Petestack Blog

28 February 2010

Stumped by The Skraeling

Filed under: Climbing — admin @ 7:42 pm

Today Jamie B and I headed to the North-East Corrie of Beinn an Dothaidh in search of some sensible mixed climbing in conditions where serious avalanche risk following this week’s dumps of snow over surface hoar still ruled out many of the more ‘traditional’ venues. And it soon became obvious on our approach to The Skraeling (IV,5) that scoured slopes and deep deposits of snow were vying for supremacy on a very localised basis…

Soloing up the initial pitches of Grade IIish ground to get the meat of the climb, we were slightly surprised to spy a party of three below us apparently heading for the gully of Taxus (III), but lost sight of them as we belayed below the ‘obvious roof’ and Jamie set about the first pitch proper. Which seemed to be going smoothly at first before grinding to a long halt and leading to his reappearance abseiling over the initial wall an hour-and-a-half later, by which time I was pretty well as cold as I was curious! Hard to say exactly what he found up there when I couldn’t see it and we were unable to communicate for most of that time, but I’m thinking he told me that the buttress was in surprisingly lean condition and his attempts to reach the corner above consequently foundered on unexpectedly committing ground. At which point, with me needing warming up and the climb gone, we simply coiled the ropes and beat it out of there, noting as we descended that the trio seen earlier had already negotiated the main body of Taxus in good time and were now engaged on the Icefall Finish.

And that’s about that, except to say that it’s been an expensive day with one of my pegs and one of Jamie’s wires sacrified to facilitate his safe return and a pair of mixed picks now also ordered for the Vipers I reluctantly left at home rather than start trashing their beautiful icefall picks on rock first time out! So I used neither the Vipers nor the Terminators (similarly left for the good of their ice points and uncertainty about those controversial mixed points) today, but obviously hope to get them all going soon.

27 February 2010

Round the Loch and Forerunner altitude readings

Filed under: Running — admin @ 11:56 pm

After running off-road every night this week bar one (Wednesday’s road run) and finding Thursday’s and Friday’s efforts severely snowy struggles, I decided I deserved a long, ‘easy’ run for some cheap mileage and headed out this afternoon to run round the Loch. Which took me 2 hours 49 mins for 20.2 miles of hilly road running (of which more shortly), bringing my total since Monday to 58 miles and really not being too bad for a glorified jog (with some renewed discomfort from the bash I took to my ribs on WML Training last week) the day after taking nearly two hours to cover six miles! And that should be pretty well all I need to report just now except for a most interesting discovery about the ascent and descent recorded by my Garmin Forerunner (in this case my new 310XT, but probably applying to my older 305 as well)…

Now, popular opinion seems to suggest that the Garmin altitude readings are way too high, although I’ve found them to be surprisingly consistent in practice with Memory-Map elevation profiles for the same routes on open hill ground. But today’s run comes out as 2,007 ft ascent/2,025 ft descent in Garmin Training Center, 2,381 ft of elevation gain in Garmin Connect (a discrepancy already noted in my brief 310XT review) and an even more impressive 2,688 ft when converting the track to a route in Memory-Map and letting it recalculate the ascent. So make of that what you will, but here at least it looks like the GPS could be under (rather than over) estimating the altitudes!

21 February 2010

WML Training

Filed under: Climbing,Walking — admin @ 9:33 am

Just back (last night) from Winter Mountain Leader Training at Glenmore Lodge with instructors Eric Pirie, David Haygarth and (for one day) John Armstrong. Don’t know when I last saw (or dug!) so much snow, but there was plenty to play with in conditions ranging from spectacularly clear to total whiteout, the standard of instruction was (as always with the Lodge) top class and the crack from instructors and fellow trainees alike was great.

