Paul James, MIC - - Winter and Rock Climbing Conditions

Friday, 30 March 2012

30-03-12, Agag's Groove, Buachaille Etive Mor, Glen Coe - Scottish Rock Climbing

The top of Crowberry Ridge.
 I have spent the last few days cragging, locally near Grantown and slightly less locally near Aberdeen, on some glorious granite sea cliffs, worth a shifty, check out the NE Outcrops guide! Today I was out with Stephen and Andy again, day 2 of their winter climbing course. Last time we were getting involved with some icy cave action on Gardyloo Gully, since then its been scorchio, and I suggested that it would be rude not to go rock climbing in the mountains! Agag's Groove, VD on Rannoch Wall, Buachaille Etive Mor was the route, and what a fine route it is. 4 Pitches of great steep, exposed and sustained (by VD standards) climbing. We thought about abseiling down to climb January Jigsaw also, but seen as we were on a tight schedule and the sun came out with blue skies, we scrambled the rest of Crowberry ridge to the summit. Quality!

Pitch 3 of Agag's Groove, Rannoch Wall

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

27-03-12, The Needle, Shelterstone, Cairngorms - Scottish Rock Climbing

The mighty, Shelterstone Crag.
More classic rock routes on the mountain crags of Scotland. Today The Needle on Shelterstone. This route is a blast from start to finish, it certainly lived up to the hype! The whole crag is seriously impressive, good quality granite all the way up 250m or so. I can't wait to get back there! There was another team here today, all bone dry and not really that cold in the shade either. A few teams were climbing on Stag Rocks and Hells Lum which are in the sun nearly all day, a few teams also climbing in Coire an t-Sneachda.

The Needle, halfway up.

The Needle final crack pitch.

Loch Avon.


Hells Lum, drying out - it is in the sun for most of the day!

Monday, 26 March 2012

25-03-12, Hammer/Trapeze, Glen Etive, Glen Coe - Scottish Rock Climbing

Hammer, Etive Slabs. The cheeky bold scoop followed by the sublime lay back corner crack.
The high pressure is firmly over us in Scotland and most probably the rest of the UK. Its halfway through March but the Mountain crags are in primo rock climbing condition! If you have work on this week, don't go, unless your crag is the office. Visit Mountain Expertise for more on this. I have had a great weekend with Francis climbing on the West. Hammer on Etive Slabs on Saturday - a most excellent lay back crack line, with some cheeky forays onto the bold slabs occasionally to heighten the senses! Sunday it was up to the west face of Aonach Dubh. We had hoped to climb The Big Top but there was already a team on it with another getting ready. We climbed Trapeze, which was brilliant - 4 pitches the last 3 giving good quality sensational climbing sometimes exposed and pumpy. The crag is dry and was very warm in the shade, the sun catches it in the afternoon.

Ben Starav, Glen Etive.

Best footpath in Scotland? The Rhyolite Romp, under west face of Aonach Dubh.

Awesome situation on The Big Top.

Trapeze, Aonach Dubh, Glen Coe - the 3rd slab pitch.

The Big Top, Aonach Dubh, Glen Coe - last pitch.

Funky Rhyolite.

Friday, 23 March 2012

23-03-12, Ardverikie Wall, Central Highlands - Scottish Rock Climbing

Ardverikie Wall, HS 4b, Scottish Mega route!
Another day in this prime Scottish rock climbing season of mid March! This time another 4 star must do classic; which has been on my hit list for quite awhile - Ardverikie Wall HS 4b 185m. Katie and I had a leisurely 11:30 start from the car park lay by, fine weather throughout the day, a slight occasional breeze, but nothing to complain about. The route was ace, 5 very good pitches on immaculate rock, ranging from vertical jugs, to delicate slabs, very interesting to climb. The guidebook claims it to be the best route of its grade in the country and I have to agree!

