Thursday, 24 June 2010

Rock architecture

Last weekend I made a quick stop in Staffordshire for a day's bouldering en route from Surrey to Scotland.
My good run of weather continued, with blue skies, blazing sun, but just enough breeze to keep things from getting too sweaty. This was my first trip to The Roaches, but I'll definitely be back, loads of great problems to climb, and some interesting local features including Rock Cottage - a fantastic building dating back a few centuries and now owned and run as a hut by the British Mountaineering Council.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Midsummer skiing - Tower Gully, Ben Nevis

With a few days left in Scotland and a short spell of good weather forecast I was keen to sneak in some midsummer skiing. Tower Gully on Ben Nevis has been on my 'list' for a long time, despite a close call with a double-fracturing cornice about 15 years ago, but it is one of those things I never quite get round to doing - either through being in the Alps in the Spring or not being able to travel back with ski gear...

With everything but skis in the car I gathered a crack team comprising Al Reid - in top form (only 1 days skiing this winter) and local all-round mountain man Jonny Sutherland. A quick visit to an old friend & I was sorted with a pair of slightly short skis, but hey - for spring snow almost anything will do (cheers again for the skis Mike!).

Despite a cloudy start to the day we set off hoping that the forecast would come good...And sure enough as we walked towards the CIC hut the sun finally burnt off the remaining clouds:

Not much snow left in #2 & #3 gullies...

A quick pause at the hut to take in the view and we wandered round to the bottom of Observatory Gully:

There was still a tongue of snow almost to the bottom of the gully, and though thin we were hopeful that it would be continuous all the way up. A quick swap to ski boots and we were off again:

A sneaky dogleg towards the bottom of Point Five gully and 10 yards on rock & grass saw us connect to the upper snow. Good firm conditions under foot made for rapid progress.
Level with the top of Tower Scoop:

Heading towards the light in Tower Gully proper:

Al pushes on towards the cornice:

Culture shock - Ben Nevis summit busy with walkers - needless to say we got some strange looks wandering up there in our ski boots!

Al contemplating the cornice, normally the crux of the descent:

Al & Jonny in Tower Gully:

The ski down was fantastic - a small drop to get over the cornice, and then perfect spring snow all the way - a couple of narrow sections that had to be straight-lined near the bottom, but a fantastic place to be skiing, particularly in June!!

Some headcam footage from the descent - full video to follow at a later date:

Tower Gully - Headcam footage from Simon Christy on Vimeo.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Old Man of Stoer - sunshine rock in Scotland...

Back in the UK on a combined work & social visit, with a good weather forecast, and Craig having a few days off plans were quickly hatched to head for the far North West of Scotland for some sunshine rock...

Having hardly done any climbing for the last 3 months I was not feeling on prime form, so we opted for some classic routes at amenable grades, with a warm-up on the classic "Storm" in Glen Nevis, before heading North towards Applecross. As ever, our plans evolved, and having found a good camping spot just above Kishorn we realised that another classic route, "Sword of Gideon" was just minutes up the road on Sgurr a'Chaorachain.

Camping spot overlooking Kishorn bay:

Pitch 2 of Sword of Gideon - South face of Sgurr a'Chaorachain, perfect grippy sandstone, with good crack climbing split by a delicate traverse mid-pitch:

View from the second belay towards Kishorn - not bad!!:

Back at the car we then set off even further North towards Stoer, with a view to climbing the Old Man of Stoer, a 50m high pinnacle separated from the mainland by a narrow channel.

Nice camping spot on Stoer peninsula:

Stoer Lighthouse:

After an evening spent watching porpoise swimming by, an early start saw us searching for the stack in the morning mist; finally it appeared (just about):

With the mist clearing and sunshine trying to break through we scrambled down to the rock shelf oposite the Old Man. As luck would have it a previous party had left a rope in place on the tyrolean traverse across to the stack, so we didn't have to draw short straws for who would swim across to get a rope over... Craig on the tyrolean:

The first pitch is the crux of the climb, and lived up to its reputation, a steep traverse across horizontal flared cracks was made harder by very damp conditions thanks to the mist - a bit like trying to hang on a rounded edge liberally smeared in butter...

Craig following the traverse on pitch 1:

Fortunately from here the rock & conditions improved immensely, and the rest of the climb was outstanding, with solid rock, good friction, and most importantly no angry seabirds en route to puke at us (a favourite trick).

Craig launching onto some perfect dry rock on pitch 2...:

Steep climbing on great holds:

Pitch 2:

Stepping round the edge on pitch 3:

Through the last section of real climbing before the summit:

Craig on the summit:

Looking South:

and North:

Setting off on the airy abseil back to the base:

Sea kayaker paddling through the channel between the Old Man and the mainland:

Not much clearance at high tide...keep those feet up!:

Home and dry:

Another classic Scottish adventure!! With the Old Man of Hoy already in the bag some years back, there is only Am Buachaille left of the 3 'Great' Scottish sea stacks...

Old Man of Stoer in the sunshine:

Friendly natives: