Monday, 4 May 2015

Ribblehead in Winter

Yorkshire - World class riding on my doorstep

Hopefully the success of the Grand Depart last year and this weekends Tour de Yorkshire have begun to put this great county on the cycling map. Although I will always love the challenge of the great alpine passes, Yorkshire can still deliver stunning rides, leg destroying climbs, in an incredible landscape.

Below are some photos from recent rides.

 Rolling down Kingsdale 

 Dropping in to Dentdale, very steep with inconveniently placed gates!

 The cobbles of Dent

One of the many viaducts on the Settle - Carlisle line

 Pen Y Ghent

 Fleet Moss, the highest road in Yorkshire

 A mountain bike decent towards Ribblehead

Fewston and Swinsty Reservoirs (secret spy base in the background!)

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Stob Ghabhar via the Upper Couloir

Stob Ghabhar and Stob a Choire Odhair are two Munros that form part of the Black Mount west of Rannoach Moor and overlooking Loch Tulla. Climbing Stob Ghabar in winter is made a little bit more interesting two easy couloirs imaginatively (in what must have been a burst of creativity) given the titles "upper" and "lower" with give access to the summit from the north.

The Lower Couloir leaves from just above a small lochain perched high up at the head of the Allt Cchoire Dhearbhadh itself a long slog across the high plateau west of the West Highland Way as it crosses Rannoach Moor.

Looking for some climbing on a dull overcast day we decided to approach from the south parking near Inveroran and walking up the old starkers track that runs up to Corie Toaig and the col between the two Munros. From here its a short traverse round to the lotion and the climbing.

 Overcast skies above Loch Tulla

Corie Toaig

A good track leads most of the way to the col, we cross the snow line at about 500m and are soon enveloped in thick fog which obliterates the horizon and leaves us struggling for reference points as snow and sky blur in to one. The disorientation in these conditions especially on relatively open ground makes route finding difficult and both Dom and I have to work hard to make sure we hit the col at the right point as I display an alarming tendency to let the terrain pull me to far to the east.

From the col there is no sign of the Lochain just a mass of white which we descend into on a baring; pacing out the distance we take great care conscious of the fact that the lochain is probably frozen with a covering of snow - not a good place to blunder out on to!  Finally in the matt light which surrounds us a hint of blue looks to reflect off the snow to our right giving away the position of the water, its barley noticeable in the fog. 

 Where is this couloir?
 Maybe this?

Finding the Lochain was only the start of the difficulties, with viability so poor there is no sign of the couloir or even any real rock bands above us. The 1:25:000 OS map indicates a spur of rock running down to the edge of the water which forms the right hand edge of the funnel of the Lower Couloir, contouring a safe distance from the edge  we traverse round until this band of rock emerges from the mist then turn left and begin to climb steeply. The couloir is wide and its only after a couple of hundred meters that it narrows to the extent we can see both walls giving us the confidence we are on the right track. The terrain is steep of grade 1 but there are a line of foot prints for us to follow making the work easier.

The gully finishes on a steep upper snow field, continuing straight up would eventually lead to the summit but to reach the Upper Couloir we traverse left over steep terrain which were it not for the zero visibility would feel very exposed. The architecture of the mountain is very difficult to pice together in the weather but is clear from this photo on UKC the narrow gully cutting a present shape through the summit buttress.  

The gully itself is excellent, narrow and well packed with good ice, a grade harder than the Lower Couloir with a step of grade II where I wished the rope was not in my rucksack as I climbed it. I captured the short brown trouser moment for posterity below.

The gully finished pretty much on the summit which was being lashed by a bitterly cold wind and not the place to linger without any view to distract the attention. We quickly dropped down the ridgeline to the col grabbed a bite to eat and then traversed on to Stob a Choire Odhair which felt hard on the legs which had already put themselves through a significant amount of accent. On the top I was forced to deploy the emergency Harribo for a sugar filled decent back down to the van.

Stob Ghabhar from Stob a Choire Odhair 

The Black Mount in slightly nicer weather

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Central Gully - Creise and Meall a Bhuiridh

Central Gully, Creise (I)

Having spent the night parked at the Glencoe ski centre whilst the wind whistled about the van we walked towards Sron na Creise following a line of telegraph poles as they marches across the floor of the valley. Fortunately it had been a cold night and what looked to be very boggy ground was well frozen. The skye was a brilliant blue with the mountain tops dancing in and out of patches of low lying cloud.

