Glencoe Climbing

On February 8, 2014 by Tim Neill

Just had a fun week climbing in and around the ‘Coe. Conditions have been good for certain routes and gnarly for others. I’ve mostly visited Stob Coire nan Lochan and the Buachaille climbing very icy buttress routes….climbing has been fun and modest for their given grades but not so much gear…Grade V mixed routes have felt like grade IV snow ice routes and even a esoteric VII in SCNL had dropped a few numbers!

N Buttress on the Buachaille...very good ice.

N Buttress on the Buachaille…very good ice.

 

The work has been during an annual collaboration with Mountain Equipment, Gore, Cotswolds Outdoors and PYB. Good fun, lots of great equipment to try….the worse the weather the better. Over the week we had fairly robust winter weather with a lot of wind and snow…ideal.

On a snowy Raeburn's Route, SCNL

On a snowy Raeburn’s Route, SCNL

 

The tally for the week was Raeburn’s twice, Scabbard Chimney, Spectre, Moonshadow, Financial Times and Death or Glory in Stob Coire nan Locahan. The obscure 999 on Gear Aonach and 2 trips up the North Buttress on the Buachaille. If you read the given book grades you’ll be surprised that they climbed roughly the same this last week.

Icy Spectre..way better than usual conditions

Icy Spectre..way better than usual conditions

Scabbard Chimney....another fun ice route currently

Scabbard Chimney….another fun ice route currently

So maybe when all this ice and snow settles we’ll have another amazing Ben late season…at the moment it’s forecast more SE winds and snow.

Walking down NW ridge of Lagangarbh corrie after N Buttress

Walking down NW ridge of Lagangarbh corrie after N Buttress

 

 

 

 

 

Mountain Guide’s Winter Training

On January 25, 2014 by Tim Neill

This last week has been the winter training course for 8 of the candidates currently working through the courses to become IFMGA guides. The course is hopefully a catalyst to send them in the right direction towards their winter guiding exam in a month or so.

We ran the course out of Alan Kimber’s excellent base of Calluna http://www.fortwilliamholiday.co.uk/, allowing us to access all the good climbing available in the ‘Coe or the Nevis Range. The team of trainers were myself, Dave Hollinger, Tim Blakemore and Stu McAleese….all good friends with a strong background in Scottish winter guiding.

Dave on Crest Route, SCNL.

Dave on Crest Route, SCNL.

We climbed a number of routes in SCNL while concentrating on guiding mixed routes….some were easy in the icy conditions (Scabbard Chimney was muted as being a grade III ), some a little more interesting…the guys did Crest Route, Intruder, Scabbard and Spectre.

Will, Mark and Tim making short work of Intruder, SCNL

Will, Mark and Tim making short work of Intruder, SCNL

We had a day mountaineering on the Ben climbing Tower Ridge and Castle Ridge (easy climbing in the conditions but few rock belays currently) and down the Ledge route which is so banked out it is barely grade I and could be skied comfortably by the competent….it is a really quick and easy descent route to the CIC hut. The potential for ice climbing on the Ben this winter should be phenomenal…I have rarely seen some much consolidated snow on the steep parts of the mountain in January in 20 yrs. Much was buried but currently the Curtain was climbable for sure and rare things like the Shroud not far off…and may be a possibility towards the end of Jan if the forecast holds true.

Miles and Mark "sports casual" on a perfect Castle Ridge

Miles and Mark “sports casual” on a perfect Castle Ridge

We looked at guiding some longer routes on the Buachaille with a few ascents of North Buttress and the esoteric, but classic Shelf Route on Crowberry Ridge. These involved plenty of short roping, moving together and a variety of pitched climbing throughout. Both these routes suited the wild snowy conditions on the day, and on reaching the summit rewarded with some great views of the really snowy West coast ranges.

West Highland local Kenny at ease on his own patch

West Highland local Kenny at ease on his own patch

Al on the scenic Shelf Route

Al on the scenic Shelf Route

The last day had a deteriorating forecast so teams made trips up and down the sheltered Curved Ridge on the Buachaille, whilst some of us fired up Dinner Time Buttress on Aonach Dubh, Dorsal Arete in SCNL (those familiar with this route in normal years will have a surprise, as, at the moment it’s a barrel of neve and the dorsal section has only 2 rocky jugs sticking clear of solid neve…..very aesthetic), followed by a variety of awkward and steep descent routes in some wild weather. We rounded the course up in some local pub called the Clachaig.

