Archive for September, 2008

Back o' Skiddaw

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Newly returned from a trip to California, Carmen and I thought we'd try out the Simon Fox Patent method of jet lag recovery, and so off we went to the Lake District for the RAB Mountain Marathon.  In its second year, this new event has no 'line' courses, but consists of a single 'score' course, where you get a fixed amount of time to visit as many controls as possible – 6 hours on day 1 and 5 on day 2 (or 7 and 6 for the Elite course).  You can enter it solo, or in teams of two.  This year was in the far north of the Lakes, taking in Skiddaw, Blencathra, and the Coledale Fells beyond.

We'd entered the Elite class – for the simple reason that the only difference from the standard classes was an extra hour per day, and we don't stand a hope of ever entering a real Elite class, hence this was our one chance of pretending to be part of the elite.  Alan K made up the rest of the YAC contingent, running the sensible class as a solo competitor.

A civilised start on Saturday, we set off at 9.30, and made good progress in perfect sunny weather.  So good indeed, that after 5 of our allotted 7 hours, we were getting close to the finish, and it became clear that we'd finish early.  After some detouring to pick off all the available controls within a reasonable distance, we ambled home with half an hour to spare.  Carmen let slip as we set off towards the last control, "you do realise the map is 1:30000 rather than the standard 1:40000 don't you?".  D'oh!  No wonder we were so 'fast'.  Still, 315 points and an overnight 19th position (out of 32) was better than expected.  Alan also did well, lying 34/66 in the men's veterans class ('veteran' in fell running means over 40!).

The campsite was in an idyllic valley, hidden among ancient trees, out of sight from above.  The only downside was the clouds of midges that soon swarmed around our end of the field, meaning an early night to escape.  It soon clouded over, with a bit of drizzle – followed by clear skies and a very cold night.

A leisurely 9.30 start wasn't an option on Saturday, the last possible start time being 8.00 – so we duly set off at 8.01.  Having got the map scale right, my wilder ambitions were reigned in by Carmen's sense, and it was straight up the first hill to start, still freezing cold, with soaked feet from the overnight rain and a heavy dew.  But the skies were clear, and it wasn't long before the sun came out and it warmed up.

We met Alan at our 3rd control, then again at the 4th, and the 5th.  At this point, we were making excellent progress, so decided on a slight detour for an extra control (Alan was more realistic and we didn't see him again until the finish).  A few hours later, we came to regret this decision, as we were fast running out of time and had to miss out on 2 controls near the end – a new loss of a valuable 10 points.  Even so, it was touch and go whether we'd get back in time, and after somehow running all of the last mile (including the uphill bits), we made it with 74 seconds spare!  245 points and 17th on the day, we finished 17th overall with a total of 560 – a whole 30 points more than the winner had managed on day 1 alone!  Alan pulled out all the stops, finishing 22nd on the day with 26 seconds to spare, and climbing to 29th overall.

A really nice area, we hardly saw anyone other than fellow runners – highly recommended for a tramp off the beaten track , just try not to go there when there's a fell race on!  A well organised event, which deserves continued success in the future.  This was easily the hardest event I've done, probably because we had to run so hard in the last couple of hours to get back without incurring penalties.  I'll be back for more of the same next year – though I'm definitely retiring from the Elite!

Vital statistics:
Day 1 – 36km, 1350m ascent, 6hr 35min
Day 2 – 30km, 1250m ascent, 5hr 59min

More information about the RAB Mountain Marathon can be found here.

More photos here.

Help! Police! Somebody stole our fingertips!