Hard to summarise it all in a short post (and I do want to keep this short), but…

  • I’m thinking some further self-arrest practice (a skill I’d maybe started taking for granted) might be good after taking an awkward knock to my ribs on my first or second (deliberate!) slide on the first day.
  • It was a nice wee bonus to pick up a new Corbett I should have done before (Meall a’ Bhuachaille, where there’s a popular hill race I’ve never run) during some ‘pea soup’ navigation on the second day.
  • I was looking forward to going over all those snow anchors (bucket seats, bollards, buried/reinforced/T-axes, stompers etc.) that I should be using more as a winter climber, so particularly enjoyed the sessions where we worked with these (imagine John Armstrong hurling ice axes off the side of the Fiacaill Ridge with a ‘whoops, he’s dropped his axe, what are you going to do about that?’).
  • Having speculated whether the snow saw I carried to our snow hole site at the top of the Garbh Uisge Beag (shadowy cleft above red rucksack/below North Top of Ben Macdui in final photo) might prove to be the most/least useful thing I’d taken up a mountain, I have to say it was most certainly worth its weight and can’t now see myself heading out for some planned snow-holing (is anyone really daft enough for that?) without one!
  • Despite really enjoying the course, it was a huge relief to finally be able to extract my van from the Lodge car park and get off down the road (returning to find a much lower-lying Kinlochleven also under snow) without any real difficulty.
  • Having got used to courses where you come out of the final interview thankful to have passed, something feels ‘missing’ on finishing one where that’s not the final (hoped-for) outcome and I’m really fired up to keep getting out, working at things and return for Assessment this time next year.

Must also thank John McGilp for letting me take two in-service days and two teaching days to do this, and state my hope that those further in-service days following next year’s February break will produce a qualified Winter ML ready to start bringing winter skills to the school.

13 February 2010

SC Gully

Filed under: Climbing — admin @ 10:13 am

Long before I ever saw myself climbing Grade Vs (when I was climbing before, didn’t go out so much in winter and was basically walking or soloing Is and IIs when I did), SC Gully on Stob Coire nan Lochan was probably close to the summit of my realistic winter aspirations as a classic Grade III line of dramatic appearance and unimpeachable integrity (a straight, deep cleft between two buttresses). So, when Matt managed to tempt me into a day out on a half-term Friday (yesterday) when I had much else to be getting on with, that was the climb (still missing from my ‘CV’) that I most wanted to do. And we found it in superb condition, waiting for one team who got there before us but overtaking another two on the walk-in…

Looking at Matt’s photo of the whole climb below (note also the figure in yellow to the right of the two climbers in the gully on the Grade VII Central Grooves!), there’s much straightforward snow climbing with the two main areas of difficulty being an initial ice pitch up the first narrows to the right of the tapering buttress at the bottom and the moves right (the guidebook crux) to the next icefall about halfway up. So I led in two pitches up to and beyond the crux (which I did offer to Matt) before turning over the lead for a final snow pitch, finding the crux traverse a delightful little mixed sequence (apparently it varies a lot!) and the first ice pitch possibly harder on the day. With a nice slot already cut through the cornice and sunshine to greet us on top, it really was a chance well taken to enjoy this lovely, classic route that I’ve waited so long to do.

Teams also out on Twisting Gully (Guy & Gordon, Sean & Paul), Moonshadow, East Face Route and Central Grooves, and considerably more cornicing than when we did Twisting three weeks ago (the summit pyramid of Stob Coire nan Lochan also looks absolutely laden in places). Happy that I’m able to access and stow my ice screws comfortably at last with my new Ice Flutes working well (just need to fine tune my method of attaching them to my double bandolier now), and at the point of ordering a pair of Vipers after trying Matt’s on the way down. Also went to see Andy Kirkpatrick at the Fort William Mountain Festival in the evening, and have to say the guy’s very, very funny!

8 February 2010

The Wand

Filed under: Climbing — admin @ 7:42 pm

So here I was yesterday, starting up this Grade V ice pitch, close to fulfilling a cherished dream and possibly somewhere well along the scale from quite excited to ******* terrified… but just how did I come to find myself at the sharp end on The Wand (V,5) on Creag Meagaidh?

