Saturday, 1 March 2014

A Cold Day in the Sun - Sheeps Tor

   Haven't blogged for a while, so I thought I would catch up with my most recent activities.  As a quick catch up, I have recently been single-man dinghy sailing out at Brixham with Grenville House
Outdoor Education Centre with the rest of my Degree Course.  Having not sailed for nearly 2 years, it was a shock to the system to jump back into a boat in poor weather and high winds - but it was great fun!  More recently, I have also been doing some night navigation on Dartmoor, again with my degree course, in preparation for our upcoming Journey in the Mountains Module trip to North Wales to gain some more mountain experience.

   Today, Me and my friend Derwood took advantage of the good weather to go rock climbing at Sheeps Tor on Dartmoor.  Sheeps Tor's routes are described in Nick White's guidebook as being greasy in all but the driest conditions, fortunately the routes which we climbed today were in great condition and were very nice to climb. 

      My plans for the day were to help Derwood with his set-ups and to get him trad climbing, and to get myself back into climbing, having not climbed extensively for a while on traditional gear.  It was great to get back on some familiar routes which I have done before.  After practicing some simple anchor set-ups close to the ground, Derwood focused his eye on a route called Omega Crack (see the picture above), a route which is 30' and graded at VD (very difficult).  It is a very nice and easy route to climb, and also very safe as you can lace the crack with tonnes of gear.  The route is very short (as are all of the routes on Sheeps Tor) and follows a wide crack next to a rounded arete.  

   After Derwood climbed his route, I decided to climb Slanting Crack (SC), a slightly shorter route at 25', but graded at S (severe).  This route has a strong start where you have to lay-back the crack on good handholds, but placing gear can be strenuous as you have to lean into the crack and lock off with one of your arms to place the gear.  The top section of the route was very easy. (unfortunately no pictures of this route).

      Derwood then bagged his first Severe trad climb, Crack & Chimney - a slightly higher climb at 35'.  The route starts below a curving flake and crack with some good bits of gear, then moves up a short layback to the fissure above.  He was very happy with this climb, and decided to up the game later on by climbing the classic Mushroom Wall (MW).

Derwood on the Flake beneath the Fissure of Crack and Chimney
Selfie on Crack and Chimney
   After this, Derwood managed to climb his first VS (Very Severe) climb, Mushroom Wall - with a technical grade of 4c.  A classic climb and one of my favorites on the wall, it climbs a steep face on thin holds with small pieces of gear. (see the picture below).

    Due to cold weather and cold fingers, we then decided to call it a day and head back to Plymouth.  But I am excited to get back to Sheeps Tor to have a go at Wind Wall, a classic climb graded at HVS (Hard Very Severe) 5a, a route that has been on my tick list for some time.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Through The Pines... Meall a Bhuachaille

   Yesterday we were forced to have a rest day due to the poor weather and high winds, therefore the day consisted of an outdoorsy film instead.  Today we decided to brave the high winds to venture up Meall A Bhuachaille.  Unfortunately, the wind speed was higher than expected after we found ourselves nearly blown back down to the bottom of Meall a Bhuachaille.  Once at the top of Meall a Bhuachaille, Gwilym recorded a wind speed of 73.9mph on his device before being blown back behind the cover of the summit cairn!

   Tomorrow will be my last chance to get out in the Scottish Highlands before making my way back down to the very wet South West, Devon.  I am hoping that the weather will improve down there, as I would like to get back into climbing... if not than the indoor competitions will keep me entertained and Dart Rock Climbing Centre have their Winter Competition Series coming up, check them out here.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Carn Ban Mor, Sgor Gaoith, Sgoran Dubh Mor

   Winter walking and more navigation practice today (due to the closure of the ski road!) with Gwilym and Mark, we started with a nice little walk from the car park towards Carn Ban Mor via a pathway - where Mark and myself practiced interpreting the contour lines on our map to match the surrounding area.

   On the way up to Carn Ban Mor, we were greeted by some amazing views!  The sun shining on the slopes looked amazing and were packed with snow, however we did not want to wander nearby as they looked avalanche prone and matched with the slope aspect on the avalanche forecast.

After reaching Carn Ban Mor, we worked our way towards Sgor Goaith, passing the Plateau nearby 1012.  We then got a bit trigger happy with the cameras when the weather lifted, revealing the surround area - the camera didn't do it justice; it was much more beautiful to the eyes.

   After our little camera shoot, we went to bag Sgoran Dubh Mor before descending down towards Meall Tionail and back onto the path towards the car park via a very long walk along a very long road (at least that's what it felt like).

   My time in Scotland has so far been magnificent, and today was very enjoyable - it has been a big learning curve to discover what  I need to work on in order to better myself for any future adventures.  Hopefully the rest of the remaining week will be just as good and I will learn just as much.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Snow Slopes, Coire na Ciste

   Today we hit the slopes of Coire na Ciste again to look at some more winter skills.  Initially the snow pack was harder than first thought, so the winter skills started with Mark slashing steps up and down the slope to help with movement.

   We also looked at making bucket seats, then reinforcing them with snow anchors such as buried axes and snow bollards - then testing them to destruction!... Gwilym tried to pull us from our seats, then we loaded the buried axes with two people, and finally ended with abseiling off of our snow bollards - with a intermediate stance in which we used a stomper belay to lower each other back to the rucksacks.

   We also had a look at digging into the slope to create a shelter... very hard work and very tiring!
   All in all, a very fun and productive day to learn and develop skills.  Big thanks to Gwilym, you can see his blog here.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Fiacaill Ridge

   Today Gwilym took me up Fiacaill Ridge, a grade II ridge which seperates Coire an t-Sneachda and Coire an Lochain.  However, upon approaching the ridge, we came across a very large group (19 people!) walking in a line, which was rather amusing.  See the picture on Gwilym's blog here.

The route itself was of good quality and was really enjoyable to climb, I seconded Gwilym up the ridge, short-pitching some harder sections, and moving together on the easier ones.  The pitch in the picture below was fantastic; we climbed this pitch with one axe, which meant that I had to think a lot about my feet and how to balance myself - often resulting in some akward bridge moves!

   The day finished with some navigation round Corie an t'Sneachda towards 1141 where we removed our crampons whilst having a nice chat to some skiers who were headed towards Ben Macdui, the visibility finally improved on the way down to the car park with some beautiful sunshine behind us.