Sunday, 30 December 2012

No success like Failure

A not very good picture of Iain (he can just be made out in Blue) on the first pitch.

Last Thursday (27th) myself and Iain Small had a wee wander up the Ben. Iain fancied trying a new route on the buttress left of Italian climb. Given the good forecast we were quite surprised when it started snowing on the walk in. After a cup of tea or two (an essential part of the day when climbing with Iain) and a blether with people staying there and some friends who turned up, the weather had cleared up a bit.  Wandering up into the Ciste there was not too much fresh snow about, and after gearing up by a big boulder we got to the base of the route without too much trouble.

Iain leading the second pitch, during a brief clear period.
As Iain seemed to know where he wanted to go, I let him lead the first pitch. However, progress was not rapid, and I could tell from the way he was climbing it was hard. Then the snow started again. The wind was from the South-East, blowing the snow over the top of Tower Ridge down onto us. At first it felt like a little light spindrift blowing about, but as Iain slowly inched his was up the intricate and technical first pitch, the snow got heavier and heavier.

 I was belayed roughly below Italian climb, and at first I enjoyed watching the way the spindrift danced up and down the gully, the patterns cause the the opposing forces and gravity and the up draft. At first the fresh snow quantities were quite small, and it did not feel too threatening. However, as time went on and the snow got heavier, the spindrift avalanches got bigger, and I started to get a bad feeling. It all started to get a bit too reminiscent of events of almost 12 years ago when, young and foolish, I had stood at the bottom of a gully watching the spindrift dancing down wards. I was just about to walk away when the whole slope above the gully released naturally. I had time to take a couple of steps before hundred of tonnes of snow hit me at high speed, and I rag dolled downwards in the midst of the avalanche. I had been lucky that day, and limped away, a badly sprained ankle being my only injury.

What it was like most of the time.

Since then I have spent a lot of time studying snow, both formally and informally.  As anyone who spends a lot of time in an environment does, I have developed a better feeling for it, and at that time the base of Italian route felt like a bad place to be, especially given some events that I knew of there long before I was born. I shifted myself into as sheltered position as soon as possible. By this time Iain was close to the belay. He made himself safe, and it was my turn to climb. I am not sure how the pitch would have felt in better conditions, but that day it felt utterly desperate. I struggled to second what must have been bold and committing as well as technical to lead. Eventually I reached his semi hanging belay in a corner. Above the ground looked difficult, and with it still snowing heavily, I had lost the psych to climbing hard. I offered Iain the lead, suggesting that he would be quicker and more likely to get up the pitch. At first he made good process up into the blizzard. However, under the overlap he soon slowed down, and then stopped for a while. There as a bit of hammering going on. The light was beginning to fade, and it was still  dumping with snow, was he going to bail off. A whoosh made me turn round, a substantial airborne avalanche came down Chute Route, clouds of snow billowing through space. It was all beginning to feel a bit full on.

Iain stepped back down, and launched across the right wall of the corner and soon was on some ledges.  The original plan had been to regain the corner above the overlap, but that looked even harder and bolder than what had gone before. Therefore he stepped right to gain Rogues Rib, a route that he had climbed last winter, and quickly scampered up that for about 20 meters to a big ledge. By this time the snow had eased, and I managed to second about half the pitch before I needed to get the head torch out. Above that Rogues Rib continued up onto the crest of Tower Ridge. However, given the darkness, and the requirment to get down safely to our bags which were near the base of the route we decided to abseil off. Abseiling off after the hard climbing always seems slightly disapointing to me, but given the conditions it was the best thing to do.  One long abseil took us into Italian route, and then another to the base of the route. We wallowed around in deep powder, staying on the rope as long as possible until a quick traverse took us back to flat ground, our bags and what felt like safety.

Setting up the abseil at the top of the route. 

