Tuesday, 17 February 2015

A Forcan Windy Day

     Our decision on where to go today was made a lot easier after seeing Ken Applegate post a picture on twitter of the stunning Forcan Ridge bathed in sunshine yesterday. This was an option for some point this week and a route I have been meaning to climb for a while. We had a relatively early start and a drive round from Lochcarron to Glen Shiel. There had been fresh snow from yesterday or perhaps overnight down to around 650m, but we were greeted with lashings of rain as we put off getting out the car, thinking we’ll give it five more minutes to see if it stops. We started our approach to the ridge following the well defined path that contours it’s way up the hillside, spotting fresh foot prints in the snow, perhaps Ken’s from the previous day. 
Piers on the early sections of Forcan Ridge
Piers kicking steps up a section of firm snow
     It was still raining hard as we followed the tracks ahead until the lower sections of the ridge were in view. We spotted another team on the ridge just as it was entering the cloud, around an hour ahead of us, they must be their tracks we were following. We moved quickly up the the lower sections of the first slope weaving between the rocks making use of the lower grassed slopes. As we climbed higher onto the ridge, we undulated through and over little rock steps which provided much interest. The wind had picked up by this point, whipping across the ridge, buffeting against us as we hunched over the nearest rock or crouched down. 
Down climbing a short gully to avoid the abseil on Forcan Ridge
     The powder slowed our progress as it made our boots feel insecure on the slabby rocks and grassy ledges and the build-up made it hard to judge the depth or the solid ground which lay beneath. Occasionally the ridge narrowed from rocky blocks to narrow snow ridges which didn’t look too stable and we quickly moved across these, timing our dash with a break in the gusting wind. Soon we reached the abseil, which I had read about in the guide, however it didn’t specify its length and said it would be possible to down climb. After a look down the line this wasn’t really an option and we opted to put on our crampons and down climb a short gully and traversed around the buttress to rejoin the ridge. 
He is walking on a snow ridge, honest.

     With the perceived crux passed, we continued through the cloud taking each difficulty in our stride, but the ridge kept on giving as the next section revealed itself when we approached. Steadily we reached the upper sections and the the ridge began to broaden and ease off as we neared the saddle and the trig point summit. From here the climbing was over, map and compass out as we discussed legs to take us off the summit. We descended through the cloud down a snow slope before following our next bearing to reach a bealach, avoiding dropping into the wrong glen far from the car. Making the bealach we tracked down the valley, dropping out of the snow-line and into the bogs beneath, following a stream back down towards the car and back into the rain. There had been a thaw through the day, with rain falling at around 900m and the snow on descent from the summit feeling relatively slushy. The fresh snow from the previous day had gone completely as we looked back up from the glen. Fingers crossed that the forecast rain and warm air leaves some snow in the North West for the rest of the week. 
Some windy navigation to get off The Saddle

Monday, 16 February 2015

A Grand Day Out On Beinn Bhan

     I had heard a lot about Beinn Bhan, recently being in the UKC news pages for a new X,10 mixed route and looking through the pages of my Scottish Winter Climbs Guide. It is a relatively modest height, the summit trig point at 896m, but rises straight out of the sea close to nearby Loch Kishorn. The impressive coires are hidden from view as we set off from the car, trudging across the boggy grass and heather, the heavy raindrops bouncing off my waterproofs as we jumped across several streams along the vague path. We cut off from the path and headed up through the bogs, towards A’Chioch. The rain was still hitting hard and the prospect of a long wet scramble was not too appealing anymore. 
Quietly pleased that it has actually started snowing
     The rain began to turn to sleet, then snow, as we were close to the base and decided against the route, choosing instead to contour across the mountain past the huge coires and buttresses before finding a weakness to the summit. The snow continued and whipped it hard into our sodden figures as we traipsed through the saturated hillside. We contoured past Coire na Poite catching the shadow of the imposing buttresses of A’Phoit and Coire an Fhamair ahead. I can’t quite describe the size of these cliffs, they are huge and complex. I think they are the most impressive crags I have seen into the UK.
Looking across to A'Poite and A'Chioch
Piers heading on to the upper reaches of our slope
     We picked our weakness up the hillside on the right edge of Coire an Fhamair. We could pick out a route from the base of the slope, which weaved its’ way through the sandstone tiers following the path of least resistance. The slope was now covered with a layer of snow and we agreed that we wouldn’t climb up anything that we wouldn’t be comfortable climbing down. This was to be our Giants Wall, well it felt like it. We couldn’t tell if there was going to be a route for us to forge on the upper sections as we stared up into the clag which covered the upper reaches of our slope. 
Looking across to Giants Wall
     We hardly noticed all the height we had gained as we moved into the upper reaches of our route. We had weaved around through the shelves of heather and boulders, hitting the occasional patches of old snow which had softened up, proving to be a real pain as every step sank up to the thigh becoming ever more frustrating. We reached a broad ledge in the upper parts of the slope, the snow still falling with strong spindrift blowing down from the upper reaches. From here it narrowed up to form a narrower spur and a final couple of tiers of crag led us onto the plateau above. The cloud had broken and we could look across towards the Giants Wall and the summit. 
Piers nerving off onto the plateau