All the best of luck to the trainees for the rest of the winter and especially on their exam at the end.

Scottish winter movie!

On January 19, 2014 by Tim Neill

While I was away enjoying the southern summer everyone up north has been getting some great climbing in Scotland…well recently at least. My friends and regular climbing partner Keith (and with a little help from Matt) have published a short flick of some climbing we did last winter.

http://vimeo.com/83387429

Check it out! I think it’s a great little film of a brilliant and rare climb.

I’m off to Scotland in a couple of days for the rest of the season so will be updating regularly with plenty of news of conditions and info for the next couple of months.

Keith on Agag's Groove on the same mountain as Raven's Gully. Scottish winter with all its fine contrasts!

Keith on Agag’s Groove on the same mountain as Raven’s Gully. Scottish winter with all its fine contrasts!

Looking forward to it all …….

Padre Viento…..A month in Patagonia

On January 18, 2014 by Tim Neill

So, James (Caff) and I just got back from a (little over) month based down in the mountains of Argentine Patagonia. Post trip it’s nice to be home….

In short, we had a promising start and a great finish, but a deeply frustrating middle (it was a long middle)! Frustration is the big gamble with going here….more so than many mountaineering destinations….and as you get older you realise that time is like sand running through your fingers! Going with Caff was such a great opportunity and it’s a shame we didn’t get a chance to try our main goals…it would have been such a privilege to try.

Dream mountain....

Dream mountain….

Anyway, we got 3 fantastic routes done. 1 regional classic rock route called Chiara di Luna on Aguja St Exupery, a quick blast up a rock line called Rubio y Azul on Aguja de la Medialuna and finally making the 3rd ascent of a brand new ice and mixed classic called Super Domo on Cerro Domo Blanco. Super Domo had had its 1st ascent just a week earlier by 3 of our friends. They had raved about its quality and their photos had everyone keen to have a go. Prior to this the mountain had only been climbed 3 times and on the day of our ascent 4 teams in total topped out doubling the number!

Caff bombing up Chiara di Luna....finger numbing temps, occasional verglas, strong winds and snow flurries later in the day....good conditions for there!

Caff bombing up Chiara di Luna, 750m E3….finger numbing temps, occasional verglas, strong winds and snow flurries later in the day….good conditions for there!

Cumbre!

Cumbre!

Our first little trip into the hills involved a change of plans as weirdly warm weather in the night put us on a plan B of rock instead of ice. Chiara di Luna was windy and cold, but totally classic and I don’t think we could’ve done much better. The higher we got the windier and colder it got with snow flurries occasionally adding to the doubt.

Next morning before the forecast was due to crap out we were on our 2nd plan B in 2 days….we eventually raced up a 12 pitch route called Rubio y Azul. On the final 3 pitches the wind got wild, the skies scudded over and after some frought abseiling the snow arrived. The climbing on this short E4 was totally stunning though. When we touched back down onto the glacier it was like one of those miserable Scottish days and the night at Niponino camp was endured. We stashed our kit hoping to return soon…

Wind picking up...rope arcing. Rubio Y Azul.

Wind picking up…rope arcing. Rubio Y Azul.

Wild windy jamming. Perfect rock near the top.

Wild windy jamming. Perfect rock near the top.

The weeks went by…the weather brought “viento, viento….mucho viento” and plenty of rain and snow in the mountains. Fortunately in El Chalten ( the bustling town where everyone stays ) sanity and fitness were maintained with a daily ritual of either bouldering or sport climbing ( or both for Caff ). Caff’s relentless standard of rock climbing rubbed off and I managed to equal any previous high points with my sport climbing!  Plenty of really great people to hang out with, a pile of good books and coffee, pizza or steak filled any other gaps. Depressingly we blew a short weather window at New Year as our  optimistic aim to climb on rock was blown out by ice plastered rock and freezing temps. Many teams were in the same boat and even some of the local wads didn’t achieve any real climbing…however to make it harder to reconcile, two teams did really well. A team of Kiwis went big and made it up the Super Canaletta on Fitzroy (with frost nip and big smiles) and some friends made a well timed first ascent on a rarely climbed mountain called Domo Blanco.