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

dave on horror areteWow! two good weekend forecasts in a row! It looked too good to miss, so I put out an email and Cef and Dave S responded.  Foolishly I invited Dave S to pick the crag, his little ears perked up and before I knew it we were heading off for a bouldering session at Bridestones in West Yorkshire, plus Rob who had given up on his mission to find some sucker – I mean climbing partner – to do hard mountain routes with him in wales.  Arriving at the crag around 11.30, we found everything somehow seemed quite tough for the grade, but maybe that's just because we are rubbish. Anyway, after a slabby warm up we got stuck into The Groove, a rather highball little number whose most annoying feature was that after a tenuous start excellent holds were easily reachable by Cef and Rob, but still way above me. After the obligatory height whinge, I  cheated by starting to the right of the route proper, then we all moved on to other things. Then.. Dave arrived and spoiled it all by cruising the start even though he is also a short arse, so honour demanded another attempt.
sucess at last ...And so a saga began… teeter, dyno, miss, swear, teeter, dyno, miss, swear, repeat till fingertips bleeding and rest of group giggling hysterically. I did feel very satisfied when I finally latched that poxy hold, not sure if it was more pleasure at getting the proper tick or pleasure that I could finally stop doing the wretched thing.

round and round the mulberry bush Anyway, time to move on from that buttress.  Fun and games were had up various aretes, scoops, tenuous mantels and fingery walls,  including a game of follow-my-leader instigated by Cef doing repeat traverses round and round the top of a small block – I am amazed he could walk in a straight line by the time he had finished three circuits.

Dave developed an obsession with Duck(supposedly 4c- yeah, right), which involved umpteen "just one more try's",   all  culminating in a flailing bail-out leap from the crux, until eventually Rob  gleefully prepared to capture the anticipated flight on film. This was the motivation Dave needed, he somehow udged and cranked up the scoop on a miniscule pebble and impressive series of grunts and robbed Rob of his pic.

a little height compensation, it\'s not cheating - honestGradually the sharply crystalline grit took its toll. One by one the slopy holds eroded the skin from our fingertips and various other body parts – the yelps from Rob as he slithered down a wall sandpapering his shin were startling. By the time the sun was setting  there were bloody smears on Cef's guidebook from our bleeding tips. We were thoroughly cream crackered and aching, having done only a small fraction of the routes at our grade – there were still pages and pages in the guidebook we hadnt  turned. Fantastic bouldering venue, brilliant friction, mostly good landings, a shame its such a long (1 1/2 hour) drive from York. Back via curry at the Kashmir in Bradford, then  on to York for the tail end of Andrew and Karen's pub crawl.

All pictures and small video/

A Punter's Guide to Yosemite

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Cathedral PeakYosemite – a mecca for rock climbers, and (in)famous for its gnarly offwidths and runout slabs.  A flick through the guidebooks, and there are thousands of routes – but closer inspection reveals they are mainly in the higher grades. And a recent thread on asked "is there enough in Yosemite for an E1 climber?". So what hope for a couple of VS bumblies like Carmen and me?

A handful of brief visits over 15 years ago (before my climbing days) reassured me that even if we couldn't climb anything, the walking (sorry, hiking) was magnificent, so off we went. The only direct flights from the UK to San Francisco are from Heathrow, so that's where we flew from – the crux of the route being carrying 6 heavy bags from the train to the Underground, about English 5c at least. 11 long hours later we touched down in San Francisco.

Task 1 – avoid being blown up by terrorists – success.

Golden gate BridgeA couple of days were spent getting over jet lag by doing tourist stuff. Golden Gate Bridge – tick, cable cars – tick, sea lions – tick. And then it was off to Yosemite…

Task 2 – avoid being buried in a earthquake – success.

The main centres of activity in the Yosemite National Park are Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows. The Valley is home to the iconic cliff faces of Half Dome and El Capitain, as well as much of the best-known rock climbing. It is also home to a squillion tourists, most of them driving camper-vans (sorry, RVs) as big as National Express coaches. All the campsites (sorry, campgrounds) there were fully booked for the entire duration of our stay, and it tends to be hot – 90 degrees Fahrenheit the day we arrived. So we'd already made the decision to stay at Tuolumne Meadows – about 20 miles away as the bald eagle flies, but 3 times that by road, 5000 feet higher and a 2 hour drive, and more importantly, both quieter and cooler.

Piwiack DomeOn arrival, we received the first surprise of the trip. The campground has no showers (or indeed hot water) but showers are available at Tuolumne Lodge, a short distance up the road. Or rather, they usually are. There was some sort of problem with the plumbing, and so the nearest showers were now a 40 minute drive away. And cost $4.50 for 5 minutes.