From there it was an easy walk back down to the hut, and then on down to the carpark. As we got down the path a bit the clouds cleared and a full moon lit up the snowy landscape to the point that head torches were not needed.  We discussed what sort of a day we had had. Iain had not climbed the line that he had originally envisaged, I had not climbed well, and we had abseiled off.  On the other hand did do a fair bit of new climbing, had not been avalanched and had had a proper full on winter experience.  It made me think of some lyrics by Bob Dylan; "There ain't no success like failure, and failure ain't no success at all." I am not quite sure what the lyric means (is anybody), but then again I am not quite sure about the days climbing we had just had.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

New route on the Ben

I realise that it has been a while since I wrote anything on my blog. Since my last post I had three weeks sports climbing in Spain which was pleasant, but perhaps did not make particularly inspiring subject to write about. Since Spain I have been busy finishing off my summer job (modelling oil and gas flow), and starting with my winter job (avalanche forecasting). I have however, managed a few routes, but have either not had the time or not been inspired to write about them.

Myself on the first pitch our our new route. 

The most interesting thing that I did during that period is a winter (first ?) ascent of Blue Nosed Baboon, a V-Diff on Gardh buttress. This went at about grade V,5. While belaying I had looked over to Trident buttress, and seen an obvious ramp on the lower tier. I had assumed that was the line of The Minge, a summer VS, which was the only route in that area in the guide book.

Helen on the second pitch. From where she is the route stepped leftwards and pulled onto a series of hanging slabs. 

Yesterday (Tuesday 18th)  myself and Helen Rennard wandered up the Ben. The night before when having a flick through the guide I realised that The Minge took a steep crack, and so it seems likely that the line I had spotted had not been climbed. Helen and I had originally planned to do a route high up in the Ciste. However when passing below Trident Buttress the route that I had thought about looked to be in good nick. I suggested that we went and had a wee peek.

Myself on the steep crack that formed the crux of the route. There was some good ice which helped a bit here.

I led the first pitch, a bold but relatively straightforward icy ramp line. Helen then led the second pitch, which climbed a short groove and traversed diagonally big rightwards over some slabs . She belayed below an obvious icy crack. This proved to the crux of the route, steep with poor feet, but some positive hooks and  good ice. Above the crack the climbing remained quite technical for another 10 or 15 metres before easier ground was reached. A couple of easier pitches then led to the top of Trident Buttress. A long traverse then got us back down to Number 4 Gully.

As yet the route is un-named and went about grade VI,7 or maybe VII,7.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Vanishing Glories

The easier first pitch

Last weekend (3rd and 4th of November) it was definately winter in the hills on the West. There seemed to have been a fair bit more snow here than over in the Cairngorms. On Saturday myself and Nona headed up the Ben with no fixed plan. The North Face was surprisingly quiet, with just one other pair of climbers who headed up Ledge Route I think. Everyone else must have headed to for the Northern Coires.

It was pretty hard going getting up in Coire na Ciste with lots of deep soft snow about. Given the conditions, we decided on a short route on Garadh Buttress. I had often looked at this little buttress, but had not climbed on it. I remember last winter reading that the central ramp line had been climbed, as had a route vaguely based round a summer V diff  called  Cryotherapy.  We decided to have a look at doing a winter ascent of another V-diff further left called Vanishing Glories. I could not make out where the summer route went in it's lower half, the groove it climbs in the upper section was quite obvious. We took a natural left trending line into and up that groove.  This give a nice little route of about grade V,6.

 The second pitch. If Dafydd or Matt read this I would be interested to know if this is where you had climbed.

However, getting down that evening I had a look at Simon Richardson's website  to see what had been climbed last year. There seemed to be a fair bit of confusion about where Cryotherapy actually went, and what actually had been climbed last year. The route Crying Out Loud that Dafydd Morris and Matt Buchanan had climbed certainly seemed to be in the same area as where we had climbed. Had we climbed the same route. They graded their route IV,5. Had I been climbing that badly? or was it that deep powder made it feel harder that it would have done in better conditions? Going back to the guide book, I saw that the line we climbed could fit the description for either Vanishing Glories or Cryotherapy. Had we climbed the route that Dafydd and Matt climbed, are Cryotherapy and Vanishing Glories the same route, know knows. However, it was a nice day pottering about on the Ben. 

