A little taste of winter climbing.

With the Christmas in full swing my two brother in-laws, Sam and Steve had both come up to Scotland with my sisters for spend the festive season at my parents house. With promise of the good weather holding out for the remainder of their stay I’d promised to take them both up the mountains for a little taste of the Scottish winter climbing. Due to unexpected circumstances the guys would have to be leaving a day earlier than previously planned so we decided to change our plans from travelling to Glencoe to the Arochar Alps to save the time spent on the long walk-ins and travel.

With the weather looking so amazing I knew that almost any crag would be in good condition, especially for the grade 1/2 gullies that I was wanting to take them up. We resorted to ‘The Cobbler’, it being so close from my parents house and an easy walk-in for the guys that had next to no hill fitness it was the obvious choice.

We started early to avoid the expected crowd of people flocking to the mountains due to the holidays and the amazing weather, it also gave the guys a chance to take their time on the walk-in. Lots of huffing and puffing later and with some encourage meant to just keep moving from me, we found our self’s kitting up under the start of ‘Great Gully’. This having been one of my first winter routes years ago I thought it would be the perfect starting route that wouldn’t be too  technically difficult but would provide a real insight to what winter climbing (rather than winter walking) was all about. I started leading up the route talking the guys through using their crampons and axes efficiently, reaching the top of the first with and set up a solid belay to bring both of them up the pitch.

day 2

Me, Sam and Steve on our ledge at the second belay

It’s always great taking people with little experience of the Scottish highlands and showing how spectacular it really can be. An easy feat with weather like we had today. Bringing them up the first pitch one by one their eyes lit up as they crawled under the huge chock stone at the beginning and climbed up into the main gully. I watched as they stood, dumbstruck at the sight of the ice and snow-covered walls of the north peak towering over them. We all gathered to the right of the gully where i had cut out a small ledge to stand on and switched over the ropes so i could continue on leading up the route.

day 3

Steve topping out

I climbed over what is usually the ice bulge on the second pitch I realised that it wasn’t any where near as banked up as it usually is making stepping over it slightly difficult and I hoped the guys would be able to cope with it as they came up on the second. As they topped put onto the ridge I congratulated the two of them for tackling crux without too much of a struggle (only the odd cry for help from Sam trying to remove a stuck piece of gear!) As we broke over the crest of the summit, Both of their faces lit up with surprise at the magnificent view of the surrounding hills. With the exceptional visibility we could see over the Bridge of Orchy hills all the way up to Glencoe with the sun radiating down onto the snow topped peaks creating a sight that silenced us all in awe.

day 1

The three of us on the summit

day 4

Sam getting his first taste of winter climbing

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A Miserable Day

Me cold and wet on the summit

I headed up to my parents’ house in Drymen with the hope of an early start for a lone trip up The Cobbler to scout out some new routes and take a look at some future projects.

I got up early and arrived at around 8a.m. Leaving the car in full hard-shells due to the torrential rain below 500m, I took my time walking in as I knew I had all day and wasn’t rushing to the base of a route. Ditching my hardshell into my pack I changed over to soft shell as the rain turned to snow and The temperature dropped. The whole path was flooded with all the melt water from yesterday’s thaw and only the hard compacted snow within the basin remained. Luckily The basin was sheltered from the freezing northerly wind as it pelted the back side of the crags.

me getting to grips with the roof og ‘The Cathedral’

I spent the day roaming around looking at a few unclimbed routes and things that I plan to become future projects later in the season when the winter conditions really kick in. I also managed to abseil inspect a few routes such as Dave Macleod’s ‘The Cathedral’ (X,11).      I know that abseil inspection is not ‘usual ethics’ for winter climbs but the route wasn’t in winter condition and it’s the standard of route that I think it would be foolish to no inspect it before even considering it as a future project for myself. It seems out of my reach at the moment but perhaps with some more training and getting a few hard routes under my belt this season, it might make its way onto the                                                                            ‘give it a try’ list someday…who knows!?

If anything, today was a good ‘reccy’ day, that may have got me soaked but it all helps top up the hill fitness and keeps me true to my promise to myself that I will try and get out on the hill at least once every week this season.

only hard compacted snow remains up high

Only hard compacted snow remains up high

Dumgoyne Hill Run…We did it!

So As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, me and Euan have been keeping up our weekly hill run up Dumgoyne hill. We started this torturous weekly ritual 5 weeks ago and have been mixing it into our schedule for pre-winter training.

