connor Grady 

Ice Chandelier at the top of P1 on Ice Crew. Photo Connor Grady 

 After returning home from my first trip to Udlaidh I was straight on the phone to Scott and Liam hoping they were free this weekend to return, again I was lucky and had a partner for a return trip 4 days later.

Scott picked me up early Saturday morning, after seeing the weather reports and reading the standard UKC threads I was expecting half of Scotland to be in the car park come Saturday. But to our surprise there where only a few cars parked. Armed with new walking poles we took off through the pig farm (Scot's worst nightmare, pigs, not farmers) then up the track through the woods, now having been on this track only a few days before I remember swearing at Yarek for having poles when i was struggling for grip in the steep ice sections of the walk. But this time it was me who was fairly stable and Scott who was no doubt swearing at me under his breath.

The plan, yet again was to try Quartsvein Scoop, but having spoken to some climbers on the approach and seeing people hacking the route to pieces, which was seeing a lot of traffic during the week. We opted to climb Sunshine Gully. 90m of blue ice, so 2 pitches with a lead each. I started off first up a nice steep section of ice for about 10metres, traversing left to avoid a horrible section of black rock I found some lovely frozen turf then back rightwards to re-gain the ice through the gully. There was not a lot of gear to be had on the gully, but once I found the start of the ice then screws were a plenty. 2 screws were placed in the ice for a first belay, sitting in a comfortable position whilst belaying Scott, what i failed to notice when i traversed to avoid the black rock was my ropes had caught round around a badly placed boulder, as Scott found out when seconding the pitch, but after some swearing and swinging of ropes they were freed, then Scott continued to take over the lead. having underestimated the length of the route when he topped out about 12 meters later. I'll be honest, I was jealous as he got the bulk of the good ice.

Topping out over Udlaidh, with a cloud inversion stretching from the south-west all the way across Glen Coe and the ski center, was impressive. Also in the nick of time as the sun had just started to work it's magic on the Ice of Udlaidh.

3 outings in the space of 7 days, with 3 routes climbed. In perfect conditions. Scottish winter climbing eh?

Starting P1 of Sunshine Gully. Photo Scott Fraser

Start of P2. Excuse the expression of confusing. Photo Connor Grady

A joyous top out after a fun climb. Photo Connor Grady

A few weeks of UN-successful attempts followed. The most eventful was a 5a.m start to climb The Haston Line in the Coire an Sneachda, a route that had been on my tick list for 2 years. Seeing as we where the only car in the Cairngorm car park we thought we'll have a 10 minute snooze. The forecast showed me winds of 30-40mph, which had been the norm for us so far this season. But when we parked the car it was no-were near 40mph, more like 80mph. Needless to say we did not get any shut eye and it felt like being stuck on a roller coaster. Yarek tried to walk out of the car park to the start of the path but just ended up being beaten by the wind. So we decided against anything in the conditions.

Photo. Jarek Hora

Despite the lack of climbing, we managed a nice walk around Loch Morlich. Photo Jarek Hora

1 week passed, and The Haston Line had seen further ascents.

Scott was the partner for this climb, a route he had climbed last season but was happy to go along with my madness for the tick. I did feel slightly bad for dragging him out of his bed when he was chocked up with man flu, but i felt it was worth it. I think he did too...

Continuing to swear at me, and my walking poles during the walk in, we arrived at the base of the climb just as a team of 3 started the first pitch. That suited both as we had plenty of time to enjoy a brew and gear up. I was determined to lead the climb as it would be my first lead on a grade 4 route. I had gone over the route description a thousand times and watched numerous videos online. The second crux is the corner, you can finish on the slant, hidden chimney or Yukon jacket etc. Now was the time to get on with it. My problem when leading is not being comfortable in my own abilities and eventually having to back off a route. So I wanted to break the mold and comfortable lead the route and also to enjoy the crux. The first chimney was a nice and narrow birth process onto the route, followed by the the second corner, which i thought was the crux, turned out it wasn't. Being a steep corner I managed to torque both of my axes into the back of the chimney and walk up the wall and an awkward little shuffle to slid through the narrow top, which lead onto the ledge belay. Scott however had a hands on approach when seconding, his axe had dropped below his legs and became lodged under the corner. After more swearing and some flexible maneuvering he managed to swing his axe loose and continue to the belay. 