The campsites here are a bit different from the ones we're used to in the UK. They are all hidden in the woods, and you are allocated a specific numbered pitch, each of which has a parking area, a table/benches, a flattish area for pitching your tent(s), and a pit for an open fire. All Americans exhibit an Andrew-Taylor-like fascination for fire, and every morning and evening will light one in the pit provided. Some use this for cooking, some for heat, others just like to watch things burn.

You also get a big metal bear-proof box for storing all your food, toiletries, basically anything that a bear might think is edible. Leave any food in the car or tent, and it's goodbye windscreen (sorry, windshield), goodbye tent, goodbye limbs and/or head. Unfortunately there's no guarantee that the bear-proof boxes are also mouse-proof.

Task 3 – avoid having food eaten by local wildlife – failure.

And so to the climbing…

Run out climbing on the Bunny SlopesDay 1. A warm-up day to get used to the rock and style of climbing – five single pitch routes at Bunny Slopes, each between 50 and 60m. We both led a 5.6 (UK HS) and two 5.7s (VS), and top-roped a 5.8 (HVS) and 5.9 (HVS/E1). Warning: top-roping with 2 60m ropes tied together is guaranteed to result in severely kinked ropes! The rock was impeccable granite, studded with 'knobs' (guffaw) – a bit like conglomerate, with pebbles embedded in the rock, but all granite. The routes were apparently all well bolted by Tuolumne standards – about 4 or 5 bolts in 55m! On the two that we top-roped, the crux was before the first bolt (at 5m), and the last 10m of the 5.9 (the 2nd crux) were after the last bolt. Well bolted indeed. The local ethic is that all bolts are originally placed on lead by the first ascensionists using a hand drill – therefore they don't coincide with the hard climbing, but with the places that it is possible to stop to place the bolts, ie usually where the climbing is easiest!

Holdless HorrorDay 2. Holdless Horror, an ironically named 4-pitch 5.6 crack on Dozier Dome. The threatened hour-long bushwhack approach through the forest turned out to be a pleasant half hour amble, and when we arrived we were pleased to find only one other party there, despite its being a Saturday, and they were on a different route anyway. The route varied from finger crack to leg-sized offwidth, and as well as providing (almost) as many holds as you could possibly want, was well protected throughout by trad gear (bolts are only used on slabs, when trad protection is unavailable) – the only limit being the number of quickdraws we had (12, which makes for some quite big runouts in a 60m pitch!)

Off the hill early for once, so we had time for a drive down to Lee Vining for a sorely needed shower and the best meal you're ever likely to find at a petrol (sorry, gas) station.

High on the NW Buttress of Tenaya PeakDay 3. Northwest Buttress on Tenaya Peak, a 15 pitch 5.5 (Severe) though mostly much easier (Mod to VDiff). Apparently a long-neglected major classic, we set off early to beat the Sunday queues – there was still frost on the ground as we started the half-hour walk in. On the way we met/passed/were passed by 2 other parties, we all arrived at the foot of the ridge between an hour and 90 minutes later, in different places, none of which bore any resemblance to the guidebook description. We eventually worked out we were at the bottom of pitch 2. One pair had to be back at their car less than 5 hours later, so quickly disappeared up the route, and were on pitch 4 before we set off. We took a much more relaxed pace!

The summit of Tenaya PeakUp to the top of pitch 5, it more-or-less matched the guidebook topo – from then on it was nothing like it, until the last couple of pitches. Reassuringly, we met another 3 or 4 parties during the day, all of them apparently off-route, and none of whom had found the guidebook start – one had arrived at the foot of pitch 6 thinking it was the bottom of the route!

We eventually arrived at the top, after about a dozen pitches, so 3 had gone AWOL. No matter, the views were magnificent, and we had our first sight of the iconic Half Dome, albeit rather obscured by the haze. All that remained was a simple hour-long descent (which took about 3 hours), finishing by the side of the delightful Tenaya Lake – which we decided would make a good swimming spot, so decided to return on a rest day.

A good route, but not really a great one, the line was too vague and the climbing included too many easy slabs between the interesting bits for it to be a true classic.