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Autumn weekend.

Autumn is in the air in the Highlands. This has the advantage that the midges are dead, but the disadvantage that the nights are drawing in, and the weather is getting wetter. However, sometimes, as was the case a couple of weekends ago, you can get the best of both worlds with dry midge free crags.

Dave at Steall Hut Crag, not a bad place to climb. Unfortunately a bit midgey in the summer and a bit damp in the winter.
On the Friday afternoon I went up to Steall Hut crag to try Leopole 8a. The crux moves of this route had always felt absolutely desperate to me. However, a a bit of extra strength since I had previously tried it, and the discovery of a cunning toe hook,  meant it suddenly felt like a feasible project for the autumn. After a couple of sessions playing on the crux, it was time to jump in the car and head North to meet up with Iain Small.

On the Saturday we went up to Super Crag near Lochinver. Since being announced to the world back in May, the crag has become quite popular, and now probabley contains highest concentrations high quality hard routes on a mainland Scottish sea cliff. Iain typically had, over the course of a few weekends during the summer, pretty much ticked the crag. I warmed up on Ramp It Up, a nice E3, one of the few routes that Iain had not done. It was then Iain's turn, and after an abseil inspection he did a new E7, 6b, his second route of that grade at the crag. I managed to second it cleanly, but only just. With some hard bold climbing, and specific gear knowledge, it certainly felt worth the grade. I think he was planning to call it The Assynt of Man.

Iain routes took a while, and after that I had time for one of the shorter E4's on the side wall in the gathering gloom, before we had to head back to the Elphin hut.

Iain on this new route The Assynt of Man, which goes up the wall above him trending slightly left.

On the Sunday we headed South to Dome Crag in Gruinard Bay. It was Iains turn to do the warm up route, and he did Call of the Wild with the left hand start (E4). Seconding this after previous couple of days climbing, felt a bit more than a warm up. Iain then persuaded me to give Major Domo a go. This is the classic E6 of the crag, a well protected but pumpy crag line. I had heard of the route for a long time, but given the number of much better climbers than me who had fallen off it, I assumed that I would not be able to flash it  However, I somehow managed to keep on battling upwards to the top.
Lots of gear but the holds are just about to all go a bit rounded and slopy, and it's steeper that it looks. Myself flashing Major Domo.

However, my effort was yhen somewhat overshadowed by Iain, who after an abseil inspection, flashed Ali Coull's route Welcome to the TerrorDome, E8. I am not sure what Iain thought to the grade, but he did say the the quality of the climbing was very good. This route goes up the wall to the left of Major Domo, and looks like hard physical climbing, with good but spaced gear. I didn't second it as it was getting pretty late, but it is a route that I am inspired to return to.
Iain flashing Welcome to the Terror Dome, which goes pretty much straight up the wall above.  A nae bad effort.

The following week I was keen to get back on Leopole. However, I was quite busy at work, and only managed one mid week session which went well until darkness stopped play. I returned last Sunday. Unfortunately the West Coast autumn monsoon had kicked in by then and I found the crag to be pretty wet, with a waterfall pouring off the top of the route. Although the holds on the crux were dry, other holds were wet and I was getting dripped on in the knee bar just before the crux. Although I got some climbing, it all felt a bit like hard work.
With only one more weekend before I head off on a Spanish sports climbing trip, it feels like it is just about the Scottish rock season is just about over for me this year.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Reading lists

Some good books, essential packing for a trip away.