I led through the second pitch which was highlighted by the eventual crux, a blank looking wall with a thin left hand crack to the top. again the axes were torqued and the feet followed but my reach was just to short to reach the top of the wall. Luckily the open crack on the left was big enough to fit a good old classic, grit style hand jam. This was the key to unlocking the route.

Set up on the third belay I brought Scott up below me and also found that axes only went so far into the corner, there was a party also on the last pitch on Yukon Jack, then another pair just about to start the last pitch. So Scott lead the last romp to freedom up The Slant. Just at the top out we noticed we hadn't taken many pictures of the climb. Probably due to the biting wind and the use of torquing of axes throughout the day.

Scott happy to be above the crux corner. Photo Connor Grady

It was one of those days. Every bone was cold. Photo Connor Grady

 Personally, I was happy with myself for leading through the chimneys and cruxes and ticking my first grade 4. I try not to take too much notice of grades as I feel leading to be more of a mental capacity then skill or technique. Although it does boost the confidence when looking to improve my grade for the winter.

Thanks to Scott, Liam and Yarek for the banter.

13 outings this season, and so far 8 routes......and counting.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Fiacaill Ridge

Sunday 25th January 2015

"You playing football tonight man?"

"Aye man, up for a good game"

Not a good idea, not when you're due out at 6am for your first winter ridge.

Also the team we played were near enough the Real Madrid of 5 a-side.

Half 5 my phone started making horrible noises, must be time to get up I thought... Do it quick, get dressed, cup of tea, and food. Don't prolong the horrible feeling of getting up early and going outside into the cold. The thoughts are always in the back of my mind, it'll be worth it!!!

The plan was Fiacalli Ridge in the Northern Corries. My first ridge (ever) Joe yawned "Morning" as he wandered into the kitchen. Cup of tea, slice of toast, bag packed and gone. Into the car and up the A9 by half 6, our car journeys consist of banging the world to rights (and attempting to sing) this mornings subject....A9 average speed cameras. I won't bore with details but if your travel via the A9 you'll get the idea of the conversation that took place.

The forecast was looking ok, no fresh snow fall, north westerly wind ranging about 40-50mph, and a good level of freezing. We had 2 out of 3, can you guess the odd 1 out? The wind.

I would have killed for 40mph, it was more like 70 - 80 at times. Also me being a plonker, i had no goggles, so a lovely frozen face was my companion for the day (i have since invested in some eye wear)

The Northen Corries is by far the most accessible place to climb in winter, being a short 45 minute walk ( if you're fit) going back to the night before when I was busy chasing the Scottish version of Ronaldo, my legs did not want to carry me up the path. We jumped onto the shoulder of the hillside for a gentle walk upto the start of the ridge. The wind tearing into us from the west, walking at an angle was good practice for the ridge.

Being honest, neither of us really knew what to expect.  Pictures from UKC logbooks only give you so much info. The first section was basically a scramble with crampons and ice axes. Then we started the first steep step onto the edge of the ridge. Now i know the direct ridge is given grade 2, and the snow ramps to the right give grade 1. Our ascent was a zig zag line between the two. We feel we had a good sense of exposure across the main section of the ridge and some nice cover of some of the more easier snow slopes! One thing we were a bit thrown by is the overall length of the route,  having climbed it end to end in under 30 minutes was surprising. But good experience none the less. I did treat myself and purchase a GoPro and have made a quick (15 minutes) edit. I'm working on the whole editing thing, so stay patience. There is a link below for the video.

Fiacaill Ridge:

Next stop, Aonach Eagach?

Summit of Fiacaill Ridge

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Getting Started

I am totally new to this whole blogging style of social media.

It seems to be a great tool to show people what you have been doing in the world and to share your experiances.

Over the last few years, most of the fun experiances in life, have came from climbing...