Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Centurion - worth the wait

The heat wave continues.... and getting closer to the weekend I was excited for possibilities, but unsure what was coming because of changing plans and climbing partners however a chance message set the path - Centurion on Ben Nevis.

Going to be a bonny day!
I've wanted to climb Centurion the famous Whillians route for over 10 years and when I found out that Andy had the same idea and has wanted to climb it for 20 years then well it would be rude not to.

Theres our wee crag
I left Inverness at 5.30am, Andy drove up from Preston the night before - the lengths we go to! It was warm and midgy when we met in the North Face carpark, but the midges weren't an issue after the forest.

Brief wait for pitch 1!
What a day with perfect weather, and we made good time to the CIC hut where we bumped into Murdo, who said he was up doing some second ascents of new (Dave) Macleod routes on the Comb Buttress... it slightly made our HVS seem quite a small endeavour but we weren't worried.

Pitch 2 before it got gnarly!
We were the second team on the route, and what a route indeed. Every pitch was memorable. Pitch 1 - hard moves off the ground were a shock to the system. Pitch 2 (crux in my mind) - was a longgg corner, meant to be only 35m, but went on and on getting harder and harder.. I ran out of the 15 quickdraws! Pitch 3 - physical traverse then nice clean easier climbing in a dramatic position. Pitch 6 - second crux taking the easiest line through some roofs on hidden holds. Pitch 7 - only 4c, but a real sting in the tail and hard to get through (unexpectedly).

Pitch 3


During the day I realised that I've never been to the Ben in summer, and it's even more impressive than in winter, an absolute sea of rock and opportunity.

Official crux, pitch 6... easier than pitch 2

In the bag! Look at all of that rock..
We were both elated when we got to the ledge at the top and after taking in the view we descended Ledge Route. It is without doubt the best HVS mountain route I have ever climbed... but now I quite fancy Bullroar (HVS), King kong (E2) and The Bat (E2)...

friendly deer, the Douglas Boulder (Tower ridge) and NE Buttress behind



Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Tour de Arran

We headed to the Isle of Arran for a long weekend during this current heat wave. We met Janet and Rob and based ourselves on the South of the Island at the brilliant Seal Shore Campsite. Interestingly we saw more otters than seals from the campsite watching them from the beach each morning and evening.

Ferry to Arran



Holy Isle

Just arrived


Prayer flags
On Saturday we took the small ferry over to the Holy Isle which I've always wanted to visit. There is a centre for World peace at the North of the Island. The project is directed and run by Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist meditation master in the Karma Kagyu tradition. The Island is open to Buddhists and non-Buddhists.


All to much for Janet



There are two hills on the Island and we went for a lovely walk over them returning to the peace centre for complementary tea/coffee after this. It did feel a very peaceful place and it was interesting to meet some of the folk who live and volunteer here. I liked the 'tick' advice in the cafe.... 'once removed please release the tick back into the garden'!




In the peace garden!
On Sunday I felt washed out (man flu), but was very brave and we went for a bike tour around the South half of the Island. This was brilliant (sorry no pictures of this). It was a 35 mile ride around the South, cutting across a 'high' pass in the middle. It was quite a tough ride being under the weather, hilly and very hot, but the riding by the sea was fantastic. It made me want bike tour more!

Plada Island from camp




Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Eagle Ridge, Lochnagar

The Scottish heat wave was temporarily over, and the weekend forcast looked unreliable, but after scanning the weather channels daily it eventually looked good on Sunday in the East Cairngorms.

wheels or feet

There she blows
We decided on climbing Eagle Ridge, a long classic rock route that I have always fancied doing. The plan was hatched to drive over on the wet day and sleep in the carpark at the Spittal of Glenmuick. It would be another trip in Hamish the van, and Jack and Jenna would be sleeping in the back of his discreet (bright yellow) Honda Jazz with the front seats pulled forward (hehe).

Eagle - distinctive ridge above the furthest left snow patch

Avalanche probes ready for action (notorious spot)

Jack getting excited
They rocked up much later than me, in fact I was asleep when they arrived. The guide said a 2 hour walk in (more like 3 to the base of the walk) so we decided on 7am alarms.

The first pitch


I'm a light sleeper and cars were arriving from 5.30am, and when I saw firstly a piper in a kilt, and then a car of 3 unloading climbing gear and ropes at 6am enough was enough I got us up. Jack and Jenna looked a little perturbed by me peering into their car window and informing them that its time to go!



The 3 climbers were German, and set off 45 minutes ahead of us, we presumed heading for Eagle Ridge as its the most obvious option in these hills.