Firstly this post is not about climbing. However, it is about something that I associate with climbing trips.I decent book is a great way to pass time in airports, in the evenings or when it is raining. I hardly watch any televsion or films (I don't think I have watched a film this year), but I do read alot. As the nights are drawing in, I thought I would make some notes on my top five novels. The list is entirely personal, based on the novels which have made the biggest impact on me at the time that I read them. So if you are heading off on a trip, or want an to spent your evenings doing something more constructive than rotting your brain by watching the X-Factor,  try one of these. Some are quite short and easy to read, while others are a bit more invovled

Blair's top five novels in no particular order.

Crime and Punishment  by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Crime and Punishment focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg who murders an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her cash. Although it can be quite heavy especially at first, and I actually gave up on my first attempt to read it, it is worth persevering with. The building torment felt by Raskolnikov is very powerful.

Birdsong by Sebastain Faulks
Set before and during the first world war, Birdsong captures the drama of that era on both a national and a personal scale. It is the story of Stephen, a young Englishman, who arrives in Amiens in France in 1910. Over the course of the novel he suffers a series of traumatic experiences, from the clandestine love affair that tears apart the family with whom he lives, to the unprecedented horrors of the great war itself.

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
A dark and very original novel about Frank, a sixteen-year-old boy who lives with his father near a remote Scottish village. Their life is, to say the least, unconventional with Frank turning to strange acts of violence to vent his frustrations. In the bizarre daily rituals there is some solace. But when news comes of Eric's escape from a psychiatric hospital, Frank has to prepare the ground for his brother's inevitable return - an event that explodes the mysteries of the past and changes Frank utterly.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
This brutal, shattering glimpse of the fate of millions of Russians under Stalin. As the name suggests the book is about particular day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, a prisoner a soviet work camp (the gulag) in the 1940's. In some ways it is quite an upbeat book, it is a relatively good day for Ivan. However it illustrates a world of incarceration, brutality, hard manual labour and freezing cold where men struggle to survive both the terrible rigours of nature and the inhumanity of the system that defines their conditions of life.

Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written.  A page-turning exploration of obsession in literature and love, and the places that obsession can lead.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Overpopulated land.

I enjoy being based in the Highlands of Scotland.  I love the space and the solitude that you can find here, but you can't (or I certainly never have) found elsewhere in Britain. To me the rest of the country feels overpopulated, with people, towns, roads and cars all squeezed in like sardines. Even mountainous areas like North Wales, seems crammed in and crowded. (When talking about the landscape, The John Muir Trust are trying to raise some money to repair the Steal Gorge path, a path used by many a climber, see for more details).

However, August in the Scottish Highlands does seem to have some disadvantages, it is often warm, damp and midgey, and getting any climbing done feels like hard work. Therefore it seemed a good time escape South to see what overpopulated land had to offer. The plan was for a week of swimming, climbing and perhaps a bit of deep water soloing in sunny Pembroke.

Some big seas, to get an idea of scale people can just be made out on skyline

However, things didn't exactly turn out like that.  After a day and a half of nice weather at the start of the week, when I managed to Barabella, a meaty E5 crack line (not quite a flash as I had seconded back in about 2006), the weather turned. After that it was either very wet, very windy or both, and we only managed one (rather damp) E2 in the final four days of the trip. However, such is the way of things sometimes, and as shown in the pictures, there were some impressive seas to watch.

Not ideal for swimming, climbing or deep water soloing.

The scene inland a bit. Good for kayaker freaks, not good for climbers.

The sun finally came out for us to get stuck in a traffic jam around Birmingham when on the way back up the road. However, it did remind me why I don't live down there.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Skye weekend

And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?
How I wish, how I wish you were here.

Pink Floyd, Wish you were here.

 Heading out to the arete on Helen. From where I am the route moves left to the arete and climbs this, or the wall just to the right, in a great position.

