Petestack Blog

31 January 2010

Italian Right-Hand

Filed under: Climbing — admin @ 9:58 pm

Today I climbed Italian Right-Hand (IV,4) on Ben Nevis with Stephan Mors. While we’d been hoping that Harrison’s Climb Direct (same grade) on Carn Dearg might be in, what we could see of it looked quite bare and unformed as we walked past so the search for another route was on. And Italian Right-Hand proved to be a good choice on the day with its north-westerly aspect being diametrically opposed to the wide south-easterly danger zone suggested by the SAIS Lochaber forecast and not too much cruddy snow to contend with when the Italian Climb area is also noted for avalanche danger in some conditions. Be warned, however, that it’s much longer than the guidebook 150m if followed (as it should be) to the crest of Tower Ridge, and we took six pitches of alternating leads (of which at least three were 55m+) to reach the top. So I got the first and Stephan got the big Right-Hand pitch, but there was something of interest on every pitch amongst much easier ground and quite a spicy mixed finish by the route we took up the last section to the crest. After which we descended Tower Ridge rather than finish upwards, but found this really quite time-consuming under surprisingly heavy snow cover.

Dunno what was done elsewhere on the Ben, but Vanishing Gully, Italian Climb (normal route), Garadh Gully and Glover’s Chimney certainly all saw ascents.

PS (2 February)… just got some photos from Stephan to augment my solitary shot (not uploaded before), so here we go. Nothing too dramatic because most of the best action shots weren’t options when safeguarding the other climber, dodging spindrift or both, but you can see me topping out from the RH pitch and leading higher up towards the ridge (think the ‘book’ route goes left there, but I chose the steeper, less heavily-laden slopes) and the pair of us preparing to abseil from the last level section of Tower Ridge towards Observatory Gully in snowly [sic.] deteriorating visibility.

30 January 2010

Forerunner 310XT

Filed under: Running — admin @ 9:28 pm

While I’ve been very happy with my Garmin Forerunner 305 as a training/pacing/recording aid for three years, I’ve just bought the new 310XT with this year’s West Highland Way Race in mind. Mainly for the increased 20-hour battery life (which should be enough to see me home if all goes to plan!), although its ability to use British Grid as well as just lat/long for navigation could also be useful for further adventures away from the beaten path.

Anyway, it got its first outing today on an icy run to the Blackwater Dam and back by the Ciaran Path and my initial observations/thoughts go something like this:

  • It works, and feels reassuringly familiar to a 305 user.
  • The new soft-strap heart rate monitor is nice and was worth getting even though the 305’s monitor will work.
  • The watch strap retainer has a kind of super-secure interlocking system (not something I’ve seen on a retainer before when they’re usually just loops) that makes the end of the strap just a little awkward to feed in and out of it.
  • The new wireless computer interfacing is nice and I’m pleased to be able to download the data to both the Garmin Connect online thingy (looks like I can use that with the 305 as well?) and my existing Training Center software. (Garmin Connect has some nifty fun features like ‘movies’ of your run superimposed on a base map or satellite imagery, but it’s online and I like to have my data stored and accessed locally.)
  • Training Center and Garmin Connect have given me different elevation/altitude figures for the run, which seems a little curious?
  • The watch screen appeared to be briefly (and very lightly) misted inside at one point, but I’m not too concerned about that right now (think the 305 might also have done this from time to time, but can always consult Garmin support).

And that’s about it for now. Not giving up on my trusty 305 because it was a present, I love it and am quite happy to have the choice (and/or a reserve device), but the 310XT clearly has the advantage where battery life or potential navigational use (for which I’ve never used the 305) are concerned.

24 January 2010

Twisting and turning

Filed under: Climbing,Cycling — admin @ 10:41 pm

Just had a great weekend with my brother Angus when we climbed the classic Twisting Gully (III,4) on Stob Coire nan Lochan yesterday and went mountain biking all round the Torlundy/Leanachan area today.

Had headed to SCNL with Original/Raeburn’s Route in mind, but changed our objective when it became apparent that we’d have to wait some time to get started on that. So lined up behind one other party (not apparent as we left the foot of Raeburn’s) on Twisting, which proved to be a lovely route with the main difficulties concentrated low down and over quite quickly, but quite bold for the grade at the crux on the day with most of the obvious gear well buried. Have to say the Coire was busy with Glen Coe looking the place to be from MWIS and SAIS forecasts, but still good to see most of the more amenable classics getting climbed with Original/Raeburn’s, SC Gully, Moonshadow, Twisting Gully, Twisting Grooves, Dorsal Arete (mobbed as usual, although we could have been first on if we’d wanted it!), Boomerang Gully (+ Arete?) and maybe more seeing ascents. Helicopter also spied buzzing up and down Coire Gabhail as we returned over Stob Coire nan Lochan, but believed to be on exercise?