Every week we would return, unmotivated simply by the thought of having to go through the pain of running up it again. We would eventually manage to conjure up the courage to leave the heat of the car and brave the autumn morning’s cold. We would start running from the lay-by just up the road from the Glengoyne distillery and run to the trig-point that marks the summit as fast as our legs could take us. After what would always feel like an eternity of heavy breathing and legs that felt like they were filled with battery acid, we would collapse onto the summit. Every time, before checking the timer, we would catch our breath and laugh at how bad it felt this week and that we couldn’t possibly have been faster. Every week we were proven wrong, having knocked off several minutes off our previous time.

I guess the saying is true. It never gets easier. You just get faster.

This trend continued until last week we were down to a time of 21:12 from car to summit. We set ourselves the challenge of hitting sub-twenty minutes, thinking it would require a few more weeks with every second getting harder and harder to knock off the faster we got. Yesterday we managed to finally break that record with our personal record of 19 minutes and 52 seconds. Pleased doesn’t even come close to how it feels to beat our long-term goal. Not only to show that we could actually manage sub-twenty (running the whole thing without stopping seamed like an impossibilty a few weeks ago) but also to prove that our hard work and training had paid off.

Me slightly worse for wear after our sub-20 summit.

Me slightly worse for wear after our sub-20 summit.

Burning Calves And Exploding Lungs

Every year I tell myself that this is it. This is the year I’m going to start training before the winter season comes and I’ll be super fit and running up the hills when winter finally hits. There has not been a year gone by where I have stuck to this and cursed myself later in the year when halfway into a two-hour walk-in with sweat pouring off me and my legs feeling like they’ve run a marathon already. This year will be different….I think!

Euan and I, a long-term climbing partner and good mate have recently moved into a new flat in the south side of Glasgow and have promised each other that we will push the other to continue to train, with the hope that this will give us the motivation and psyche to keep it up. With the winter season fast approaching, Euan came up with the disgusting idea of doing some hill running. Now, neither of us are big into our running, only doing the odd 10km here and there to keep some level of fitness up when there’s really nothing else to do, so when Euan mentioned the concept of ‘real’ hill running, I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do less. And with this, the idea was cast aside, damning it as madness and torturous.

Wednesday 7a.m. I’m abruptly woken by the removal of the covers and a freshly made coffee thrust under my nose to force me from my bed. In my zombie like daze, I hear Euan rabble words like running, fitness and hills. None of it computes and I try to return to bed as I’m taunted and my manhood is questioned. This reminds me that I’d jokingly entertained the idea of a hill run the previous night and minutes later the next thing I know, we’re in the car, running shoes on and me wondering what the hell I’m doing. The coffee starts to kick in and my brain starts to decipher what’s going on. We are on the way to Dumgoyne for a run to attempt to gain some vital hill fitness for the upcoming winter season.

As we arrive at the car park of the Glengoyne distillery at the foot of the hill I’m dreading it. I’m not a fan of even walking up hills, let alone running up them. Through several yawn-broken sentences I tell Euan of the hatred I have for him at this moment but realise he’s having none of it and that I have no choice. We’re already committed.

Stretches done, stopwatch started, my legs begin to move and we start up the track from the road. We cross the stile and the gradient increases, the path turning to trodden-in steps and the lungs starting to feel heavy. The pace becomes slow as the intake of oxygen is insufficient to feed my burning calves tackling the steepest section of the climb. We’re nearly there. My mouth becomes more like the air intake of a jet engine as it sucks in as much air as possible, attempting to keep myself moving. We break over the false summit and get our first glimpse of the trig-point that marks the true finish. I tell myself to keep moving as my vision starts to tunnel, focusing only on the final goal. The calves are on fire and my lungs are ready to explode as I stop the watch and collapse onto the summit.

“26:32” it reads. We’re delighted, more at the victory than at the time itself. Taking in the view we finally catch our breaths and return our heart rates to a more human level as we start the walk down.

Me and Euan. Exhausted but motivated!

Me and Euan. Exhausted but motivated!

It’s only in the car on the return journey that we get the natural high from success. That pride you get from having committed, taken the right decision to get out of bed and pushed yourself when so many others would have rolled over and silenced the alarm. I could feel the psyche growing as we talked about the difference this could make to our fitness, how much easier a heavy pack would feel on a walk-in if we just kept the dedication up and refused to quit.

We’d not even reached home before already deciding we were coming back to do it again.

Next time, we would be faster…