Cathedral Peak from the north eastDay 4. Southeast Buttress of Cathedral Peak.  This route has been on my to-do list ever since I read about it some 15 years ago. Often, a route you've been waiting to do for so long can turn out to be a bit of an anti-climax. But not this one.

The SE Buttress of Cathedral PeakThe walk-in took a couple of hours, including a slight detour after we missed the path junction by a mile or so due to not bothering to open the guidebook. There were 2 parties ahead of us when we arrived, one on pitch 2 and the other just starting, but they were both fast so after half an hour spent chatting, we were off. Carmen led the first pitch, which seemed hard for the apparent grade of 5.3, but was spectacularly good up steep exposed knobs (fnarr fnarr) (we later worked out that we'd done an alternative 5.6 start by mistake – oops!).

Eichorn Pinnacle from the summitAfter that, the good climbing just kept coming. A steep 5.6 crack or two, then a 5.6 chimney (would get Diff at Almscliff), the easy 4th class pitch above was steep, exposed, and with jugs all over the place, then some more steep 5.6 cracks, and finally a short 4th class to the top. Stupendous stuff throughout, with a fittingly small summit block perched on the top, steep drops and magnificent views in all directions.

Eichorn PinnacleBut it wasn't over yet. A short descent for a couple of hundred metres down 3rd and 4th class slabs brought us to the foot of Eichorn Pinnacle – a slender 30m pinnacle with an improbable looking 5.4 (VDiff) route up it. Just looking at it makes you feel dizzy. But we climbed it anyway (felt more like HS than VD), and it proved a fitting end to the day, superbly exposed but with holds everywhere they were needed, and even a nice (sic) offwidth to finish. A final long walkout, the last hour in the dark (Carmen armed with a rock in case of marauding bears), concluded probably the best climbing day I've ever had.

Mono LakeDay 5. About time for a rest day. A walk round the tufas of Mono Lake – rock spires formed by a combination of hot springs and lowering water levels to supply the inhabitants of Los Angeles. Followed by a walk around Panum Crater, formed by volcanic activity only 600 years ago, and still apparently active. A gloss will be drawn over the rest of the day, but it involved a wrong turning, a stuck hire car, a 6 mile walk, and a rescue by some absurdly friendly and helpful locals.

Zee Tree final pitchDay 6. Zee Tree, Piwiack Dome, 5.7. After the least restful rest day ever, we opted for another shortish day to recover, a 5-pitch route opposite Bunny Slopes. We'd eyed this up on the first day, and even considered doing it instead of the single pitch warm-ups, but luckily sense prevailed! I took the first easy (unprotected) 4th class pitch, the crux of which was finding the belay bolts. Carmen then led the crux 5.7 slab, another Tuolumne-well-bolted pitch, with a whole 9 bolts in 50m. I was more than a little terrified and I was only seconding! An easy run-out 5.3 was followed by another easy run-out 5.4. The last pitch was apparently a 5.7 layback (sorry, lieback), and Carmen managed to wangle it so I got the lead, and I approached it with more than a little trepidation (as a rule I try to avoid laybacking!). But it turned out to be much easier than expected, we both reckoned about Severe (5.5). A nice mini-summit, and one for climbers only as we'd done the easiest route to get to the top.

Later had a pleasant walk to the local soda springs, where rangers lurked to advise against drinking the water. We're British though. It tasted a bit like Andrews Liver Salts.

Mount ConnessDay 7. Mount Conness, North Ridge, 5.6. Several people we'd met had recommended Mt Conness to us, either by the West or North ridge. We opted for the latter, as the guidebook reckoned it could take up to 6 hours just to reach the foot of the west ridge, let alone climb it! We rose at dawn, and were on the trail by 7.30. The walk started just outside the national park, and the terrain was quite different from previous days – red coloured rock instead of white granite, more vegetation, and more rubble. As we gained height though, winding our way round idyllic (and very cold) mountain lakes, the granite gradually returned, and the rock became more solid. It wasn't long before we'd reached the Conness Glacier (what remains of it), and clawed our way up a gully by the side of the moraine and onto the ridge. Here we saw the only other 2 people to share our route all day.