So that was Twisting, but how about the turning? Well, I’m afraid that’s just some silly alliteration (maybe something to do with pedalling?) that popped into my head while trying to tie today’s mountain bike ride into the same blog post. Which means I can now tell you that I took my nice new bike, we borrowed a bike for Angus (his is in Seattle!) from Noel, and went riding for a good three hours. During which we met some friends at the finish of the Lochaber AC Leanachan Race (on today), I learned a lot (like I’m pretty fit but a novice rider, both of which I already knew) and probably looked like a complete noob except that nobody except Angus was there to see most of the time!

Sorry the MTB photo isn’t even slightly sharp, but the only sharp ‘action’ shot of the batch was also the least dynamic…

15 January 2010

Shades of Grey?

Filed under: Kinlochleven — admin @ 7:58 pm

A wee photographic conundrum for this evening, before this sign for the Grey Mare’s Waterfall at Kinlochleven finally becomes too worn to read. So why (as first pointed out to me years ago) does it say ‘Grey’ on one side and ‘Gray’ on the other? For our transatlantic visitors (doubt it!), because the sign maker just got it wrong (probably!) or what?

10 January 2010

The Caolasnacon Posse

Filed under: Climbing — admin @ 8:30 pm

When Isi texted me yesterday (while I was out running to the Dam) to ask if I fancied a climb today ‘before all this lovely ice disappears’, the first routes that crossed my mind were The Posse and What’s the Story above Caolasnacon (scene of last Sunday’s misdirected search for ice in the wrong place). So that’s where we went today, although we only had time for the one route in the end…

Now, The Posse (IV, John Grieve 1971) and What’s the Story (III/IV, Davy Gunn 2001) are two cracking looking, accessible, low-level icefall routes, although friends who’ve done both this week say the gradings are probably the wrong way round. On which note, I’d agree that the bulging third pitch crux of The Posse, despite being briefly quite steep and exciting above the great sweep of ice below, is basically all there and pretty soft for IV.

While I’d hoped to get Isi leading one of the earlier pitches, she managed to persuade me to take the whole of the lower sweep (in two long II/III pitches) as well as the steeper crux (which, as Al Halewood has observed on his blog, really is a ‘wee treat’). But revenge was at hand, because there was a nice 40m Grade II pitch (not really described in the guide) above that to finish things off tidily, so I sent her up that and she made a nice job of leading it.

Might just add that these Caolasnacon routes are very worthwhile (genuinely comparable in scale to An Steall Ban) and I’m happy to admit to defecting to the (leashless!) ‘dark side’ after taking off my clippers and climbing today with my new Black Diamond Spinners. :-)

With thanks to Isi for the photo of me on the crux pitch and a great day out!

See also Davy Gunn’s comment of 9 February.

9 January 2010

Buried paths and Abalakov threads

Filed under: Climbing,Running — admin @ 10:35 pm

This afternoon, the Ciaran Path to the Blackwater Dam started crisp, delightfully icy and ideal for spiking along at speed before becoming buried by snow, heavy going and almost impossible to follow (too easy to be misled by the deer tracks despite having run it scores of times before) above the frozen lochans.

Yesterday I was climbing with friends on some splendid unrecorded Grade III icefalls below Stob Coire nam Beith, and we descended by abseiling off Abalakov threads. Which basically means you’re anchored to some cord tied through intersecting holes in the ice… and, as last man down, it was my job to dismantle our ice-screw backups (gulp!) before following the others down the ropes. However, these things are much stronger than you might think with loadings of 6kN quoted by Andy Kirkpatrick for a narrow thread (see second photo) in good ice and 12kN for a broader one, so the equalised double thread for our more serious first abseil was probably largely first-timers’ Abalakov paranoia!

6 January 2010

True roadside ice

Filed under: Climbing — admin @ 7:57 pm

This afternoon I took a wander up the frozen watercourse spilling from Coire an t-Sionnaich (high on the N flank of Garbh Bheinn) to the bridge at the top of the viaduct above Kinlochleven. While this is unnamed even on the OS and Harvey 1:25,000 maps, I’d take a fair guess at Allt Coire an t-Sionnaich, but please don’t quote me on that in case I’m wrong!

Anyway, it’s evidently been proving quite popular this week with true roadside ice climbing (barely out of the village!) in its lower reaches, and I know of at least four other parties on it today with Chuck and Dan (soloing), Magnus and Fiona (roped) and another pair up there at various times this morning and a roped pair ahead of me this afternoon who left it to descend after the first few pitches just before I caught them. Don’t think anyone else had been as high as me, though, because there was no evidence of earlier traffic in my final section.

