Saturday, 17 October 2009

Gritstone climbing

Last weekend I onsighted my first E2, Pot Black at Stanage. It was really enjoyable, a bit run out but with a reasonably safe fall out zone. It took me a while to commit to the moves, indeed on my first go I reversed to the floor from the break. I was really pleased to onsight the route though. Afterwards Owen led Right Unconquerable and Namenlos before I led Wall End Slab SUper Duper Direct in the dusk. This route is only E2 with a side runner and the 5c crux is pretty tough, well I thought so anyway! I'd previously seconded the crux rib of this route, so not onsight but some good, tricky moves anyway.

Friday, 28 August 2009


Ok, a quick note about our recent trip to Bolivia. We arrived, went sightseeing, got bored of sightseeing and went into the mountains. First of all we planned to visit the Condoriri area to acclimatise. This is a popular area where the locals provide a donkey service and have even installed a couple of toilets. Rather too quickly we made an attempt on Pequenyo Alpmayo only 5 days after arriving. Given that I'd not do Mont Blanc after 5 days in the Alps why did we attempt a 5400m peak? Anyway, we were successful but it was extremely painful.

Descending Pequenyo Alpmayo

We did a couple more routes between us in this area and then returned to La Paz to prepare for our visit to the remote Cordillera Apolobamba. We planned to visit a valley that we later found out had never been visited before by anyone other than the local shepherds and their llamas.
When we arrived, following a scary and somewhat dangerous minibus journey along single track dirt roads above awesome drops, the hills were shrouded in mist and clag. We settled down by the road for the night, hoping that morning would reveal a clearing and allow us to see up the valley we had spotted using the power of Google Earth. Morning dawned with a covering of fresh snow but thankfully the clouds had cleared. As we could find no donkeys or llamas for hire we set about humping all our food and gear for the 2 weeks up the valley. This was brutal and took 2 journeys. It was at this point that a local boy out getting his llama nicked Ad's crampons. We later figured that he nicked them coz they were in a Leeds Utd bag and all South Americans seemed obsessed by football, he should have picked a better team to nick than Leeds! Anyway in the light of the security risk (later found to be non existant as the other shepherds were friendly and we never saw robbery boy again) we decided to climb 1 pair on, 1 pair off. This meant Ad could borrow my crampons when he climbed.

First up Simon and I climbed the rock peak on the right by what looked like a nice rock ridge but which turned out to be a pile of choss with a little interesting scrambling. We were, however, able to scope out a nice rock ridge that Kris and Ad did the following day at about PD+
That night we made a sad discovery, both petrol stoves appeared to be blocked. As a result we agreed that Ad and Kris would descend to the nearby village of Illo Illo to try and solve the problem whilst Simon and I would attempt the North West Face of Canisaya, a 5700m peak that had been climbed twice from the other side but never from this side.

Canisaya North West Face. We climbed round the seracs on the bottom right and straight up the top section. The skyline NE ridge is unclimbed.

We made good time on our ascent and soon enough found ourselves at the bottom of the face. The face sported a large number of large crevasses and seracs. Fortunately there was a relatively clear line on the right side which led to the final 45 degree face. This was covered in spikes of neve called penitentes, which made for easy going. We fetched up under the summit seracs in good order and found the way barred by a large rimaye. Initially we couldn't see a way over but then we noticed a partial snow bridge down on the right. Due to the precarious nature of the bridge we belayed the crossing and the following 50 degree slope. Once on top we found the summit guarded by a giant ice mushroom and a moat like crevasse. We walked round the rim of the moat and luckily found a point where an ice slope rose up and crossed the moat. Easily we walked over this and onto the flat summit. The descent by the west ridge was uneventful and we were back in camp by noon.

That night Ad and Kris brought bad news, we had to descend as they had not been able to get the stoves sorted. We moved our bus pick up forward a few days giving Ad and Kris enough time to attempt Charquini, the most impressive peak in the valley. They got around half way before tricky and scary glacier conditions forced a retreat.