Last weekend I had a good couple of days in Skye with Nona. On Saturday we headed up the the Vulcan Wall area in Coire Laggan. I was keen to do a route Enigma, mainly due to some good pictures I had seen of it. There were a few wet patches about, and other than forcing me to dodge about on the rather rambling second pitch,  didn't seem to affect the climbing. After that it was down the hill a little bit to the lovely arete of Helen. I remember first seeing this arete from the Cioch in May 1998, and had always fancied climbing it. There is some very nice climbing on it, with a smeary but well protected crux.

The new route at Neist. It climbs to the roof above Nona's head, then undercuts left into the groove. It climbs this for a few moves, then makes a tricky move left to pull through the roof at the notch to follow the flake crack above. 

Sunday dawned damp and cloudy in the Cullin, so we headed up to Neist where, a few weeks ago, I had spotted a new line a bit to the right of the classic E2/3 crack line Wish you were Here. 
Conditions were quite cold and damp, and having abbed down the line to clean it on a previous occasion knew it was going to be quite tricky. I decided to have a wee play on a top rope to get warmed up and see if I could do the moves. The way I had envisioned doing the crux moves leftwards across the groove when I had abseiled down and cleaned the line didn't work at all.
 However, I soon worked out a alternative method, stepping left lower down and laybacking up a rib.

On the first ascent of Cold Comfort for Change, E5 6b at the crux move left.

With the bit of knowledge the lead went pretty smoothly. Maybe not the most ethical of ascents, but I certainly didn't top rope it to death first, and with various other trips away planned, and not being sure when I will next make it back to Skye, I was glad to get it done.

We then went looking for a cam that I had lost at Poverty Point on our last trip to Neist, but didn't find it. Oh well, you can't win them all.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Ceuse and Gorge Du Tarn

I am recently (last week) back from a quick sports climbing hit to the South of France with Tony Stone. We flew to Geneva where we got a pretty good upgrade on the hire car. We had booked a Ford Ka, but instead got some pimped up BMW thing. Result!

So from there it was down to Ceuse.  I have been to Ceuse a few times, but enjoy the atmosphere of the place.  Also being not exactly a small crag, there was still plenty of routes I had not been on before. We did four days there, the first three were really successful, on-sighting and flashing lots of routes. Day four was a bit of a disaster, with me feeling weary form the previous three days I failed to get up anything.

 Ceuse, not a bad crag. A climber on the classic 8a Bourinator.

Tony chilling out in the campsite before heading up to the crag.

Next we headed over the Gorge du Tarn. Neither of us had been here before, so were not sure what to expect.  Again the climbing was great, and there was a lovely rive to swim in after climbing. On the other hand it was quite busy and touristy.  There has been a fair bit of re-bolting goin on there recently, and over the past year or so various sectors have been closed. However, we were pleased to find almost all the crags open, with just a couple of very monir small ones still closed.  Again we did four days on, but paced ourselves a bit better so we could still get up at least some routes on the last day.

 The river Tarn, not a bad place to have a swim after a days climbing. Tony (on the rock on the left) entertains the French ladies with some deep water soloing antics.

 Tony going for the onsight on a long 7c+. The chain is just over the skyline. Unfortunalty Tony got to just below the skyline. It was a bit of a faff to get off, I had to second up to a mid way lower off as tony lowered down, and even then (with a 70m rope), he only just had enough rope to make it.

A man from Bristol (James I think his name was) on a rather steep 7b that we did. I was rather pumped at this point, but managed to struggle on and onsight the route.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


Just back from a week at Fairhead in Northern Ireland. This was the second time I have been there. The weather was a bit kinder than our trip last year, and so we got a lot of good climbing. I was climbing with Murdoch Jamieson, a keen and strong Scot currently working in North Wales. Others members of the team involved Tim Neill, John Orr, Dave Rudkin from Wales, and Tony Stone, Iain Small, Greg Boswell and Neil McGeachy from Scotland.

 Murdoch coiling the ropes at the top of Halloween (E4) at the end of another fine day.