North Ridge of Mt ConnessThe ridge itself was a delight, a mixture of moderate scrambling and easy climbing, and we moved together up to the summit of the Second Tower, where we met both the crux of the route, and also a cold wind. Having donned all available clothing, Carmen set off on the first pitch of the downclimbing crux, 5.5. This went smoothly enough, but we opted to ab (sorry, rap) down the next pitch, 5.6. This brought us to the notch below the main summit, and we pitched the rest of the ridge, in about 4 or 5 rope lengths – with a lengthy delay on the last while I struggled to find a route at a reasonable grade, opting eventually for a short ab.

On the summit we met another party, just finishing the West ridge, but that was it for the day. The descent proved rather complex, one section involving a scramble down a narrow rocky gully that was almost hidden from above, good job it was still light – but we maintained tradition by having the last half hour of the walkout in the dark.

Tenaya LakeDay 8. Rest Day – a real one this time. Sunny but with a strong cold wind. We arrived at Tenaya Lake to find waves breaking on the shore, but the far end was sheltered by trees, so we got that swim after all. Water temperature was about 4 degrees, so much more pleasant than Scarborough at the height of summer. Had good views of the excellently named Stately Pleasure Dome, with its famous 'easy' route of the Great White Book. Graded 5.6R where R means runout (X would mean death). Pitch 3 is a 55m chimney/offwidth and is totally unprotected unless you have a size 6 Camalot. We looked, and walked on by.

Tried and failed to find a weather forecast for the next day – despite all the guidebook warnings about checking that storms aren't due, the National Park people seem determined not to help. The best we got was a guess that it would be the same as today, ie windy. So decided against a long day tomorrow, rather than the narrow ridge we'd considered…

Woke at 2am. No wind. Change of plan.

South Tooth from Matthes CrestDay 9. Matthes Crest, 5.7. The other suggestion people kept offering for a must-do route. Expecting it to be busy (it was a Saturday), we were up before the crack of dawn (at 5.45), and on the trail at first light. A long approach, largely on sketchy deer trails, led past Budd Lake, round the side of Echo Peaks, and down to the start of the ridge. Three pitches of 5.4/5.5 saw us at the start of the crest, another group of 4 arriving just as we set off. Then we got our first sight of the ridge itself.

Matthes CrestMost so-called knife-edge ridges that I've done tend to be steep on one side, and relatively gentle on the other, often with an easy option or walk- round at the most exposed bits. This one was almost vertical on both sides, and the only option was to stick to the top of the crest – though this mostly provided surprisingly easy (class 3/4) climbing, albeit with huge exposure. Moving together, it didn't take us too long to reach the south summit – though were overtaken first by two very fast climbers who were less moving together than running, and then by 3 young soloists, 2 of them wearing trainers!

Descending from South PeakThe descent from the south summit involved retracing our steps slightly, with a 5.4 downclimb, which we pitched. Then it was time for the sting in the tail, a 5.7 rising hand-traverse, steep and strenuous, hard and committing – a proper VS pitch! And suddenly we were at the summit. The fast folk had continued along the rest of the ridge to the north – apparently this goes at about 5.8 and is hard to protect. We went for the usual ab descent. A leisurely 2 hour walk back saw as at the car a little under 12 hours after leaving, and only just after sunset. Which is more than can be said for the pair we briefly watched on Cathedral Peak as we walk by, still 2 pitches from the top with a 2 hour descent to come and only 45 minutes of daylight left…

Against the odds, the route managed to match Cathedral Peak in quality, and gave another perfect day to finish the trip.

And that was it, time to leave Yosemite. A brief stop on the way out to look at some Sequoia trees – they're quite big.

Task 4 – avoid falling off a mountain or being benighted – success.

pelicanWe had a day to spare before our flight, so stayed in the youth hostel at Pigeon Point Lighthouse, an hour or so south of San Francisco and adjacent to the local tsunami escape route. The lighthouse itself used to be open to the public, but closed in 2001 after bits started falling off. The next morning we went to Año Nuevo State Natural Reserve, home to sea-lions, elephant seals, harbour seals, pelicans, and thousands of other seabirds. Many photos were taken.

Task 5 – avoid being swept away by a tsunami or crushed beneath a collapsing lighthouse – success.