Charquini from the descent on Canisaya

Friday, 24 April 2009

Gritstone challenge

On Easter Sunday, with a fine day forecast, Jon and I set off for Stanage. We parked up at the unusually early hour of 8.30 at the Popular End and proceeded to walk the 3 miles to Stanage End. Upon arriving we located the route 'Start', which seemed as an appropriate place as any to start our challenge of doing 50 routes in a day.

I should explain that 100 routes in a day is regularly achieved on Stanage and other Eastern Gritstone crags so our 50 was, relatively speaking, a small number of routes. However, it felt like a big enough challenge to us. We decided to take a rope and a light rack so we could attempt some of the VS classics of the edge on our way as we were unwilling to solo some of the taller VS routes onsight. Stanage End passed quickly and we were on 10 routes within 90 minutes of starting, including the classic Green Streak. The smaller walls right of the end slab slowed us down somewhat and we were drawn into trying to highball a number of 5b and 5c problems; this sapped our power and motivation so we decided that in order to complete the challenge we'd best climb no harder than VS from then on.

The Crow Chin passed quickly and, from my point of view, uneventfully. Jon lead Kelly's Face, formerly graded diff and featuring precarious 4b moves with no gear at 10m, excellent fun. After Crow Chin a morale boosting count revealed that we were on 24 routes and nearly half way there. As we reached Cosmic Crack the sun came out and our energy levels dipped with every degree the temperature rose. I wanted to lead Cosmic Crack and managed to make the slowest, most unco-ordinated lead the route may have ever seen. I have no idea how long I spent going up and down at the top overhang, unwilling to commit properly to finishing the route. When I finally committed to the good foothold and good jugs the top arrived with ease. I quickly brought Jon up, annoyed with myself about how long I had taken. At this point I thought we'd blown it, but outwardly I remained positive. In a funny way thinking I'd blown doing 50 routes made me relax and enjoy the movement of the climbing.

High Neb was next, the lowering sun flooded the rock with a familiar glow. We were well warmed up and the easy movement over classic routes was immensely satisfying. Just out of interest we counted our total as we reached the end of High Neb, 37 routes, we might do this...... Quickly we half walked, half ran towards Dover's Wall intending to solo as many as we could in the remaining hour of light. After every route we shouted the number of routes we were on, encouraging, exhorting each other to concentrate. Tiredness was racing up on us but at the same time the finish line was close at hand. It was with great relief that I pulled over the top of Black Hawk Traverse, the light was gone and our torches were in Sheffield. Careful counting revealed we had managed 51 routes, we'd done it and with not a moment of light to spare.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Le Ben Nevis

Seduced by the forecast of wind, snow, rain and sleet we headed North for a final trip. The mild weather of the previous week meant that only Ben Nevis was worth considering for a trip; having seen some photos taken 2 days previously we decided there would be enough ice to justify the trip and that it should refreeze nicely on Sunday night.

After the usual long, but uneventful journey we pitched up in the North face car park to indulge in a spot of vagrancy before Monday's activities. Monday dawned bright and clear and we headed up the track feeling optimistic that the night would have done it's work and the ice would be in good condition. Sure enough high up there was a reasonable amount of good quality ice at the top of Coire na Ciste, Ad wanted to lead the Cascade and I was keen to follow some technical 5 ice to see how it compared to technical 5 mixed. It seemed to take an age to reach the bottom of the route, however, once we were there a comforting rock belay and the stimulating view of the ice meant that our travails were quickly forgotten. Ad led the pitch smoothly (apart from the odd axe slippage) and soon it was my turn to follow. The start was ok but then it steepened, steepened again and stayed steep for a full 40 metres. A good lead! I was bushed at the top and I was only seconding.

Ad leading the Cascade, grade IV (5).

Following a day's rest, on the Wednesday we looked at the forecast of wet snow and strong winds and decided that North East Buttress would provide a suitably challenging day out. This time we were joined by Pete, who had just led his first grade IV on the Monday. The day dawned suitably foul and damp.

Nice weather..........

Near the CiC hut we met snow, which steadily increased in depth as we rounded the base of the first platform. Staring upwards into the sharp snow showers we struggled to discern the sloping ledge which led to the First Platform. After some upward wandering we managed to locate the ledge and soloed along it to the start of the route proper. Examining the ground ahead, we decided to move together until it got hard.

