Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Low Winter Sun: Cioch na h-Oighe

I think I have been up Cioch na h-Oighe more than any other ridge or peak on Arran. Close to the road, it is just a steep heather bash from Glen Sannox and a great choice for a shorter day if you want to get in to technical rocky scrambling terrain.  The rock is generally sound, the views immense, and it is one of the quietest places in the Northern Hills- I rarely meet anyone else up there.

So, this morning, a long lie and a good weather forecast lured us back up there with a promise of a fun scramble and some winter sunshine.  We were not disappointed. I think it would be hard for me to get tired of this fantastic ridge.

Walking up Glen Sannox for a short distance, before cutting up to the left and towards the Devil's Punchbowl. 

I've have described this route a few times, but in case you are new to the blog- climbing up to the Cioch involves taking a path leading up towards the Devil's Punchbowl, above Sannox, and then picking a traverse line under the nose of the Cioch, before scrambling over slabs and scree to reach the upper slopes.  The final tower forms a hooked prow, spectacular in profile.  On the left, the terrifying crags of The Bastion drop away, and to the right, steep but heathery slopes in to Glen Sannox.

Arriving on the Cioch, we were blinded by the low winter sun.  It was glorious, but a bit much so we gratefully dropped down in to the notch beyond, and followed the undualting crest over granite blocks and through narrow squeezes until the ridge broadened in to the flanks of Mullach Buidhe.

Cir Mhor from Mullach Buidhe

Beyond Mulllach Buidhe, there is a short descent before the final climb on to North Goatfell. Here the bright sun dazzled us again,  The view from the summit was incredible, and as well as the snow capped highlands to the North we could also make out Jura, and for the first time ever- clearly, the Isle of Mull to the Northwest.

On the summit of North Goatfell

Finally we began our descent down to The Saddle between North Goatfell and Cir Mhor. In places the path is heavily eroded and a fine scree of granite gravel means that care is required on descent.  From the saddle we traversed a short distance under the North East flank of Cir Mhor, before descending a well marked but scree filled Gully above the Whinstone Dyke.  From here, in descent, you have a choice of continuing to folow loose scree to the right (facing out) or descending the dyke itself, which is steep but certainly preferable in dry conditions.  There is plenty for hands, but the footholds are a bit polished by time, boots and running water. 

At last we arrived back in to Glen Sannox, and all that remained was a long stomp out of the glen as the light failed.  We passed a small herd of stags on the way, who crossed the river to avoid us, but still allowed us great views of their magnificent head gear.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Surf/Climb Holiday Part 3: Beaches

Its totally obligatory when visiting the south west of England to go to the beach.  Whats more, there is a beach to suit every mood, and most swell directions if surfing is your thing.  Surfing isn't really my thing, but I like water and wild weather and having a boogie board and a steamer wetsuit seems to be enough to entice me out in to the surf even in November.  I need fairly benign conditions however, in fact, boogie boarding lends itself to baby surf. By the end of the trip though I was starting to lust after a pair of fins and the potential to go and play in the big stuff out the back with the big boys......

Due to the wet nature of these activities, I don't have so many good photos to share with you from this aspect of the trip.  One secret site was ridden on a pre dawn raid by my proper surfing companions, and there wasn't even enough light to photograph them... However, here are a few snaps, and some pointers as to when these beaches get good:

Porthmeor Beach, St Ives, is really sheltered, and therefore only really gets going when westerly swells are huge. On this day the conditions were good to big, but the beach gets really steep towards the top of the beach and therefore only the good and the brave were out, lurking near the back.

This was Gwithian on the north coast of Cornwall on the biggest scariest day imaginable. Gale force off shore winds and massive westerly swell. The guys out windsurfing are some of the best in the country and they were eaten alive (whilst having a lot of fun). 

On the opposite coast, Praa Sands, which is a huge beach.  It was ripping quite badly on this day so I didn't stay out for long.