They started late in the day for an ice route and had a lot of local knowledge. Their photos looked great and everyone in town was talking about it after they got down (http://joelandneilsclimbingblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/super-domo_8.html). With the weather continuing in the cold and snowy theme, our final opportunity came a few days before our departure. The route choice was obvious.

2am…we’d gone to bed in windy, snowy weather and woke to enough stars to set off. The fear of avalanche or wading through powder were silenced by a serac which had jettisoned and purged the whole slope to the base of the route…so far so good. The views of the Fitzroy side of the range lifted the spirits even further.

The upside down snowline on the Fitzroy range....what happens when the wind blows down there. Oh and great memories of previous climbs.

The upside down snowline on the Fitzroy range….what happens when the wind blows down there. Oh and great memories of previous climbs.

Super Domo splits into 3 tiers then an easy ridge to the summit. As our picks thunked into the most perfect neve a weeks worth of perfect Ben Nevis climbing flew by on the 1st tier. The 2nd started on more stellar ice then some great icy mixed with a few spicy sections and plenty of exposure.

Great exposure and climbing near the end of the 2nd step.

Great exposure and climbing near the end of the 2nd step.

The end of this bit involved a precarious traverse onto a slopey dyke, then bomber ice under a whopper chockstone to a col. The view of the last tier was incredible. Steep cascade ice in a huge chimney. We waited for the team ahead (locals Rolo Garibotti and Colin Haley…didn’t have to wait too long!) to top out then got stuck into some of the best ice I’ve ever done. This was good as it was fairly steep and sustained.

Stepping out to the last tier. Fitzroy behind.

Stepping out to the last tier. Fitzroy behind.

Our friend Ben on the final section of ice of Super Domo.

Our friend Ben on the final section of ice of Super Domo.

Caff leading the way on the best ice ever.

Caff leading the way on the best ice ever.

The last pitch was really incredible and went on in a huge rope stretching pitch. We had a quick butty then raced the final few hundred metres to the summit as the weather was clearly closing in.

CAC calendar on top of Domo Blanco!

CAC calendar on top of Domo Blanco!

Cerro Torre....next time.

Cerro Torre….next time.

All the frustration of the last few weeks disappeared in the final steps. We had very rare views of the ice cap and some of the most elusive summits in the world. We hung out as long as we could then set off down as the wind whipped up, the spindrift started and the window closed.

The weather and conditions make these mountains epic, but at the same time any summit gained is well deserved. What a place….at some point I the future I’ll head back for sure.

I’d really like to thank Duncan at Mountain Equipment (http://www.mountain-equipment.co.uk/home.asp) for some awesome clothing and Glyn at Scarpa (http://www.scarpa.co.uk/mountain/rebel-ultra-gtx/) for some great footwear. As I’ve got a habit of breaking anything sub standard it was great to be able to rely on their bomber gear in such a remote place!

There are also a number of Caff’s photos here http://dmmclimbing.com/blog/patagonia/, and here ( with humourous captions too ) http://www.jamesmchaffie.com/1/post/2014/01/patagonia.html.

Finally thanks to James for asking me along.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patagonia Trip

On December 7, 2013 by Tim Neill
The most inspiring skyline in the world....

The most inspiring skyline in the world….

Heading off in a couple of days to Patagonia. More precisely the Torre and Fitzroy range in Argentina. I’m going with James McHaffie ( http://www.jamesmchaffie.com/caffs-blog.html ) who’s got a fairly cool track record on granite around the world. He’s got some fairly hefty objectives so I’ll be doing my very best to keep up. We’ve got just over a month so will hopefully be able to get a few helpful weather windows and some good chances in the mountains…as well as having a good time in and around El Chalten.

View of the Torres from summit of Fitzroy...pretty damn awesome!

View of the Torres from summit of Fitzroy…pretty damn awesome!