Jack trying to enter the sentry box - no room!

more exposure
I had my secret weapon, a mountain bike with me, and we all set off together but I quickly left them behind, stashing it about 3-4 miles up the trail.

bringing Jack up to the last belay
The weather was great and we quickly arrived in the cirque. Strangely the 3 Germans were walking up the path to the summit, so I was confused as to why they had helmets and harnesses. I brought back lots of memories of the last time I was here with Huw in the dead of winter when we climbed the Tough-Brown, IV route which was long and absorbing. We topped out that day just before the sun was setting. Interestingly not many people log this particular route on UKC, I guess due to its length, and surrounded by more famous neighbours.

now give me my gear back and lets get out of here
The climb started well, and increased slightly in difficulty and exposure the higher we got. The rock was clean and dry. The whole route I was thinking would I want to climb this in winter, and after the
first easy pitch I concluded - no! Grade VI winter routes are above my pay grade and I think that it would be pretty hard.

Where did the sun go
Higher up on the main ridge it feels very airy and exposed, and the 'sentry box' belay is excellent, but a bit of a squash for 3. Each pitch had a definite crux, and mine on the top pitch I found hard for 4b!

And where's my bike
But we made it to the top without incident, a bit slower than anticipated, but happy. We timed it well as the cloud and light rain swirled in just as we topped out. The weather was initially wild, but soon improved as we lost height. Having the bike for the last 3-4 mile roll to the van was a dream! I was back 30-40 minutes before them, just time to get the kettle on! A great adventure.

back in the glen

Saturday, 16 June 2018

VW caddy van conversion

Finally I have time to post about the van fun!

bulkhead removed
So bluey my old VW caddy maxi was good, and nice but I never felt totally happy with 'him'! I made up lots of (silly) reasons that it wasn't quite working and dreamt of getting a standard wheelbase VW caddy which wasn't bright British Gas blue! That was my dream!

panels out, cleaning time
I was thinking about selling bluey in spring (the time to sell), and then I saw Hamish on auto trader! In the Highlands there aren't mainly vans for sale, and the ones available are generally white and either 1-2 years old (very expensive), or older and have suffered a tough life being used 'properly'!

insulation under floor
So I spotted Hamish over Aberdeen direction and immediately knew it was a rare find up here, being silver, a blue motion (eco!), with cruise control and not having been used as a 'work' van. Barrie had really looked after Hamish and put some nice 16" wheels on him too! So I bought him and sold bluey!

more insulation
I then set about my conversion. The conversion done to bluey was of a high standard, and what I asked for at the time, but after using him for 2 years I definitely wan't to do it differently. I wanted the flexibility to use Hamish as a mini camper, be economical for work (99% of its use) and then be able to be used as a van... oh and be easier to park and more discreet than bright blue!

All insulation down and floor back in
Completing the conversion was really fun actually. I've decided at this point not to have any electrics or air vents (nearly cut a hole in the roof).

starting the carpeting 
So basically I stripped it out, used Low-E (cost - £115) as the main insulation product sticking it (high temp spray adhesive) to the sides, roof and under the existing floor. I then carpeted everywhere! I got quite a good finish, but the wheel arches aren't amazing and this took about a week! I also added some block insulation, and soft material insulation into some voids (cost - £35)

the carpeted panels go back in
feature (sticker) wall in
I bought a 'trade' made to measure wooden rack for the van storage from van rack. Friends said I could have made the equivalent much cheaper (it was £80 I think), but it wouldn't have had the same finish and I am really pleased with this. Well worth the money in my mind!

rack/cupboard in!

bed construction (highlighting the main mistake)
I then wanted a removable bench seat/bed, which could be a single or double bed. There were various options for this, but I went with the simplest, and made one after watching a video from Huw Tube. It took a little while to get this right as I made a few mistakes and the design needed modifying to function better, but I'm really pleased with the results. This cost approx £50 to make!

finished. seat/bed tied down! In seat mode (or single bed)
I had lots of dilemma's regarding the seat covers/mattress. I didn't want to use a plastic and wanted to be green with this considering natural latex, wool.... etc. But it was impossible to get the size/shapes I required and would have been too expensive.

Serendipity led me to McEwans Upholstery in Inverness and I'm glad it did. I wanted the cushions to look really nice as they are the main thing you see and I don't have a sewing machine or the skills to do this part of the build myself!
fits 2 x bikes inside without taking wheels off - handy
I made use of their remnants section and picked a navy tweed, left over from a refurbishment job they completed at Eden Court. It's a lovely fabric, and should be hard wearing. They did a great job of the cushions, even making an alteration after me rethinking stuff a few weeks later! This was the most expensive bit of the job at £230, but worth it.

double bed
I find I'm making minor changes (just bought a pop up bin for £6), and still have to put curtains in the back window... but basically its done and I think I've already slept in it for 4 nights. I have a spreadsheet somewhere, but the conversion cost approx £550, which I think is very good (the professional conversion to bluey cost £2200).

Hamish working well with 6 people in!
As a van, main vehicle it is great, it drives like a car and is economical averaging 50-55 mpg (good for a van). Its brilliant having cruise control, and as a part time camper works well. Functionality and use of space is much better and more practical than bluey. Sure, room is tight with 2, but its great and the bed is comfy! I'm happy I made the swap!