 Iain Small bridging up through some Gothic rock Architecture on the first pitch of Northern Exposure. This recently cleaned line was one of the best routes I did all week.

Richie Betts, another Scot who was over for a few days enjoying the top pitch of the Mask (E5). 

Highlights for me were an early ascent of Northern Exposure E5 (recently cleaned by some of the local climbers), and Primal Scream (E5/6). Murdoch was also impressed the North Exposure, and enjoyed Hell's Kitchen Arete (E6). 

Local climber John McEwan on Paralysed Power E5/6.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Own Private Mingulay

 Ian Talyor at about half height on the first ascent of The Ambassadors (E6 6B).

I think it is fair to say there is a lot of unclimbed rock in the North West of Scotland. Over the past year or so Ian Taylor and Tess Fryer have been developing one such lump of rock, nick named "super crag". Having done the majority of the route there, they decided it was time to introduce some others to the wonders of super crag, and so they invited Richie Betts along on Sunday.  Luckily I had already arranged to climb with Richie on Sunday, so managed to get an invite.
The crag is made of gneiss, but it is unlike any gneiss I have seen on the mainland, very like that found out on the islands of Pabbay and Mingulay, but with some very strange blobs and pockets. The main wall, although slightly smaller, is very reminiscent of the Pink Walls on Pabbay.

Arriving at the crag, being glad of having Tess and Ian to show the way for relatively short (about 30 mins), but quite complex approach, we found the main wall in the shade. Luckily the crag has a nice single pitch, South face side wall where we did a couple of really nice E3s.

 Richie on the second pitch of My own Personal Mingulay. To get an idea on the angle note the abseil rope in the background.

After that it was time to get involved in the main main. The classic of the crag (if it can be called that given that it had only had one ascent) was an E4/5 called My own Personal Mingulay. This was superb, the first pitch being really steep and burly, while the second was less steep (still overhanging though) but more technical and at times committing climbing.
Meanwhile Tess and Ian did the first ascents of variation first pitch to My own Personal Mingulay and a stunning looking 55m long single pitch E6 called The Ambassodors.
By now time was getting on so we finished of with a nice single pitch E2. 
All in all a great crag, and i suspect likely to become one of the venues for trad climbing in the North west especially for routes between E3 and E6. Keep and eye out from when Tess and Ian publise it more widely.

Ian Taylor, with still a lot of climbing to do, on the first ascent of the Ambassodors.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Steall Sessions

Steall Hut Crag in Glen Nevis is a crag with a particular season to it. It is generally wet up until about March, and being tucked up in a sheltered and boggy corner of  the glen, is often horrifically midgey over the summer months. It does however have some fantastic sport, trad and mixed routes (by mixed I mean some bolts, some wires, not as in mixed winter routes). However, with only really one route below 8a or E7, it is also quite a hard crag.
 Dave working on one of his projects at Steall hut crag 

Being around Fort William at the moment I was keen to take advantage of the Steall Hut Crag season to get some more routes up there ticked. Luckily some other climbers such as Dave Mac, Greg Boswell, Mike Tweedly and Alan Cassidy have also been keen to get up there and take advantage of the midge free conditions. It is good to see people coming up from the central belt driving 3 hours to work these routes. It reminds me that despite the rain and midges, Fort William can be a pretty good place to live as a climber.

Anyway a few weeks ago I started trying The Fat Groove. This 8a was bolted and first climbed by Dave MacLeod about a year ago (his post about the first ascent can be seen at  and it good to see that even he had to pull some faces on the crux). The route is very technical to begin, with the crux passing the 4th bolt. This bolt is also quite tricky to clip (cunning plan, extend the clip, and use a thin piece of strong on the 3rd bolt to pull it sideways so it can be more easily reached). After that it gradually eases but remains pumpy and with a hard move at the top where it joins Trick of the Tail.

 Fresh tracks on Aonach Mor in the morning, 8a in the afternoon. Good day!

