Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Surprise! Ailsa Craig

What a treat I had today!
Only yesterday I was musing to myself that this year might be the first in a a while that I've not been out to Ailsa Craig.... Then this morning, a random tweet (if you "do" twitter my handle is @snoweider) and before I knew it I was crewing for Ocean Breeze Ribtours aka Elspeth and Russell Cheshire who run regular trips out to Ailsa during the summer months. Thanks to Elspeth and Russ for these stunning photos lifted from their brilliant blog.

Ailsa Craig is famous for it's unusual profile, a fabulous microgranite that was mined  until recently for curling stones, and of course being an enormous gannet colony. In addition to the 70,000 gannets, perched high above the firth of clyde on tiny ledges, there are also several thousand guillemots and razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars and of course the charistmatic puffin.

As the weather was good, we were able to land on the island and have a look at the ruins of the mining village and associated industrial units.  It's a really interesting place, and although the last residents left in the mid 20th Century it has a feel of having only just been abandoned, with the points on the railway still working, and curling stone blanks littering the raised beach. 

We lingered just a little too long, and had to race the falling tide back to Lamlash. Luckily the water was flat and friendly, and before long the Isle of Pladda was alongside us and we were rounding the Southend of Arran. An amazing trip. I can't wait to go back!

Monday, 4 July 2011

Lake District Heatwave: Part 3 Gorgeous Grisedale

Five days of hot weather and tiny rockshoes were playing havoc with my poor bruised toes. On the final day of our holiday they rebelled.  A day in big boots was in order. Pinnacle Ridge on St Sunday Crag, Grisedale, is a classic grade 2 scramble with a sting it its tail: A pitch of moderate climbing that has a couple of thrutchy moves.  Just what is needed to add a bit of interest to the day.

Another day, another lake.  This is Ullswater, seen from the ridge of Thornhow. 

We parked at Patterdale and walked in via Thornhow, traversing across boggy and bouldery slopes above Grisedale to reach the base of the route. It isn't obvious at first and we puzzled for some time over the approach description in Scrambles and easy climbs in the Lake District. Eventually we located the start of the route and found the initial scrambling to be fun and easy, over jumbled blocks and spikes.

Later the climbing became more technical with a steep groove on the left of a tall tower to be climbed (avoidable with a nasty traverse on chossy slopes). We were lucky with the conditions, the groove is often greasy, but for us was beautifully dry.  The climbing was over far too quickly, and it wasn't long before we were basking in the sunshine on the summit of St Sunday Crag.

Striding Edge and Helvellyn

There were great views of Striding Edge and Helvellyn, bristling with people.  We headed southwest along the ridge to the glinting blue of the Grisedale tarn, where it was impossible to resist putting those battered feet in to the cool water.  

Thank you Lake District for a corker of a week.  :-)

Lake District Heatwave: Part 2- Beautiful Borrowdale

So its midweek and we are well and truly stuck in to the climbing in the Lake District and expecting the heatwave to last and then suddenly Woah! It is drizzling on and off.  What to do? Easy, saunter down to the cafe at Shepherds Crag, Borrowdale for a huge fried breakfast and sit and look at the will-it-won't-it weather for an hour or so.

Handy cafe at the bottom of the crag.  It would never catch on in Scotland....

Before long the sultry conditions returned and the day blossomed in to another hot crag fest on nice rock with lovely holds. We started gently with Jackdaw Ridge (left), before ticking the classic lakes V Diff Little Chamonix. This route is a must do, and many have, meaning that the crux holds are polished, and the hilarious step/slither across the void at the top of the third pitch is nervy. Sitting astride The Saddle at the start of the final pitch my relief was palpable. I learned later that there is a secret foothold that makes these moves easy peasy. Oh well. I'll just have to do it again...

 Wally on the first pitch of Little Chamonix

By mid afternoon we were over heating again and returned to the cafe to meet friends for ice cream. A perfect day marred only slightly by the discovery that a mouse at the foot of Little Chamonix had chewed it's way in to my pack, eaten most of my compass cord and had a feast on a granola bar. Hmmm.

We camped further up the glen (oops "Dale") and with the forecast still set fair, the following morning headed for a mountain crag above Combe Gill called Raven Crag (there seem to be a lot of these in the Lakes). On a recommendation from a friend, we headed up the classic Diff, Corvus ("arguably the best diff in the Lakes"), and were not disappointed. The climbing was continuously interesting, despite the broken and green nature of the buttress, and the "celebrated" hand traverse (above right) was great fun. 

The views down Borrowdale from the top of the crag were stupendous.

Enthused by such fantastic climbing, we descended to the base of the crag and also climbed Raven Crag Buttress, an esoteric V Diff that deserves more attention.  The line was very green and vegetated, and yet the climbing was fantastic, on huge steep holds, interspersed with delicate sections of climbing. If you have ever wondered what some of the Lake District classics were like before the crowds and the polish, check out this route!

Climbing amongst the heather on Raven Crag Buttress

All that remained on reaching the top was to run over to the summit of Glaramara, and enjoy the fabulous panoramic views from the top. Another perfect end to a perfect day in the Lake District.  

Up next: Grisedale.

Lake District Heatwave: Part 1- Lovely Langdale

Yep, you read right, I've been south of the border. To some this may not be surprising (it is where I originate from), but those who know me also know that I have vowed never to tousle with traffic, queues and expensive car parking ever again. And yet last week I found myself in the Lake District, in a heatwave, looking for rock to climb.

The story began in Langdale, a place I know reasonably well, and anticipating a long week of climbing, we started gently with a couple of routes on Upper Scout Crag. Even by English standards this is a valley crag with an easy walk in, which is just as well, as the day was roasting hot. The classic routes on this crag are imaginatively named Route 1 and Route 2, both V Diff (ish). The latter takes a rising line through ledges and slabs, while the former is more direct and probably the more satisfying for it. In between routes, it was all I could do to lie very still in the heat, trying to cool down. (We don't get this kind of heat in Scotland...)

Day 2, and we decided to go a little further afield and visit an old favourite, Gimmer Crag.  Gimmer is notorious for having an arduous approach, but after 6 years of living on Arran and stomping up and down Glen Rosa, an hour walk in to a crag feels like roadside! Nevertheless, the heat was astonishing, and we were glad to arrive in a heap at the looming base of Gimmer Chimney (V Diff). 

The compelling line of Gimmer Chimney

The route is really only 4 pitches long, but after a sweaty thrutch in the lower chimney, it was all I could do to lie in the sun a bit more.  Game over. Heat 1, Lucy 0....

Day 3, and at last I'm starting to get the measure of the weather.  An early start put us down a grade and on Middlefell Buttress in the cool morning shade. This is one of the most famous Diffs in the Lake District and rightly so.  Although now quite polished, it is still quite straightforward, with the only sting in the tail being the descent. With hindsight, this would have been a great approach to Gimmer. However, on this occasion it was an early finish for ice cream, and then a drive up to Basenthwaite to visit the Lake District Osprey Project.

Still to come: Borrowdale and Grisedale!