And then back home.

Task 6 – avoid (again) being blown up by terrorists – success (again).

More summits to climb - Echo PeaksSo, does Yosemite have enough to do for bumblies? Absolutely. We ran out of time to do even half of the small number of easy routes in the local selective guide, so Lembert Dome, Hermaphrodite Flake, Pot-Hole Dome, to say nothing of the routes in the more definitive guides, will have to wait. As will the abundance of summits with walking routes to the top. And we didn't even venture near Yosemite Valley itself, deciding reluctantly that adding a 3 hour drive to a 14 hour day to climb Snake Dike (the classic 5.7) on Half Dome would probably be a bit too much! And it's only a relatively short drive to Mammoth or Bishop in the south, Lake Tahoe in the north, where even more climbing and walking can be found.

Will we go back? I wouldn't bet against it…

Some more photos (lots of them!) can be found here

We flew from Heathrow to San Francisco with United Airlines. Several others fly this route, and the cheapest will vary from day to day so it pays to look around.
Car hire was arranged via Economy Car Hire, who as well as being cheap, also include full insurance with no excess (except for tyres and windscreen, sorry, tires and windshield), which is quite unusual these days! It is sometimes cheaper to get a Fly Drive deal, ie booking car hire at the same time as flights.
Accommodation in San Francisco is plentiful. We went for a relatively posh option on the first couple of nights, but there are 2 or 3 youth hostels too.
Non-camping accommodation in Yosemite is scarce and expensive. Camping is cheap, currently $20 per pitch per night, so if there are several of you it's an absolute bargain. Half can be booked in advance, and especially in the Valley will be fully booked weeks or months in advance. The rest is first-come first-served, so arrive early and be prepared to queue. We booked a couple of weeks in advance, which was good in that by the time we arrived, the site was fully booked for the first weekend, so we'd have had problems otherwise. On the other hand, it made for less flexibility, and there are limited refunds for unused nights. There are several less busy campsites just outside the national park so even if you just turn up you'll get in somewhere, but may have a long drive each day.
Fuel is dirt cheap (about a quarter of the UK price ), though the locals still think it's expensive. Restaurants are relatively inexpensive. Groceries aren't such a bargain, especially in the national park – expect to pay roughly the same is you would in a small village in the Scottish Highlands.

North Wales weekend

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Andy on Slape DirectTactics, to avoid the Friday night traffic jams round Manchester Jim, Pete & I had set off early on Saturday morning, cruising over to Llanberis in just over 2 ½ hours.

Not sure how wet it would all be we firstly had a look at Dinas Mot it was green & wet & there were no parking places, so we turned round & found some space under Clogwyn y Grochan.

Sat 'Craggin' Day

Jim cruising Brant Direct

Pete on 1st pith of Hangover

When we arrived we found many of the lines still wet but not Brant Direct a classic Hvs 5a *** steep technical, well protected. Sounds like the perfect route for Jim; he cruised it & set us up for the day.
The next route was the much fallen off Kaisergbirge Wall at Hvs 5b ** a notch up in the book but in reality it seemed easier.

Progressing further we moved onto a 2 pitch E1 5a, 5b only one star but much underrated, Pete led the 5a pitch & I led the 5b bit, a fantastic route.

More tactics, we had an early break & down to Pete's Eats (best climbing café in the UK), having our main meal while it was still quiet, this allowed us to go up to the slate quarries & climb until dusk without having to worry about getting something to eat.

We started the session at Bus stop quarry & Jim & Pete led the perfect starting route in the Quarries at E1 a great route for confidence.

Pete on Gnat Attack

Guido on Fool's Gold

We then moved across to a more difficult route, Fools Gold another *** route, some guidebooks give E2 5c others E1 6a, who knows what the correct grade is. One thing I do know is that its one of my favourite rock climbs & perfect for this night.

Even more tactics, in darkness we left Bus Stop & drove down to Nant Peris & pitched tents before walking to the pub (2mins).
The pub atmosphere was electric literally, a live folk band playing, loads of familiar faces to catch up 'gos' with we had a great time, the end to a perfect day.