The Buachaille dances in and out of the morning cloud

Rounding the spur of Creag Dhubh Sron na Creise comes into view the choire and a series of gully lines clearly visible. We had wanted to climb the classic Inglis Clarke Ridge but it looked very out of condition as we approached the buttresses staring back at us an unwelcoming black and ice free. The Weep would have been a good fall back option but a) we did not know about it and b) looking back at my photos the fun bits looked buried!

Sron na Creise

Central gully was easy to find and arrow straight up through the cliffs that guarded the mountain. The route was steep for grade I but the neve was good and the climbing easy. By now the cloud had entombed the mountain and by the time we reached the summit ridge a bitter wind was blowing. 

Not easy to get lost

From the top of the route its about a kilometre along a broad ridge to the summit of Criese proper. The decent is tricky in poor weather the mountain drops away precipitously to the left into Mam Coire Easain offering no lines of weakness apart from where it relents ever so slightly to join the narrow ridge to Meall a Bhuiridh that forms the coire headwall. 

Like whales in a stormy sea 

In the clag that surrounded us we counted paces until we arrived where we thought the decent should be, we could see no sign of the ridge through the mist and although the drop to our left had relented slightly it still looked pretty close to vertical. Eventually having spotted a cairn to convince us we were in the right place we cautiously descended, the gradient soon relented and the ridge line emerged out of the mist. 

Having crossed the col we pulled steeply onto our second Munro of the day  Meall a Bhuiridh and as we reached the top the summit rock broke through the cloud to give a fantastic view of the great mountain around us bursting through the broiling cloud like giant whales in a stormy sea. The Glenco ski centre reaches almost to the summit of the hill so we defended by the piste as the cloud slowly cleared to reveal Rannoch Moor in the depths of winters grip.

Dom descending towards the van with Ranch Moor in the distance

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Taxus - Beinn an Dothaidh

February and for once we chose a good week, Dom and had had taken a punt and come up to Scotland for a full week of winter climbing. To be fair Dom as a teacher had not had much say in the mater at all but for once the conditions smiled relatively kindly on us and we got lots done.

The original plan had been a huge circuit of the highlands taking in the classic winter ridges; Torridon  An Teallach, the Fannichs etc., but although plenty of snow and cold temperatures were blanketing the hills so to was a thick layer of cloud for the majority of the week and those route are so special i'm willing to wait for perfect blue winter skies, even if its another 10 years.

Thanks to the generosity of some friends we had managed to borrow a camper van for the week meaning convenience, mobility, and hopefully some jaw dropping views to go to sleep to. We eventually spend most of the week in Glencoe, partly because of the Clachaig and partly because there was so much to do! 

 The sun sets over Loch Tulla after a climbing Taxus on day 1

Taxus (III), Beinn an Dothaidh

A classic 3* route and a compromise, not so easy that Dom gets bored, not so hard that I get scared. Despite sleeping in the car park at the base of the walk in the long drive the day before led us to sleep in meaning we were not first, or even fifth on the route. Rather than wait we headed up a Haar which was supposed to be (III) but was thin and turned out to be the hardest thing we climbed all week even if the difficulties were only a few meters long. 

Dropping down West Gully we found only one team left on Taxus so stood around whilst Dom got cold (thats what happens when you get skinny enough to climb 7b).  The route looked pretty buried with most of the ice steps well covered.


Eventually getting started I led the first pitch which was pretty easy with good neve and well tracked but was soon brought up short by running headlong into the team above who were taking an age to move off the first belay. Finding an alternate stance out right, I brought Dom up and instructed him not under any circumstances to fall on the belay... or even look at it.

Dom asked if we could pass and having received accent from the other team and he climbed on through, up a short ice step of about 3 meters which proved to be the last difficulty of any merit on the route. Then in his words he Ueli Steck'd it past the other team on what was essentially a steep snow gully, I then led the upper pitch out onto the summit.

We then traversed round to Beinn Achaladair and a fantastic sunset before taking rout one back to the van.

The view from the top of Beinn an Dothaidh -Taken in 2009 (at the same time as the banner on the blog main page)

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Crowberry Gully - Ice climbing in Scotland

I've sadly neglected this blog for months now but have finally got round to posting again. February saw a week long trip to Scotland and for once I managed to time it with some great winter conditions; all be it without the blue skies.

