Friday 27 February 2015

The Fly Direct

 Ski Touring on Creag Meagaidh. Lots of ice on Pinnacle Buttress, but getting in there on foot that day would have been pretty hard work.  

The day after climbing The Shield Direct I went for a ski tour on Creag Meagaidh with my friends Suzie and Finn. We did a circuit which went into Coire Ardair, up to The Window, round the top and then down via Sron a Ghoire. It ws a nice circuit with a lovely decent. What caught my eye though was the amount of ice on the Pinnacle Face. I immediately thought of The Fly Direct. This was one of those classic winter routes which I had heard about since I started climbing, and had always wanted to do, but had never seen in condition. In fact I had not heard of anybody climbing it for years. However, at the time it would have been epic to get into Coire Ardair on foot because of the amount of soft snow and I had already arranged to head north to climb with Iain Small on Skye the next day (which as described in my last post proved to be a bit soggy)

After Skye the weather turned a bit milder and I had about a weeks worth of work. However later in the week the temperature dropped, I had a day off and Iain was keen to get out again. We weren't sure if The Fly Direct would still be there, but an up-to-date picture on the SAIS Creag Meagaidh blog suggested it might be worth a look. At the last minute Uisdean Hawthorn decided to join us. 

Iain running the first two pitches together. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures from higher up the route due to a slight camera malfunction. 

Early in the morning I found myself walking into Coire Ardair with Iain and Uisdean. The deep soft snow what had been there the previous week and consolidated, and walking conditions were good. Reaching the crag, the temperature was  hovering around freezing. A streak of ice ran all the way down the route and it looked to be in good condition. Iain geared up and headed off up the first pitch. The ice was great apart from a 25ft section where it went really cruddy. There was not very much gear, and it was tricky enough for Iain to start muttering to himself. However, he kept going, running the first two pitches together to reach  to fine block belay. I led the next pitch, a shallow ice gully which felt like a felt like a shallower, steeper version of the nearby Smiths Gully. The ice was generally pretty good.  Uisdean then led a rope stretching pitch to a belay below the final icefall. The ice was good and the final ice fall did not slow Iain down much.

Rambling back down the Raeburn's Gully, Iain and Usidean spent a fair bit of time looking at the line of Excasty, a fine looking grade VIII between The Fly Direct and Smith's. They decided to stash kit in the coire, and returned the next day to to climb it. I had committed to another stint of work starting the next day so could not join them.  However, doing The Fly Direct on my one day off felt quite satisfying.

A wider view of Iain running the first two pitches of The Fly Direct together

Saturday 21 February 2015

Soggy Skye

Rambling our way up we found this impressive and fun chimney, so we climbed it.  

Water pouring of the ice. Things would have been superb if it had been 5 degrees colder. Unfortunately it was not. 

Looking back along the ridge. Not too bad a view. 

A few days after the Shield Direct, Iain Small and myself decided to take a gamble and head up to Skye. It had been cold, and we thought that there might be some good ice. The forecast was for it to turn slight milder, but with the freezing level forecast to be around 600m we thought that things higher up would be okay and it would be worth the gamble.

So after a good day's ski touring (which I will write about later) I headed up and dossed in the care near Kyle of Lochalsh. The alarm went off at five, and after breakfast in bed (well my sleeping bag),  I stepped outside to some sub-tropical air. The snow that had been on the ground when I had parked up the previous night had gone. It was also drizzling. Iain appeared from accommodation (his car). It did not look to good, we grumbled a bit but decided we might as well go and have a look.

Things were a bit more promising an hour later at the car park. Although mild, it had stopped drizzling and we started walking. As it grew light ,a a bit of whiteness on the higher crags tempted us on. Finally reaching the crag we found some amazing looking ice lines which were unfortunately pouring with water. Iain hit the ice, slush spattered off, it was not a day for hard climbing.

After a bit of faffing and wondering what to do, we rambled up on to the ridge in a sort of mountaineering style, finding quite a cool 60 metre grade IV chimney which we climbed (an existing route, which I have forgotten the name of). This took us up on the ridge just as it cleared, giving us  great views down into Loch Coruisk.  We wandered down nice and early, reaching the car just before the rain came on. Although we didn't get to climbed what we had planned, it was nice to see the place, and get up onto the ridge in winter. I am certainly inspired to return when hopefully all the drools of ice return and are not rapidly melting.

Saturday 14 February 2015

The Shield Direct

Myself on the first pitch of the Shield Direct, the pitch I thought I would never be brave enough to climb. In fact it was thick enough for ice screws and was not actually too bold. 

The Shield Direct was a route that I have always looked at, but never thought that I would do. The route requires on ice on the initial corner. The front cover of the old Scottish winter climbs guide shows a picture of Andy Forsyth on the initial corner. The ice was thick enough to climbing, but not for ice screws. It looked terrifying! Almost 20 years ago I remember speaking to someone who had been there when a team had tried the route.  His description of their attempt, and the other stories I had heard, made it sound even worse. The route was given VII, 7 in the guide, but it sounded much harder than that.

I know of two ascents of the route in the past ten years. One in February 2005 when I was living in Switzerland, and the other in March 2014 when I was on a ski touring holiday to Switzerland. Over the past ten years I have walked into the CIC hut well over a hundred times in winter.  Every time my eyes have been draw up to the initial corner, there never seemed to be any ice there. This was almost a relief, I had a good excuse not to get on the pitch.

I was walking into the Ben a few weeks ago. I had tagged along with another pair to do a pleasant grade V and we had had a late start. On the way in I was pointing out some routes, and mentioned The Shield Direct. The response to this was "You mean where the person in red is". I looked more carefully and was shocked, there was someone at the top of the first pitch. However, lots of things made an attempt that day unsuitable, and so we headed round and braved the spindrift on Boomer Requiem.

The next day the weather turned mild, had I missed my chance? Fortunately it slowly cooled down over the next few days. The next week I had a few days off, I wanted to arrange a climbing partner for the route, but everybody seemed to have other plans. Was I going to miss a second chance at this route?  Then a client cancelled,  and suddenly my flatmate Guy had Tuesday off as well.  It was all falling into place.

However, at 6am on Tuesday morning things were not looking quite as hopeful. We were wallowing up to the CIC hut is a blizzard. We were wading up to our knees for long distances, and I was waist deep in fresh snow at times. Was this unexpected weather going to ruin my chance to do this route?  As we approached the route fortunately things began to clear up. But by then a team had overtaken us, and were milling around the base of Carn Dearg. Were they going to get on it before us? Some quick walking, even quicker gearing up, a quick spud to see who got to lead the first pitch (which I won) and I was ready to go start climbing before them (sorry Ali, but I was really keen get on the route).

Once I pulled on everything seemed to go well. The climbing was great, interesting and varied. The first pitch was not nearly as scary as I expected, and Guy made made quick work of the tricky chimney above. I led another gradually easing pitch and then Guy a tricky insecure mixed pitch which led to easier ground and eventually Ledge Route. That was The Shield Direct done, the route I had really wanted to do, but never thought that I would do, had been worth waiting for.

It received at least 6 ascents during that period, which may well be more than it had during it's previous 35 year existence as a winter route. I wonder when it will next be climbed?