For the record routes done

Brant Direct Hvs 5a ***
Kaisergbirge Wall HVS 5b **
Hangover E1 5a, 5b *
Gnat attack E1 5b **
Fools Gold E2 5c ***

Parking in the Llanberis pass seems to be getting very difficult on fine summer weekends nowadays the traditional climbers car parks are getting filled up by walkers avoiding the Park & ride fees to Pen Y Pass, if you park roadside you only have to pay a nominal bus fare – Beware you need to get there early.

Sunday 'Mountaineering' Day

Sunday morning, we had big plans well they were big plans in the pub but in the cold grey light of dawn would they come to fruition.

A party on the excellent Amphitheatre Buttress

We were up early & almost first in Pete's Eats for breakfast at 08.00 hrs, excellent breakfast and washing facilities.
The options were go to Gogarth, to bag 2 hard rock routes, up to Cloggy for another hard rock route but it might be wet, a day on the slate with an extreme rock route, so much to choose from.


Jim on Mur Y Niwl Traverse

 We ended up going for a good old fashioned mountaineering day on Craig y Ysfa.

A quick drive round to Ogwen sussed the walk in & set of up a bloody big hill.
We had to top a high col & then descend a very tricky path, our only reservations about today were if the crag was wet but we met a guide & client going to do the 800ft Amphitheatre (Amp) Buttress & he thought it would be ok.

Pete in same position on Traverse

When we got into the Amphitheatre we found it dry but had trouble spotting the lines, some looked dirty & needed cleaning so we went for a classic 5 pitch Vs, Jim I know it will bring your UKC averages down but it is a mountaineering day.
The route was called Mur y Niwl the guidebook description says ’ A truly tremendous mountain route, steep & exposed throughout'.
The route also gave us a great vantage point of successive parties doing the classic Vdiff ridge, it looked good fun & nice photos.
Mur y Niwl was great fun & would probably be quite testing for a Vs leader, one of those routes to do if you have a few grades in hand.

Tryfan on the descent

Descent was a bit tricky a broad ledge eading to an abseil station with a 25m rap. To escape the Amp we had 2 options to descend & follow the crowds up Amp Buttress or take another diff line straight out the back leading up to the main ridge.  We took the second option & its not a bad route at all.
As we still had some daylight left so we decided to head of up to Carnedd Llewelyn at 1064 Metres the second highest hill in Wales.

Superb ridges with more than a little interest deposited us at the top of the Reservoir access road, an easy descent to the road with superb views of Tryfan in gathering darkness, the end of another great day.

Routes done

Mur Y Niwl Vs 4b, 4c, 4c, 4c, 4c
Amphitheatre Rib Diff

Slipstones …

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

It was a dull murky day as Jim & I headed out to Slipstones a place neither of us had visited for a long time, when we got there the conditions were far from perfect being warm & humid leaving the rock greasy with treacherous top outs. We operated at the right end of the crag, all but 2 of the routes were soloed & we ended the session by going and having a recce at the LH end.

This definitely the wrong day to visit Slipstones but there is absolutely loads to go at we will definitely be going back later in the year when the cold dry conditions come in.

The sun came out eventually when it was time to pack up & go home
Routes done.
Ellingstring VS 4c 
Jug Handle Pull Up VD
Wall Centre VS 4b *
Happy Daze VS 4c
Slanting Flake HS 4b ** 
Bratt Pack VS 4c
Fearby VS 4b
Diagonal VS 4b
Alan's Arete VS 4c
Welcome Wall VS 4b
Stereo Android VS 4c
Stereo Right Hand S
Gypsy Wham HD
Problem Arete VS 4c
Goblin's Ear VD
3.3 Metre Slab HS 4b

High Tor – Matlock

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Its just great to have some decent weather for a change, so little Peter & I set off for Matlock now parking is always a problem here so we use Pete's local knowledge & slide off round the back to a housing estate. Then approach the crag via a public footpath.

