Saturday, 19 April 2014

Learning the Ropes II

February provided me and Cammy with our first real opportunity to climb in winter. Previous to then university, inclement weather and girlfriends had stopped us making the trip North. This quick trip was to Glen Coe, famous for massacre, breathtaking scenery and The Clachaig Inn.
Cammy In The Glen Coe Car Park

After an uneventful drive we arrived just as the rain in the lower valley ceased and the mist started to clear. We put on our kit, at which point I realised my helmet was not attached to the side of my rucksack, hardly ideal as rocks in mountainous areas are rarely as stable as small single pitch crags and ice has a tendency to break. A potentially deadly combination of detritus which can be sent from above either by your own axes or your partner leading ahead. Luckily Cammy had his cycle helmet with him, this had plenty of ventilation, or small stone gaps but was better than nothing.

We raced up the mountain over taking a few parties before we even got to the snow line. The path to Stob Coire nan Lochan was well trod, which made progress faster. We continued moving fast up to the Coire itself, where we stopped well back to check routes, cornices and plan our descent while eating pork pies. Above most routes in the Coire there were large meringues of cornice, some must have been 3 to 4 metres deep. There was evidence of recent small avalanches in the gullies, so those were out of the question. Instead we headed to a famous ridge line, where no cornices were present and parties were already climbing called Dorsal Arete.

Making Good Progress Up The Valley


The weather was fantastic, warm sunshine, hardly a cloud in the sky. Cold on the north facing ridge as we climbed, but this was no bad thing. The recent snows had not frozen and had the consistency of sugar. Had they been subject to the warmth of the sun they would have been even less stable. We made quick progress behind a guided party. Climbing the steep snow up to the first belay round a block quickly, without ropes. At the block a traffic jam had formed as a member of the party was trying to pluck up the courage to summit the Dorsal Fin. While we were waiting there was a crunch, this cornice collapse sent debris down the neighboring gully.

Dorsal Fin (ridge centre of picture)

Guided Party Ahead (climber tackling the fin)

Soon we were climbing again, no substantial protection, just rope looped between spikes up to the end of the first pitch. There was terrific exposure, making a small step up, made slightly worse by the absolute demolition of the snow by the guided group failing to place their feet accurately in each others kicked steps.

View Back To The Car

The next pitch was probably the best I have ever climbed, a little climbing, followed by a walk along a narrow fin of rock. Some my call this contrived as it is easily avoided by a short traverse, but I'd say this is the most appealing line, it sums up why you would climb. Either side of the fin is a 20ft drop into gullies which stretch to the bottom of the Coire, the belay, a small spike of rock, is worryingly far and in these banked out conditions the sling round the fin is slightly dubious. Alot to absorb and savour as you walk along a small ridge as wide as your foot before escaping to the safety of the next belay and  quick pitch to the top.

Cammy On The Dorsal Fin

Cammy finished the climb, it took us a very short time, however we had no option other than to head straight back as we had spent so long waiting for the route to clear. On the way down passing satstrugi worn by the wind, we looked to Bidean nam Bian, and later to the Anoach Eagach Ridge. More challenges for another day. A quick pint and a steak in the Clachaig rounded off a fantastic day.

Cycle Helmet Top Out

Bidean nam Bian

Friday, 18 April 2014

The Cobbler

The Cobbler is the most accessible technical summit in relation to Glasgow. Yesterday a group of friends with varying experience in the mountains made the trip with me to the summit. The weather started with drizzle but quickly dried, however strong winds remained. We took a diversion from the path up a steep scree followed by an almost vertical turf section to a shoulder and the saddle between the Central and South Peak.  The central peak offers the highest point of the mountain, a pinnacle which stands about 15 ft or so above the surrounding ground.

To access the summit is a quick scramble of no real technical difficulty, a hole in the easily accessible side gives access to a ledge where a short traverse leads to a series of blocks which give steps to the top. Atop I set up a belay and Rachael came up to join me.  The wind this small distance higher than the summit was considerable, adding to the exposure. A fun summit with little technical difficulty, though best enjoyed with a little knowledge of short roping techniques to protect the pinnacle.

Windy Approach With Fantastic Views

Placing Protection On The Top

Rachael Joins Me On The Summit

Windswept Up Top

Monday, 14 April 2014

Learning The Ropes

In December Cammy and I had an abortive attempt to break into winter climbing, which ended in an epic at the Cairngorms. Unfortunately due to the abysmal conditions we were unable to climb, instead the snow and ice that had formed had melted over night and we thought it unethical to proceed with our climbing. Instead of climbing the Fiacall Ridge we detoured and had a little fun traversing a slush slope in Coire an Lochain before heading along the Cairngorm Plateau. The wind was unbelievable, gusts at the top were measured to be in excess of 114mph, enough to make every step on the remaining slush a question mark event as to whether you might be blown over.

We loved it.