However, over the last week or so, winter has made a made a bit of a reappearance, and on Saturday morning the snowy hills were looking very appealing. Therefore I had a bit of a split day. In the morning I headed up Aonach Mor on my skis, initially doing some runs on the piste (until other people started appearing) and then I had a little tour over to Aoanch Beag. Early afternoon I headed down the hill and up the Glen where I managed scrounge a belay of Alan Cassidy (cheers Alan) who was already at the crag. I shocked myself by getting through the crux first go, but then stupidly fell of some bigger holds. Perhaps due to the extra pressure I put on myself, but I then fell off the crux the next couple of goes. Finally on my 4th go I got the crux, and managed to keep on battling to the top. Cool.

Am keen for some more Steall session, wonder if I can get Leopole (another 8a) done before the midges appear.

Monday, 2 April 2012

The end of winter (for me anyway).

Winter seems to have come to a bit of a premature end this year. No late season ice on the Ben for us this year (although it is meant to get colder with some snow over the next few days). During the middle of March I did my Winter ML assessment with Plas y Brenin. Luckily the instructors just found enough winter conditions for it to run. Thankfully I passed, so hopefully no more staying in snow holes for me.

 Trying to find some winter for my Winter ML assessment.

Myself on the Torridonian, putting in perhaps more runners than necessary, while Kev works an E8 on top rope.

Since then I have been in rock climbing mode. I have not done anything particularly hard, but have been out enjoying some Scottish rock, something that I missed out a last summer. Last week a I had a few days in Torridon and on Skye. The first day myself and Francis headed to Seana Mheallan, a lovely sandstone crag on the South side of Glen Torridon, where we randomly met Kev Shields and Dave McLeod. We did a few good routes including the Torridonian (E3,6a), which I had wanted to do for a while.

Myself on Rubblesplitskin at Diabaig.

Next day was onto Diabaig, where again the weather was great and we did some good routes. After that it was over to Skye and met I up with Tony Stone. The weather was a bit less settled, but we did have a good day at Staffin Slip with Mike Lates and Francis followed by a rather driech day at Neist.

Tony lead Woman on the Eighties at Staffin Slip. The cracks here are good training for a Fairhead trip I am going on in May.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Northern Hemisphere snow and ice cover.

It seems likely that the peak of the snow and ice cover for the Northern Hemisphere peaked just before the middle of February. At this point just over 24% of the Northern Hemisphere was covered with snow and ice.

Snow and ice coverage in the Northern Hemisphere. The large spike just after mid December can be ignored as an error in the data. Coverage peaked around the 12th of February.

This value is slightly higher than 2009, and 2011, but not quite as high as 2008 and 2010. The minimum coverage occurs around late August or early September with just under 3% coverage. As ever, more information charts and graphs. can be found at the website 

 Ben Nevis not looking the most wintery last Friday. This was the one day last week when the freezing level did drop below the summits. At the time things were holding on surprisingly well higher up.  However, there has been some pretty mild weather since then.

However, Scotland certainly does not seem to be doing so well snow and ice wise.  After a good start to the season (discussed in my previous blog post) the season has gone downhill a fair bit. Little fresh snow fell through the rest of January of February, and then 10 days of thaw struck Temperature reached over 8°C on the summit of Aonach Mor on Monday (27th).  Particularly unfortunately for me the thaw coincided with a block of 6 days off I had, where I had been keen to winter climb. Never mind, got lots of jobs done and managed a days bouldering out at the Arisaig cave. Looking colder next week.

Bouldering at the Arisaig cave. Managed a new link on one of the problems I have been trying, good to see all the time in the Kimber wall is paying off.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Snow cover in Lochaber.

South Buttress, Coire an Lochan, Aonach Mor 9th January 2012.

Through my work as an SAIS observer, I get to watch the evolution of the snowpack through the winter. Having recently noticed a thread on snowpatch survival over the summer at,143591 has already started, I decided to put down some of my own thoughts on the subject.