Up the pillar of rock just right if centre.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

22-03-12, Magic Crack, Coire an t-Sneachda, Cairngorms - Scottish Rock Climbing

Coire an t-Sneachda
 I have spent the last couple of days wandering in the very hot and dry Cairngorm hills. The sun has been very enjoyable. Crags are dry, Hells Lum is soaking wet with the continuously dripping snow patch above it, Stag Rocks obviously dry, Coire an t-Sneachda very dry, as looked Shelterstone if a little shady! The Ptarmigan are starting to change colour. Today Katie and I went to Coire an t-Sneachda to climb the classy Magic Crack. It did not disappoint absolute class! **** all the way, the top pitch was sublime, very similar to Regular Route on Fairview Dome in Toloumne Meadows, California, and that is regarded as 1 of the 50 best climbs in North America! The sun was on the face from midday as well, a pleasant summer ascent in March - ridiculous! After that we climbed Fingers Ridge with the slightly wandering direct start. Again enjoyable. Some fairy loose jenga style blocks when you bust out to join the original line with winter scratches everywhere; to be honest it probably would make a better winter route. The Magic Crack however probably a better rock route. Hopefully this glorious weather is going to hang around for some more mountain cragging.
Katie cruising the very fine final finger crack of Magic Crack.

**** Magic Crack, HVS 5a, Coire an t-Sneachda.

Fingers Ridge.

Monday, 19 March 2012

18-03-12, Ben Nevis - Winter Climbing

Stephen emerging from the ice cave pitch on Gardyloo Gully
Stephen and David were very keen to do some winter climbing, particularly on Ben Nevis, as the Cairngorms and Mont Blanc were the only places they had been before. That was just as well as Ben Nevis is home to the hand full of existing ice routes left in Scotland at the moment. It is Sunday so car park was fairly busy but not completely rammed as you may expect for a glorious weekend day. Observatory gully was a busy place as to be expected, the usual 3 teams were insitu on Tower Scoop, a few teams on Good Friday climb, and several teams soloed up Gardyloo Gully ahead of us. Good hard snow with a dusting of new down to the base of Douglas boulder. The guys enjoyed the day and were pleasantly surprised to get some caving done as well!

Tower Scoop, Observatory Gully

Gardyloo Gully

Gardyloo Gully ice cave pitch - class.

Apprehensive of the cave.

Friday, 16 March 2012

16-03-12, Ardmair, Old Man of Wick, Far North Scotland - Scottish Sea Stacks Rock Climbing

Sandwood Bay with Am Buachaille and some fine surf.
 I have been on another NW and far North rock trip in Scotland the last few days with Francis. Windy but dry and plenty of crags that must be climbed on! Tuesday we headed to Ardmair near Ullapool which was great. Butch, steep sandstone, savage cracks and generally well protected. We hoped to do some sea stack climbing, so with a slightly optimistic idea we walked the 3 miles to Sandwood bay and Am Buachaille. We should have brought our surf boards, the waves were clean and high! So obviously we were never going to be able to make the 10m swim across the channel to the base of the stack! The day was salvaged by climbing a great route on a crag called Creag an Fhithich, excellent gneiss, highly recommended, there seem to be crags everywhere up there. Thursday we drove over to Wick and climbed the Old Man of Wick. Very enjoyable and exciting. No swimming required, just a pendulum abseil to get to the base. The route was about HVS 5a,4b. Some looseness but in general a nice climb and obviously a great summit! Abseil back down the landward face to climb another steep juggy wall back to the path, again about HVS 5a. Some drizzle on the West today so no rock climbing, looks like there maybe a slight dusting of snow over the weekend with a return to 900m freezing level, so those handful of ice routes on the Ben may last a bit longer!

Cragging at Ardmair, Summer Island E1 5b.

Am Buachaille.

Old Man of Wick, abseil and pendulum to the base of the route.
The second pitch on Old Man of Wick, loose in the corner but great crimps on the wall. 
Francis enjoying the stack experience.

The top, abseil down and climb out on the other side.