The plateau was ours, not a sole in sight, a few ptarmigans nestled together at one point, until the wind blew them asunder flinging birds at us in one last desperate attempt to drive us back before we made our final push to summit of Cairngorm. On the way back down, buzzing from the adrenaline, drenched, we passed the station for the funicular railway. Inside sat warm, smiley people drinking hot chocolate wondering why on earth these sodden, bedraggled men were still ploughing on. Really having left our wallets behind we weren't able to afford the fare and had no choice. What a great day, a true expression of the moods mountainous areas can take.

You would have thought that in these situations any sensible being would have been wearing a nice gore-tex jacket, and they were, Cammy was. I was braving the day, without a choice, in the Rab Exodus Softshell Jacket.

This jacket is an unparalleled bit of kit, water-resistant it held the rain off until we left the car park in the morning. It breathed out and in from there on all the way to the top and I was drenched. This is however expected, it being a soft shell and all. Do I regret wearing it? Well no, not really, Cammy in his goretex jacket was as wet as me, the rain was blown in through every orifice of the jacket. Perspiration was also a large factor due to the effort that was needed to stay vertically orientated and make onward progress, dodging bullet-like ptarmigans. So at the end, stripping off in the car park neither of us seemed dry anywhere, true Scottish weather.

One thing the Exodus did do rather better was keep the wind out. Gusts of 114mph may have been the case on the summit, however in the saddles between summits there wind was constant, rushing from the valley floor it sounded like a jet, we crawled through these areas almost on our hands and knees. Yet through all this, I did not feel the heat and morale sapping effects of wind chill.

I feel it is a good jacket and have since used it for climbing in snow and on rock, the large chest pockets are good for carrying maps and snacks. There are no unnecessary features such as taped seams and waterproof zips as you find on some soft shells and the hood fits well over a helmet too. The only drawback is the left arm zip pocket. It moves annoyingly with the weight of a phone, so I put my compass in it, this worked well until I found my compass dangling by my wrist. This pocket tends to open with movement, especially while climbing, with or without something in it. Otherwise an awesome jacket, especially if you, like me, know that putting effort into moving fast is better for warmth than being dry with a fleece.

Traversing the slush slope practicing rope techniques

The author at the summit in the Exodus Jacket

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Do you have previous?

So what qualifies me to talk about adventure? As previously stated I am a fairly inexperienced climber, I've never been to the alps and I'm already set on making alpine ascents with a similarly poorly experienced person where there is no hope of rescue in the event of an accident. These things seem to stack the odds largely against me.

However there is a secret to making things happen. If you persevere, have determination and are willing to make sacrifices you can achieve anything. Luck may have something to do with it, certainly you are lucky if you aren't hit by rocks while climbing, but that is similar to not being hit by a car crossing the road. You are ultimately in control of your destiny.

I have been on adventures before, in my first year of university I decided that during the summer break I would travel to India and Pakistan. I moved hell and high water to make it happen, eating less to save money, seeking the cheapest flights at great length and planning the little details of the trip. When I got there all that went out of the window as no plans remain the same, but to save cash I opted for cheaper places to live, spending the night in Dhabhas.

The first night was spent in a small petrol station outside Faridabad near Dehli. I met a fellow student on the flight over whom had been gifted the business by his father to break him into the harsh realities of real work. He recommended I did not follow my plans to find a dodgy hostel that night and instead stay there. Figuring he had nothing to gain from this, or me, I guessed I'd be safe. The risk payed off, I had free food, a beer, a bed and a few new friends made. A good start.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Germ Of An Idea

The concept of this blog is to hopefully show that anyone, with a little experience, determination and ingenuity can undertake adventure and expeditions in the modern world. The great peaks may have been climbed and you may be able to pay your way to the top of Everest but there are still some untouched corners of this planet.

Small insignificant peaks which may be dwarfed by stories of greater expeditions but adventure is always personal. While it's easy to read about Scott, Shackleton, Hilary and Fiennes it is hard to imagine how their expeditions were even with personal accounts. The whole world has changed, these areas have become less remote and technology has altered our perception of risk, and once something has been achieved it seems easier. Personal accounts rarely give a true insight into the harsh conditions, as with soldiers adventurers are not inclined to share all.

The only real way to experience the environment associated with these great feats is to organise your own. Repeat ascents of Everest have led to calls for permanent paths and ladders, where there are already fixed ropes, sherpas are increasingly running themselves as a cartel and commercialisation is contributing to ever more rubbish and bodies. Going somewhere new, or at least far from the crowds, and with good ethics will lead to a rewarding if sometimes harrowing experience. Your own true adventure.

A few months ago I decided I would like to climb an unclimbed peak. To organise and experience a new adventure where the stakes are high. Modern lightweight alpinism in the Muzkol range in Tajikistan has some great opportunities, in a beautiful setting, as remote as you can get.