 

I’ve been before in 2009 with Matt Stygal ( really the first time we climbed together and the start of a lot of other great climbs). We also had a month there and despite a generally poor season for weather ( we had just under 1 week over that spell ) we summited Fitzroy, Poincenot, St Exupery, Guillamet and Mocho…some of the best days alpine climbing I’ve ever had. I’ve always wanted to go back, so jumped at this opportunity. There are a few mountains that we didn’t set foot on then that are on my mind when I think of inspiring objectives as well as other routes on the mountains that we were privileged to climb.

 

Awesome granite in the Torres....

Awesome granite in the Torres….

 

Quite a few other friends are going too, so we should have a great time. Hopefully the clockwork internet in Chalten will allow some updates….

Wish us some luck!

 

Matt getting the full treatment on Fitzroy...Franco/Argentine Route.

Matt getting the full treatment on Fitzroy…Franco/Argentine Route.

 

Winter Sun

On December 7, 2013 by Tim Neill

Most of my friends have been away enjoying Catalunian limestone….. climbing loads of perfect sport routes they can’t remember the names of 🙂

I’ve been making the most of home…..

So, not the usual winter sun but some occasional local stuff. In between some fun work and CPD type stuff like the British Mountain Guides Trainers Conference I’ve been making the most of being at home before a month in Patagonia. Except for a few days down in S Devon and at Swanage the local crags have been quite dry (if a little nippy on the pinkies).

Zuma....South Devon classic pumper!

Zuma….South Devon classic pumper! photo Keith Ball

This has included doing lots of the old classics and favourites at Tremadog (as well as doing all the routes I’d done before on Vector Buttress I joined in with some friends trying the famous Strawberries…will try with gusto next spring). We discovered a few gaps at Craig y Castell along the road ( http://news.v12outdoor.com/2013/12/05/spinor-e4-6b-%e2%80%93-another-new-line-on-craig-y-castell/, and http://news.v12outdoor.com/2013/12/03/tales-of-suspense-e4-6a-new-routes-on-craig-y-castell/), good fun.

Some fun and safe new ground at Tremadog

Some fun and safe new ground at Tremadog photo John Orr

Heading into less safe new ground....

Heading into less safe new ground…. photo John Orr

My friend Graham Frost was over from Switzerland and as he was missing the seaside we had a fun day climbing on a soapy November Main Cliff and Red Walls at Gogarth…the crags were strangely empty!

"The wet holds are still the same size even when you can't feel your fingers"...winter Red Wall mantra...photo Mark Walker (cold belayer)

“The wet holds are still the same size even when you can’t feel your fingers”…winter Red Wall mantra…photo Mark Walker (cold belayer)

A big gap left of the classic Joe Brown line Tensor

A big gap left of the classic Joe Brown line Tensor…photo Steve Long

Finally, a little while back I helped Pat Littlejohn remove some retro bolts from one of his old classic E5s at Craig Arthur near Llangollen.  http://www.ukclimbing.com/news/item.php?id=68535 Without getting into the infinitely complicated background, Pat was understandably upset that someone had spoiled one of his very stylishly done first ascents, so we did our best to repair the damage and repair the rock with resin, dust and lichen. I’ll go back in spring to make sure it’s all ok. All I would say is that it’s easier to write armchair points of view on an internet forum than do something about it…..

Doing some route restoration on Fri 13th...photo P Littlejohn

Doing some route restoration on Fri 13th…photo P Littlejohn

 

 

 

 

Autumn

On October 18, 2013 by Tim Neill
Nick bullock climbing a recent addition at Hornby Crags

Nick bullock climbing a recent addition at Hornby Crags

 

Settling into a couple of months based in North Wales. Days free have been scarce, but nearly every one has been productive plus a few optimistic evening forays in the Pass. While it was dry and warm amongst other snippets I managed a few very good recent additions on Dinas Mot sourced from the ever useful V12 Climbing news…..both these routes should be high on any local activists radar….http://news.v12outdoor.com/2013/09/03/5575/ and this one…..http://news.v12outdoor.com/2012/08/28/sunshines-edge-%e2%80%93-3-pitch-e4-6a-on-dinas-mot/. Might be late spring before they’re in good nick again though.

Great Orme...nearly always beyond the mountain rain?!

Great Orme…nearly always beyond the mountain rain?!