Approaching the 1st platform

The route was quite intricate and yet natural in the line it took, never hard but always interesting. Following some excellent icy mixed climbing we reached the Second platform snowfield whereupon I insisted on having a turn at leading. It was most enjoyable to be out in front and finding the route. After a while I was running short on gear, a final chossy ice bulge barred access to a crack and belay. I dug out a runner and after some trying found decent placements to pull over the bulge and access the belay. Soon after we arrived at the infamous mantrap. It was hard, but short and well protected and we got over it without much bother. The 40ft corner provided a final superb pitch before some wading along an easy arete led to the plateau in a whiteout.

40 ft corner, well banked with ice and snow.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Cairngorm capers

Mess of Pottage on Sunday

This weekend, with the large amount of fresh snow on the West coast, we decided to head East to the Cairngorms. On Saturday we made an ascent of Pygmy ridge. We started very early as the freezing level was due to rise to 1200m during the day, sure enough it did and by the time we topped out the snow was softening. However, the route looked wintery and was really excellent.

The initial forecast for Sunday was somewhat better, colder but drier too. We considered going to Hells Lum, however, upon arrival at the car park there were many dark, threatening clouds and a strong wind was blowing. We changed plans and headed into Coire an-t Schnecda again. This turned out to be a good idea as the weather rapidly worsened and walking out proved a big enough challenge without having to cross the plateau. After some debate about route choice we settled on the Haston Line, which, whilst not a major classic looked like it would be a relatively quick and easy mixed route. Pitch 1 was fine, standard grade 3. The second steep bit in the corner was largely soft snow with some thin, new ice. This made for a hard challenge for a few moves with not that great gear as I'd left the size of cam which would have protected it perfectly. Under the conditions it was harder than Pygmy Ridge, so possibly tech 5.

Jon trying the crux of the Haston Line in nice weather. I led this bit and found it quite tricky.

Jon following the crux pitch on the Haston Line.
In terms of conditions, sunday had some thin ice and a lot of soft snow on the buttresses. Open slopes were scoured and lee areas had some deep drifts. Mirror direct was iced but the quality of the ice was variable when we poked it on Saturday.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Raven Crag Gully

A quick note from earlier in February when winter was living up to the description. I might sue the last 2 weeks on the grounds of how crap and mild they have been.

Jon, Simon and myself headed to the Lakes to seek out some classic routes that are rarely in condition. On the saturday we passed any number of people heading up to queue on Great End and drop ice on each other's heads and headed round Borrowdale to investigate the classic Raven Crag Gully. I had previously gone to the bottom of this route in 2005 to find it a mass of chandeliers and big wet gaps in the ice; hopefully this time things would be different...

Simon leading pitch 1.

Fortunately, this time there was a little more ice than previously. The ice was a curious mixture of good ice, weak chandeliers and onion skin. Onion skin is formed by snow falling on the water as it freezes (I think), it makes nice steps but also has the nasty habit of giving way suddenly when stood upon it.

After waiting for a whole 20 minutes Simon had dispatched the first pitch and I got to lead pitch 2. This was thinly iced and out of balance at the start, it definitely felt harder than the 3 or 4 grade IVs I'd done previously so I was well pleased to get it done.

After some easier stuff the final main pitch was upon us; it looked superb. Sadly it was Jon's turn, not mine, a fact I was glad of when dealing with the very thin top out!

Friday, 27 February 2009

Hart Crag Icefalls

Making the most of the last of the cold weather, Adrian and I headed to the Lakes. We, rather optimistically, hoped to find Black Crag Icefall still complete. A 5.30 start from Ali's floor and a sweaty rush up the hill saw us beneath the icefall, which sadly had a number of gaps in it. We then headed up to Hart Crag at a more leisurly pace, via a solo up Houndshope Beck.

Naughty soloing at the start of Hart Crag Icefalls.

The ice on Hart crag was fat and chewy, so we set about climbing it as fast as we could before the thaw ate it all. By 2pm the thaw was well underway, but we had climbed 350m of good ice at grades III and IV and were knackered so didn't mind going home.
Adrian leading a grade IV pitch.