Monday, 12 March 2012

12-03-12, Sarclet, Latheronwheel, Caithness Coast - Scottish Rock Climbing

 The Scottish winter is rapidly disappearing, nothing to climb in Cairngorms and very little up high in the Ben. Plenty of ice and rock fall, and the usual suspects are literally hanging in there! I have spent the last couple of days rock climbing with Garry on the Caithness coast just south of Wick. It has been dry and fairly warm considering it is March. Sheltered from Westerly winds on these SE facing crags. Yesterday it was Sarclet - a conglomerate/sandstone mix, which on the whole was fairly sound, but we (well I mean Garry) managed to find some looseness! A cool crag, that I doubt ever sees 2 teams, slightly confusing to find some buttresses but the photos in the Gary Latter guide do it justice. Occum's buttress was the best bit we climbed at. Today it was Latheronwheel, which I have been to before , but it is very good. It is better than Sarclet as well. Vertical and steep, mud stone, solid, good positive holds and great cam placements, we had the luxury of a double set of cams which made it glorious! The weather is set to be stable, dry and warm so hopefully some more Scottish rock climbing on it way.

Garry seconding 'The Haven' , VS 4c.

Abseiling into Occum's buttress, Sarclet, Caithness

Garry on Nobody's Crack, VS 4c, Latheronwheel

Heavy Duty, VS 4b apparently!

Big Flat Wall, Latheronwheel, a little seepage so no climbing there today.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

07-03-12, Ben Nevis - Winter Climbing

Ben Nevis North Face
Off to the Ben on Monday. Ice conditions up high 1100m and above great. There was a lot of soft slab about at the top of Tower Gully. We had a relatively late start for the Ben, with the road from Loch Carron only opening at 7am due to the land slide. Up Tower Gully, with the rest of the world, numerous teams on Good Friday Climb, Gardyloo Gully, Smiths, Tower Scoop and Tower Ridge. We climbed Tower Scoop (III), 3 good ice pitches for Andy and Stewart to get their ice fix for the week! Tuesday less good weather, windy, cloudy then heavy rain late afternoon. We climbed the East Ridge of North Buttress on Stob Ban (II/III) a great mountaineering route, which can be climbed in any condition. That day we did it with just one axe and no crampons. Today some rock climbing at a crag near Applecross very gneiss rock, and a day of four seasons, snow showers, sunshine and occasional wind. There is a good dusting of snow in the NW, the freezing level was probably 600m.

Busy Tower Gully area.

Andy enjoying the ice.
Some Hero's having it on a new route!? Left of Kellets. They abbed off from there.


Stob Ban, Mamores, East Ridge of North Buttress on right sky line.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

04-03-12, Fuar Tholl, Glen Carron, NW Highlands - Winter Climbing

View from the top of Fuar Tholl.
 I am over working in the NW highlands again this week for Martin Moran. There was a dusting of snow this morning and today the weather was fair and pleasant. There are some old snow patches still hanging in high up, but most routes harder than grade I/II are non existent, and there are few climbable at that grade. Andy and Stewart are on a technical winter climbers course and hope to feel confident leading grade II winter climbs and have experience of seconding harder. Today we refreshed winter skills, cramponing and boot work, snow belays, bucket seats and buried axes, then the guys led the first couple pitches of Access Gully, II, (Fuar Tholl) before I took over. The weather looks set to be cold for the next few days so hopefully ice on the Ben Nevis will be improving.

Andy and Stewart climbing Access Gully, II

Looking south from the summit.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

03-03-12, Creag Bheag - Rock Climbing

The last few days have been very similar weather wise, warm conditions but dry at least in the Cairngorms. On the last 3 days of the winter skills course we bagged a few more Munros and consolidated skills learnt earlier in the week. We also looked at use of the rope and how to build good snow anchors, when venturing into steeper graded ground.

Today Kath and I went sport climbing at a recently bolted conglomerate crag called The Mound about 1 hour NE of Inverness on the Caithness coast. This is a very nice friendly crag, lots of 5s and 6s, with numerous juggy holes and stones. It faces SE and has a very quiet feel overlooking the river Fleet, only 10 minutes from the road and good quality conglomerate rock with little seepage. Worth seeking out if your in the area and fancy a chilled day.