Navving in the white room from Beinn Bhan summit
     We took the opportunity to practice our pacing and boxing to avoid the corniced edges of the coires. The cloud returned as we reached the summit but the sun broke through to provide cracking views to A’Chioch as we descended the South East Ridge before breaking off down the slope direct to the car. This slope dragged on and on and I can’t recall a step that wasn’t followed by a squelch as we reached the snowline and onto the saturated boggy slopes below. It was a grand day out, a hard won ascent and some really adventurous mountaineering up this impressive Scottish mountain, I am sure to be back. 
A break in the cloud this afternoon on Beinn Bhan
Taking the direct route down to the car

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

A Weekend Pass on the Ice at Beinn Udlaidh

      Scotland was having a cracking February with lots of ice forming with sunny stable weather conditions. I am focussing most of my winter exploring areas of Scotland I haven't previously visited whilst gaining experience ready for my Winter Mountain Leader assessment at the beginning of March. This weekend it was time to dust off the tools, forget the summits and go climb some routes. Jack and I headed to Beinn Udlaidh, aware that it was a weekend and that the crag will be very busy. We had an early start, leaving the van at 5:30am, making sure we had first pick of the routes, neither of us keen on queuing. The sun was just rising as we started up the final slopes to the base of the crag, revealing the routes from the darkness, walls of ice stepped up the crag, huge umbrellas and daggers hanging from overhangs. The ice architecture was incredible. 
Moving up the first pitch of Quartzvein Scoop
Jack under the umbrella on Pitch 2 of Quartzvein Scoop
     I started up the first pitch of Quartzvein Scoop, the classic of the crag, my ice technique a bit rusty as I swung my tools into brilliant sticky ice. I moved up the groove above to a comfortable belay and watched the black dots wandering up the track on the approach. Jack climbed under a brilliant umbrella and climbed round to its right and  up the ice steps above. I finished off the third pitch to take us to the top. 
A busy morning at Beinn Udlaidh
     As we walked off the top, we likened the mountain to a crag where you are able to walk off and select the next route, unlike the huge mountain days you complete whilst climbing a route on Ben Nevis. A large number of teams had now swarmed the crag, with queues present on the majority of routes and teams climbing lines of ice all over the crag. We opted to climb Green Eyes, another IV 4, which provided a steeper first pitch which had become quite hooked out from the previous weeks traffic. 
Jack on the first pitch of Green Eyes
     We opted for a gully line next, climbing South Gully of the Black Wall, with 2 long pitches taking us to the top through some brilliant ice formations. The temperature definitely rose through the day as we finished up climbing Ice Crew, which we made a three pitch grade three. It did however have a few steeper sections of ice, steeper than we were expecting anyway. 
Moving into the bottom of South Gully of the Black Wall

Jack not enjoying the hot aches
Jack moving through the umbrellas on the top pitch
     We stashed the gear, saving our shoulders on the walk down and the early approach the following morning. We were slower on the walk in, the four routes from the previous day taking the toll on our weary bodies. After gearing up we climbed the cold climbs classic Ramshead Gully which was a contrast to the previous days routes with some thuggy thrutchy moves required in the narrow bottom sections of the gully. It was a lot milder than the previous day and the cloud and clag had moved in with a brisk wind, we descended for a leisurely drive back to Yorkshire.