More recently the weather has pushed us towards the Ormes. There has been a stack of new routing and re equipping going on there. It’s too easy to go there and do the same routes (brilliant as they are) so all these new or refurbished  venues have been great fun to visit. The best recent venues have been around the North tip of the Great Orme and I’d recommend visiting Unnamed Crag, St Tudno’s and the Hornby Crags…the latter get the sun just after it leaves the Marine Drive crags…perfect. Unnamed crag could be described as Trevellan with more bolts and less sun. The publication of the much anticipated North Wales Limestone guide will highlight to all soon enough…..check out these sample pages….http://www.northwaleslimestone.com/samples.php. On a more established note my annual trip to Craig Doris confirmed that there is good reason that I will always have plenty still to climb there. Craig Arthur is still a great crag but suffers a little to much abuse due to its “off the radar” status…..http://nickbullock-climber.co.uk/2013/10/01/oblivious/….very good debate in the comments. And that Craig y Forwen, whilst still officially banned access is totally mega with old school grades and no poor bolted eliminates…go and visit but be quiet!

Quickstep at Forwen...one of the best and hardest E4s on N Wales limestone?

Quickstep at Forwen…one of the best and hardest E4s on N Wales limestone?

 

Finally, the autumn is a really busy time at PYB for Mountaineering Instructor Award training and assessments, so a lot of my work there is back to back either or. Only occasionally is there something a little more straightforward. The constant challenge of these courses is great and I enjoy trying to not set into a routine format…this keeps my interest more sustainable and hopefully the students get way more out of it.

 

MIA assessment....doing a good job on the Teaching Day...lots of climbing with plenty of instruction, keeping everyone challenged but as safe as can be....easy!

MIA assessment….doing a good job on the Teaching Day…lots of climbing with plenty of instruction, keeping everyone challenged but as safe as can be….easy!

 

The candidates who get most out of the training courses and who do the best at assessments seem to do so due to a very simple equation….stacks of varied experience and plenty of climbing/mountaineering ability in reserve….simple! As well as plenty of good days out cragging there are plenty of days to (hopefully) blast around the mountains scrambling to help balance the intake of PYB cake!

Autumn in the Snowdonia mountains...lots of practice on slippy/greasey rock!

Autumn in the Snowdonia mountains…lots of practice on slippy/greasey rock!

Hopefully the weather will be kind for the remaining MIA courses, and I’ll mange to climb outside more than at the Beacon wall. Got some good trips coming up…so need to keep on top of it!

Little Big Walls

On September 28, 2013 by Tim Neill

Back in North Wales for the autumn and it’s all about the rock climbing….work and freetime. After a bit of time spent on Mountain Guide rock courses I had a great weekend at PYB with 3 guys wanting some training for upcoming Big Wall climbing. With a starting point of needing to be an experienced rock climber it’s a matter of learning a few new skills and a lot about logistics. Basic aiding, jumaring/cleaning and anchor/belay management was our first day….we started at the climbing wall then out to a little crag above the RAC boulders (lots of steep cracks). Then day 2 we visited Clogwyn Y Wenallt in Nant Gwynant. The guys climbed Bovine and Ferdinand in what I would call an American style…single rope, tag and haul lines. 2 seconds jumared, then hauled the bag and portaledge. We set up the portaledge halfway up the top pitch of Ferdinand and enjoyed some thuggy Joe Brown hand jamming in training for the real thing.

Arolla

On September 24, 2013 by Tim Neill

My final week in the Alps this summer season was based in Arolla. I used to spend weeks working here each summer for PYB but had only really passed through over the past few seasons. This weeks work was a conclusion to the Doctors Diploma in Mountain Medecine programme that I’d been working with in Scotland over the past few winters. Basically the final course and assessment for the diploma participants.

We travelled to the Ferpecle glacier below the mighty Dent Blanche to refresh our Ecole de Glace skills on day one, followed by a trip to the Aiguiles Rouge hut and an ascent of the Pointe de Vouasson. These days also included lots of accident/medical scenarios along the way.

The final 2 days I traversed the little scrambling ridges above the Pas de Chevre on the way to the Cabane de Dix and an ascent of the Voie Normale on the Mt Blanc de Cheilion. This was in primo conditions for the time of season and we were totally spoilt by an unbroken panorama of the Alps. A perfect last summit and it felt like the descent from the summit was going to be all the way back to Wales.