Well, it’s got to be largely serendipity in this case because I wasn’t even thinking about trying to arrange a climb when I dropped into The Ice Factor (as I often do) on my way home from an evening run last week. But Dan had been up Organ Pipe Wall on Ben Udlaidh that day, I asked the grade, got told V,5 and mentioned that I’d never done a V yet but intended to get my first soon. At which point Jamie B chirped in with ‘no prizes for guessing which one’, I replied that, sure, I’d been talking about a couple on the Ben (Point Five and Indicator Wall) but was now also considering the likes of South Post Direct and The Pumpkin on Creag Meagaidh… and Jamie came straight out with ‘do you want to do one of them this Sunday?’

So that was that, and we were off first thing Sunday, but even our 5:00am departure from Kinlochleven and 6:30am walk-in wasn’t enough to beat the queue for The Pumpkin, so what next? Having already gained the Inner Corrie, South Post Direct was no longer so convenient, and Diadem’s been downgraded to IV in the 2008 Scottish Winter Climbs, so The Wand was the obvious choice and we soloed up the start of The Sash to get to it in company with a Diadem-bound, fellow Pumpkin-thwarted pair who’d already done it the previous day.

Now, The Wand starts with an impressive icefall described as varying in height between 45m and 60m, and certainly at the upper end of that yesterday (although sporting altogether more modest umbrellas than the spectacular crop shown in the Scottish Winter Climbs cover photo of Blair Fyffe on the route). So we split this in two, Jamie led off and I arrived to join him at the cave belay with an attack of full-blown hot aches of the briefly dizzy/queasy kind. At which point I had the option of leading through or getting him to rearrange the belay for me, chose the former in the belief that the ground above didn’t look quite as steep as what we’d just come up, but very quickly discovered that it was! So I had one early wobbly moment when I thought I was letting go of both axes and about to come off, but a combination of Jamie’s repeated reminders to shake out (it works!) and my survival instinct (simply can’t fall here…) saw me back in control and I think I led the remainder of the pitch in reasonable style. Except that I arrived at the belay believing myself to be out of screws and spent ages digging for non-existent rock gear before placing a peg, threading an icicle and finally discovering two more screws on an inaccessible clipper (things that have been almost nothing but trouble to me!) way round towards my back. After which there remained another, somewhat easier ice pitch (which Jamie led) and a straightforward snow pitch (mine) to the plateau, followed by a tortuous descent to the Window in the mother of all whiteouts.

So that was that and I’m still half-dazed by the realisation that I’ve not just been on Grade V ice for the first time but led it as well. Which doesn’t mean that I’m about to start indiscriminately launching myself at every V in the book, but does give me the confidence to believe I can do it again, retain my composure in the knowledge that I survived the first, and add some extra ‘headroom’ for those IIIs and IVs. As for those ice clippers, I’m afraid that, with some mysterious loss-through-spontaneous-unclipping incidents and difficulty arranging them in positions I find both accessible (which they have to be) and secure, they just haven’t worked out for me so far. But that’s alright because the Petzl Ice Flutes I’d already ordered (and should be able to arrange quite nicely on my double bandolier) arrived today and can get a whirl next time out. If I tell you that I’m also suddenly finding myself close to ordering a new pair of axes when I swore to stick by my modified Flys for a while longer, it’s Jamie who’s been tempting me there… but I’m thinking I’ll have to let him off if I do take the plunge for this milestone climb that I didn’t expect to get quite when I did! :-)

3 February 2010

MICROspike weather and stir fry spiders

Filed under: Running — admin @ 10:14 pm

It’s MICROspike weather again! With this evening’s fresh snow at village level obviously extending to cover the icy paths higher up, I’ve been wearing the spikes again instead of just carrying them. Which is fine, really, because the running’s quite simply easier when the routes are either clear or properly covered than somewhere in-between.

On quite another note, I removed a live spider from the wok while cooking my ‘co-operative vegetable stir fry’ and suspect (since the spider wasn’t there when I put the wok on to heat up) that said spider came with the vegetables! :-/

emoved a live spider from the wok while cooking his ‘co-operative vegetable stir fry’ and suspects (since the spider wasn’t there when he put the wok on to heat up) that said spider came with the vegetables! :-/

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