The best surf of the trip was had at the secret(ish) location near St Ives, which only gets good when westerly swells are really big.  Ok, so its Hawks Point, and involves an amazing meandering descent down steps and paths through cliff top gardens to get to and often a swim to the shore. We also had a lovely sunset surf at Sennen, with westerly swell and offshore winds... I really started to get the hang of my boogie thing at Putsborough, in North Devon, in messy swell that made me work really hard but was a great learning experience. Fins here we come. 

Often however, the swell was just too big, too messy, too onshore..... So we had some great walks on wild rocky beaches.  Walking out to Morte point and along to Bull Point in a gale was amazing.  We could hardly stand up in the wind, and felt at any moment we might be swept away.  Rockham beach is an incredible shattered landscape of rock and sea and was no less atmospheric for the storm.  Pictures below:

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Surf/Climb Holiday Part 2: Cornish Climbing

We had about 10 days down in the South West which I fully expected to be incredibly wet and wild. We brought surf and boogie boards to give us a chance of having something to do when the inevitable foul weather came.  In the event, some of the fiercest storms of the Autumn so far lashed the western shores of the British Isles with an almost constant barage of low pressure systems, swell and dark windy days.
However, we were in luck with the rain, which generally held off until nightfall, and when the surf was just too messy and big for us northern softies, we went rock climbing.  Fancy that.

There are 2 good places I know of to climb at the southern tip of cornwall when the tides are wrong and the swell is big.  If you know of any more, let me know!
The first, Bosigran, is an old favourite of mine, and it was here that I began my long love affair with granite that was to culminate in moving to the isle of Arran.  At Bosigran, the rock is rough, solid, and generally the climbs in the lower grades are well protected,  Don't let me lull you in to a false sense of security however, the grades are very "Scottish", many of the routes are long, and the climbing athletic even at v diff.

Porthmoina Island, cut off from the rocky crags of Bosigran by tide and swell. 

Classic V Diff Commando Ridge- The starting pitch was washed by swell on this occasion so we left if for a calmer day....

Wally on the second Pitch of Ledge Climb: V Diff


Wally on the eponymous Ledge


Thrutching my way up the the final ledges on Alison Rib

The other great place to climb I know when the weather is wild is Trewavas head on the south coast, just along from the wonderful beach at Praa Sands.
Pictures below are of the tin mining ruins on the walk in, and me doing my best impression of a popsicle in the cold cold wind.  The climbing on the main cliff is generally short pitches, in an exposed position high above the sea.  It is certainly not a place to get out of the elements, but a good place to get away from the waves.


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Surf/climb Holiday Part 1: Change of plan and Box Bay

The best laid plans.....
Our much anticipated autumn climbing and surfing trip to the Western Isles was sadly put on hold with the passing of my grandfather John Battersby.  The family gathered in Wales to celebrate and remember his extraordinary life.  There was much sadness, but a lot of happiness too as he was an amazing, funny and clever man, and remembering him brought as much laughter as sorrow.

After the funeral, we decided to stick with the climbing and surfing plan, but took advantage of our location, and began a tour of the Southwest that would take us through Wales, down to the end of Cornwall, and in to darkest Devon... I'm going to post the images in stages, as we did a fair bit, but will only bore you with the best bits!

The holiday began with a sunset climb at one of Wales' most popular surfing spots, Rest Bay.  Just east of the main beach lies a small rocky incut, known to the locals as Box Bay.  Here there are short and fun routes on sharp limestone.  Rough rock and lots of cracks make them relatively safe, and generally low in the grade (by Scottish standards), but beware many of the starts are unprotected, and the landings awkward/dangerous.

Shimmering surf in Rest Bay....

 The routes have tricky blank and barnacley starts with wet and rocky landings....

 But once established, there is plenty of gear and lots to hold on to.

It was a stunning evening, didn't really feel like October at all! Here's wally looking like he should be sipping a pina colada on the top of the crag. 

Eventually the sun set, and we had to go....