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

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Perfect Pyrenees

It's been a while; heading back into the world of blogging with hopefully a bit more commitment for the rest of this year. I have actually quite a few good trips to talk about most recently a trip to the Pyrenees and my first experience of riding up really big hills. I learned a few things:

1. France is big, driving across it by yourself is a dumb idea.
2. Thanks to long wave radio Test Match Special works as far as Toulouse
3. The Col du Tourmalet is big, especially at the end of a 90km ride
4. In France drivers actually respect cyclists
5. A SLR and road biking don't mix
6. Overtaking cars on decent is fun, just don't think what happens if you come off at 80kph
7. When in the Hurt Locker it is impossible to look dignified on a bike, especially if your trying to eat a gel at the same time. 

So below are some pictures I took with my SLR the one day I ditched the bike and took the car. I returned to the Route Du Lacs which we had cycled up a few days previously to capture the amazing panorama. I have a new 10-20mm landscape lens which is brilliant, the only issue is it's so with the grad filter holder now creeps into shot when full open.

 Looking down from the upper dam

 The storms clear

 Spot the dam

 What goes up... the road home

Monday, 17 February 2014

Winter Starter - Brown Cove Crag and Helvellyn

It's been a pretty awful winter so far, with storm after storm battering the UK. On the plus side this has left huge amounts of snow on the Highlands. Sounds good you say; yes, but the problem is that the wind has barley dropped for long enough to make moving on the tops possible and on the occasions where it has done it has left the slopes loaded with windslab. Not conditions to chance the petrol money to head north of the border.

 Looking towards Skiddaw, not much sign of snow
Thats better!

So the middle of February had arrived and I was yet to swing an axe in anger a deeply frustrating experience. Finally yesterday the weather relented to offer the promise of a good day in the Lakes with light winds and clear tops, and the rumour enough snow was hanging around to make the trip worthwhile.

Brown Cove Crags was covered in the white stuff and the gullies were well banked out;  thanks to the slightly milder conditions down south they were also reasonably consolidated with good neve most of the way. I ran up Right Parallel Gully (grade I in current conditions) before descending back town its left hand twin (also I) having broken my way through the cornice.

Looking up, Right Parallel Gully

And down...

After heading back up Central Gully (I) the clag which had accompanied the walk in cleared a bit and although bitter it was worth heading up to the summit of Helvellyn, and once there the obvious thing was to pop round the horseshoe and the frozen red tarn. The ridges (down Swirl (I) and up Striding (I)) were well covered and busy including a few people with neither axe, crampons, and I'm assuming consequently brains.

So appetite temporarily stayed and with the reported snowfall hopes high that once the weather settles a long season will be in order.

Striding Edge looking towards Helvellyn

Looking towards Great End and the Scar Fell peaks

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Skye Cycle Touring - Day 3

When I first planned this trip today had been the exciting one, finally getting to visit the Trotternish. During my previous visit to Skye I had caught glimpses of the Trotternish from afar, a great line of eastward facing cliffs, and the narrow needle of the Old Man of Storr flitting in and out of view on the horizon, familiar from a hundred pictures, vivid in my mind. Today's ride would take us up and over the peninsular before diving down a great gash in the escarpment and traversing along beneath it on what mush surely be one of the great stretches of road in the UK.

Looking back towards Uig as we start the morning with a climb.

The day starts straight out the blocks with a tough little pull uphill out of Uig as we clamber up on to the moorland via a couple of switchbacks, the gradient then lessens as the road turns inland climbing steadily to the horizon. Again the weather is cold but brilliantly clear with a deep blue winter sky over a calm sea which appears to glow in the sunlight. Today there is also very little wind to pit ourselves against. Easily distracted I spend my time stopping regularly to take pictures looking back out to sea and Lisa soon pulls out a big lead.

The single track road winds its way through a landscape of open moreland with no hit of the geological bonanza that awaits us just over the horizon. The brown and yellow hillside is coated with a thin frost and icicles cling to the vegetation where the road cuts into the earth. After about 45 min of steady climbing the edge of the plateau begins to appear as the moorland fall sheer for a hundred meters or more in a great line of black cliffs leaving isolated pillars of rock like crazy ruined castle towers pointing skywards.

Looking north along the escarpment as the road winds down like a miniature alpine pass

The small car park at the top of the pass must have one of the finest views in the UK a celebration of what our planet can do given enough time and energy. The view is almost other worldly and slightly mythical no wonder the place is a favourite for film and TV crews. For the cyclist there is also the thrill of what is to come; the road a narrow line of tarmac drops away sweeping steeply down through a weak point in the cliffs then straightening to charge towards the sea.

Once through the initial twisty section it is easy to build speed and the dial soon creeps over seventy which is fast enough on a slightly rough surface. My new bike has been a joy to ride so far, dancing up hills and now feeling really nimble on the decent. The wind chill from such a rapid decent is terrific and once we arrive at the junction with the main road it is decided a trip to a tea shop is in order.

Looking south after a thrilling decent

 Checking out some more funky geology

Freshly warmed up with tea and biscuits (always an essential part of any good ride) we begin to follow the coast road south towards Portree. The escarpment runs along side us to the west although it occasionally disappears behind the lower rolling coastal hills and forestry plantations. Two and a half days into the riding and my legs are beginning to show signs of tiredness, Lisa is certainly much stronger than me in the afternoon and I'm always playing catch up.

The view of the Trotternish's most famous landmark the Old Man of Storr are quite poor from the road either blocked by mounds of grass or merging with the massive cliffs in the background. The best views are from further afield where the Storr stands in sharp profile against the blue sky. The quite road briefly turns into a busy tourist trap around the parking  for the Old Man of Storr; but with nowhere safe to leave the bikes and little enthusiasm to lug them up the hill to get a close up we press on and enjoy the fast sweeping decent down into the town.
 The Old Man

Is there a much more inviting view for a road bike?

From Portree its a simple traverse over to Sligachan with the Cuilin forever growing in grandeur ahead of us until we rejoining our road of two days previously. Although we plan to stay at the inn tonight the thought of the short tip back to Broadford the following day seems a bit pointless so putting the peddles hard down we dash back to collect the car. 

The following day for a rest we pop up a nearby hill to take in some amazing views of the Cuillin, bikes where not involved. 

The Black Cuillin

Looking towards the mainland