I often have a look, and have a reasonable photographic record of Coire an Lochan on Aonach Mor. This high East facing coire collects a considerable depth of snow, and where, after a snowy winter, patches sometimes survive through the summer to be incorporated into the following winters snowpack. The last time this happened it this location was after the snowy winter of 2008. The photo below shows South Buttress in Coire an Lochan on 22nd of August 2009, and large patches can still be seen. Over on Ben Nevis snowpatches survive most summers.
Large snowpatches remaining in Coire an Lochan on the 22nd of August 2009.

Although a generally mild late autumn and early winter, it has been quite snowy on the hills of Lochaber. After a mild November, December was about average temperature wise, but with above average precipitation. Heavy periods of snow were accompanied by strong Westerly winds. Before Christmas most of the posts above routes like Morwand and Left Twin were buried, something I had not seen before in 5 winters of working in Lochaber. Although they have reappeared now, it does indicate that some pretty substantial snowfalls occurred. On the other hand there is an almost complete lack of snow on the West face of Aonach Mor, showing how Westerly dominated the winds have been.

There have however, been some pretty savage thaws. For example on both Christmas day and Boxing day summit temperature were around + 4°C and heavy and persistent rain fell. These thaws significantly altered the appearance of the hills, making them look like there was little snow left. However, how much damage did these thaws do in the locations where snowpatches survive well into the summer? Well a thaw will have two affects on the snowpack. Firstly some of the snowpack will melt (a bad thing), and secondly remaining snowpack will compact down and become denser, and after it refreezes become more resistant to further thaws (a good thing). It is thought that the snowpack melted more rapidly than normal after the long cold winter of 2009/10, because it had not gone through many freeze thaw cycles, so was not as dense and icy as usual when the summer came. No problems with that this year.

 Coire Dubh on Aonach Mor on the 5th of January this year, I reckon that there is more snow in here at the moment that at any point last winter.

It it difficult to know how much snow actually melted, but I would estimate about a metre. Now this is a pretty small amount as compared to the depths that builds up in the areas where snowpatches survive (maybe 10 or 15 metres in some places).  What is left is now dense, icy and granular, making it much more resistant to future thaws, and slower to melt during the summer. Overall I suspect to some extent these factors will cancel each other out, and that these thaws probably didn't have a significant affect on the long term prospects of the snowpatchs this summer.

Anyway I thought I would compare the volume of snow in Coire an Lochan  the other day (picture at top of page), with that in spring of other years.

So firstly last year. The picture above was taken on the 5th April 2011. As can be seen there is similar amounts of snow about as at the moment.

This one was taken on the 10th of April 2010, and again quite similar to what is there at the moment.

This one was taken on the 5th of April 2009. We are currently a bit behind.

This one was taken on the 20th of March 2008, a fair bit snowier than at the moment.

Although I don't have such good photographic records, the area where the Aonach Beag snow patches survives many years tells a similar story. The amount of snow there at the moment is similar to that in April 2010, a year when the Aonach Beag patch did survive the summer.

It is currently only early/mid January, plenty of time for further accumulations, hopefully approaching or even surpassing what was about in March/April 2008.  As I type this (the evening of the 11th of Jan) the freezing level is above the summits, and it is raining at all levels. It is meant to turn colder tomorrow, but dry with no fresh snow for a few days. However, remember that even during the snowy winter of 2008, there were massive thaws, and times when high pressure kept it cold and dry. So given all this I am quite confident of further snow periods, and optimistic about the chances of the snowpatches this summer.

However, I found these pictures on the web the other day, I am not convinced it will get quite that snowy

Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Cairngorms guide published

Just a wee note to say that the new Cicerone guide to Winter Climbs in the Cairngorms that I myself and my dad have been working on for the past year or so has recently been published. 
Some more information about it can be found at      It can be bought direct from Cicerone, and should soon be appearing in the shops.