It starts with several entertaining short Grade II (ish) pitches with steps of III and a more substantial one that’s definitely III (Magnus thinks maybe IV, but you can make your own armchair judgements from ‘ice3’ photo below!) before a long, fairly level section leads to some more fun. Above this (and above where the pair ahead of me stopped) is an obvious fork where I believe Chuck and Dan went left, so I went right (‘fork’ photo), then some more short pitches and level stuff with potential for wet feet before an obvious kind of deep cauldron with two steep, icy possibilities in a spectacular-looking cascade of icicles in the back left corner and a slightly shorter right wall. Now the light was starting to go and the left cascade looked quite meaty, so I took the right wall (foreground of ‘cauldron’ photo), found myself totally committed to a kind of steep mixed groove thing with poor hooks, no footholds and no frozen turf where the ice started to run out, and have to say that felt harder and more insecure than anything I’ve led (making it at least IV). Think everything starts to lie back above that into a shallower scoop leading up to the ridge, but can’t be sure because it was time to turn back for the road in the fading light (best descent probably down the faint ridge on the east bank, which I followed after starting down the west side and crossing). Looking at the photos tonight I’m wondering whether there might actually have been an easier/safer line snaking its way up the left side of the cascade at the back of the cauldron, but who knows? However, you don’t have to do the cauldron or even go that far, and the bottom few pitches (up to and including the good Grade III one) before the first level section would make a great little roadside outing on their own.

Might just be worth adding that I climbed the whole route with my modified DMM Flys in full leashless mode, felt comfortable with that and enjoyed it.

[Footnote, 28 November 2010… descended Coire an t-Sionnaich today, noting two more major icefalls above the ‘cauldron’ and being horrified by the appearance of my right-wall ‘escape’ from this (really not soloing ground at all)! So now seeing the whole expedition as something rather more substantial with the best bits (thinking rope, screws and partner here!) at the top.]

4 January 2010

An Steall Ban

Filed under: Climbing — admin @ 11:34 pm

This evening I climbed An Steall Ban (more commonly, but quite incorrectly, known as Steall Falls) with Chuck. And, while this stunning (but rarely frozen) 120m Grade III cascade has been both climbable and popular for the past five days or so, it’s looking like we might have got to it just in time. There’s a great big gash right down the middle and bits falling off, but we were still able to climb the full height just left of said gash with one fairly creaky section. Four pitches all told, with the first and third (which started with the creaky traverse) falling to me, the second and fourth to Chuck, and all but my slightly rusty first pitch lead (my first time out this winter!) completed by torchlight. The climbing’s really quite amenable, but you wouldn’t want to be on any of those great chunks of ice when they come crashing down! So perhaps a good overnight freeze will help to keep it hanging on but it wasn’t cold up there when we left, although the road beyond Scimitar Buttress is still pretty well impassable to all but 4x4s and we had to leave the van (which turns out to be rubbish on packed snow or ice) on the way up and walk.

Afraid I also lost an ice screw, but not by dropping. So I’ve discovered I’ve got a problem with the handles of my Grivel Helixes catching on something and twisting themselves out of my BD clippers, was lucky not to lose some more and need to work out why this has been happening because screws taking themselves off my harness when I’m not looking is not something I can put up with! :-/

Sorry no photos because (although we took a camera) the combination of darkness and the damp that came with the start of the fresh snow wasn’t just that conducive to photography when climbing the thing quickly and getting off were higher priorities.

2 January 2010

Running on a patchwork quilt

Filed under: Climbing,Running — admin @ 7:39 pm

Today, frustrated in my attempts to land a partner to climb the frozen Steall Falls, I took a run along the road to Caolasnacon to look at another fair-sized cascade I’d been told could give good sport before looping round the back of Garbh Bheinn and down to join the Penstock track at the ‘wee’ dam. But (surprisingly, when the mighty Steall Falls currently seem to be getting climbed by everyone except me) the cascade I’d gone to see isn’t in anything like climbable condition right now. [Edit: not so surprisingly, because it was the wrong one… see my comment of 3 January below!] However, snow conditions over the higher part of my route (topping out at 540m) were still suitably bizarre after all the cold, dry weather, with what I can only really describe as a patchwork quilt (or maybe checkerboard pattern?) of windslab and undisturbed powder leading to successive steps unpredictably sinking in or bouncing back in a manner which made maintaining any kind of rhythm almost impossible.

For the curious, I did check the SAIS Lochaber forecast before setting out, but judged my intended route to be relatively risk-free and ultimately found this almost random pattern of windslab and powder on fairly level ground (notably across the bealach) to be more interesting than worrying. The map shows that I called at The Ice Factor in both directions rather than taking the direct route home along Wade’s Road, but still no climbing partner for tomorrow! Although at least this run has brought me my fifth successive week of 30+ proper hill/trail miles, which I’ve had to chase quite deliberately at times with the dark evenings, wintry conditions and school term finishing just two days before Christmas. What a change from last December (2008), when I was really struggling with some nasty bug, missed all my Christmas concerts (when I’d never missed any in 20 years of teaching) and managed just a solitary short run on Hogmanay!

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