Towards the end of the trip I had a day in Glencoe on the fantastic Crowberry Gully and now thanks to the Christmas addition to the camera family of a Go-Pro it was captured in full HD for you to enjoy.

A more detailed write up is to follow....maybe?

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Garavine and the Tourmalet

Mountain High has a lot to answer for, those smooth glossy pages with crisp pictures of endless switchbacks rising up a mountainside put ideas in your head that are hard to shake. The book which we had come to refer to as the bible had been a mainstay of our evening entertainment detailing in sumptuous detail the hard won challenges of today and the kilometres to be won tomorrow.

Hidden away in its pages was Gavarine a stunning Cirque of mountains and one of Frances finest national parks. From the town of Luz-Saint-Sauveur a beautiful climb winds its way into the park and up to the Spanish border. At 30km and a whopping 1500m of climbing it would be the biggest test ever on my bike. 

Cirque du Gavarine (photo by Eusebius (Guillaume Piolle)

The big problem was in the way between our campsite and the start of the climb was the Col du Tormalet, and the thought of driving over the most famous mountain pass in cycling bordered on the sacreligious. The downside of this though is that the Tormalet itself is 1200m high and 20km long and the thought of tagging this onto the start and end of the day was a bit much!

Rather than follow Rule 5 and climb the Tourmalet twice we drove to La Mongie a small ski centre which is perched on an alp about 4km short of the col on its eastern side. The resort itself is one of the myriad of less than picturesque examples that litter the mountains here with buildings whose architectural standing is somewhere between abysmal and appaling.

The Tour had been over only a few days before so the road was covered with graffiti which made the short hop to the summit and interesting one although quite how a line of giant sperm swimming there way to the summit was supposed to motivate the riders I'm not quite sure.

The decent of the top was fun, cars were overtaken, corners carved with a flourish and towards the bottom when the road straitens and widens to a long trail of brand new tarmac the speed must have hit an exhilarating if scary 80kph although I struggled to keep up with Josie who was flying.

The Gavavine climb was suitably epic, gentle for the first 10km or so as it follows a steep sided ravine. As you approach the Cirque the road steepens but does not really kick in till just after half way when you leave Gavarine village and begin the climb to the border. Here you also leave the tourist hotspots behind and consequently the road surface deteriorates with cracks and loose gravel as it cuts its way upwards at between 8 and 9% for the next 12km or so. 

The effort is worth it the road runs out at a small car park as a track winds off to the border, the view is spectacular with peaks towering above and grate slabs or rock on show from a relatively recently retreated glacier. Not for the first time on this trip I regret the fact that road cycling and photography don't really mix as I would love to have had my SLR with me. The decent was gripping even if the road in places wasn't.

Well done legs

Where the road runs out

Back in Luz-Saint-Sauveur and with 80 plus kilometres in the legs I will admit that despite its uber classic status I was not 100% thrilled at the thought of taking on the Tourmalet. From the west the climb stits at a gradient of practically 8% for its entire length so it was just a case of getting into a comfortable gear and plodding upwards at a good cadence. I had the added motivation that my phone was close to dead as I was running Strava and I wanted to get to the top and claim the segment for posterity (unfortunately it died a few km short of the summit).

Low down on the Tourmalet

As the climb went on the weather deteriorated, mist and cloud enveloping the hills  although fortunately the rain held off. I had spent the last hour and a half with my short sleeve jersey open, the effort of the climb keeping me toasty and thought I was prepared for the vicious temperature gradients cyclists can sometime experience going over a big hill. I was not... By now the summit was a dreary place, visibility was about 20m with a bitter wind cutting across the ridge. Despite quickly changing into long leggings, a winter smock and windproof I was soon shivering as a tried to hold my phone still long enough to take the obligatory summit photo. 

The decent may only have been 4km but was deeply deeply unpleasant; the cloud blocked out all visibility apart from a short stretch of slimy saturated tarmac and which ended in a steep grey void into nothingness at the edge of the road. As I crawled down road into the drizzle my body attempted to shiver itself off the bike as I tried to balance the risk of going too fast on the slippy surface with the desire to be in a warm car as soon as possible.

La Mongie did not appear until I was practically on top of it with some monstrosity of concrete looming out the mist. Just before the car the ride threw in one last curve ball with a flock of goats strewn across the road perfectly camoflaged in the mist, a mad end to an epic day.

Nice day for it