High Tor is the biggest cliff in the Peak District being approx 50m at its highest, the climbing is on mainly off vertical pocket littered walls, the pockets being of various use to the climber. The routes we were planning on climbing were diagonal lines giving extra length to the routes.
 As usual midweek we are the only people there & we set off on Debauchery E1 5b, 5b *** I led the first pitch, as its a diagonal climb many other vertical lines cross it, so the biggest problem is navigation. Soon I was perched on the tiny ledge in the middle of High Tor, as virtually every route on the cliff uses this as a stance it gets very busy on a weekend-Today I had it to myself.

Peter came through & cruised out the second pitch that had some tricky moves on it.

Debauchery is one of the select climbs from Ken Wilson's Hard Rock and I have to say as good as anything in the Peak District in fact I thought it was the best route I had ever done in the Peak District but I sometimes have a short memory, my wife claims its selective.
After this we had a bit of a natter what to do & we plumped for the other counter diagonal line of Delicattesan slightly harder at E2 4b, 5c, 5b, 5a
As with the first route the biggest problem was finding your way, Peter led the first hard pitch & by the time he reached the tiny ledge the light was fading.

The second hard pitch takes an outrageous horizontal line across a very blank looking wall, the clue is in the name, I scooted across sharpish & finished up the Hvs line of Original route, this felt like a path after the traverse.

As it was now getting dark we opted for rapping off the top of Original route.

Both these routes are utterley brilliant & well recommended, the climbing is sustained but never really hard & they have the feeling of being on a big cliff. At the end of the day I thought Delicattesan was the better route of the two.


Thursday, September 11th, 2008

High Stony BankOh well, the August Bank Holiday visit to Pembroke wasn't to be.  After looking forward to climbing my first sea cliff, the day before the trip an email arrived headed "EEK".  A phone call confirmed that every campsite in Pembrokeshire was flooded. Frantic googling by Cef also confirmed that every other suitable campsite/hostel in the country was either flooded or rammed.  To cap it all, the forecast for the weekend was apparently being hosted by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  So we decided to go local and try to hit the best weather direction each day.

Saturday: Attack of the Crag Mice!

Saturday was spent at an (almost) esoteric limestone crag chosen by Simon – High Stoney Bank.  Although just above Gordale Scar, few tourists make it past the waterfall, so it felt wild and lonely. The crag was steep, open and in a very pretty setting above the stream, with enough in the friendly grades(HS – VS) to keep us busy. However some of the routes were alarmingly loose, and some of the top outs were equally stomach wobbling – several  metres of near vertical grass and loose boulders, erk.

The crag is noted for its foul route names – debauchery, depravity, unnatural practice, you get the picture…Our day was also notable for its fine Falling Off contest. Gold medal went to me for almost five minutes of full blooded girly squeeking before tumbling most of the length of the crag, however there was also a fine effort from Pete E with "Argh! Argh! Off!" before another gear-popping attempt at unpowered flight. In the face of such stiff competition Dave E threw in the towel and refused to fall off at all. More succesful ascents included Dyre(HS4a) Depravity(HS4b), Unnatural Practice(VS4c), Barbed Envy(HS4b), Debauchery(VS4c), Latrine(HS4c), Lust(VS4c), Gommorah(VS4b) and Incest(VS4c). You see what I meant about the route names.


Bulldog CrackBack on Gods Own Rock, hurray.  A fine sunny day with spells warm enough to strip down to T shirts – not bad for the august bank holiday eh? As usual the hordes stayed well away from Curbar and we had the edge almost to ourselves (bar one group who spent most of the afternoon demonstrating their inability to toprope the crag's 3 star HS, PMC1…finally, having failed on  HS they headed off to toprope a classic E1…).

As usual at Curbar many of the routes felt quite stiff for their grade – Amy(HS) caused a few puzzled frowns from folk expecting an easy warmup. We all had a bash at the Flying Buttress cracks  then Brindle Crack(HS), and then split off – DaveE and Pete heading for The Brain (VS4c) with Simon and Carmen, Me and Cef heading for Potters Wall(HS4b). Cefs ascent of this was interesting, as he down climbed after each gear placement, but eventually completed the whole route cleanly and before sunset. 

Bel AmiMeanwhile Simon and Carmen did Owls Arete(VS4b), Derwent groove(S) and Ampitheatre Crack (D), and Dave and Pete did some other stuff that I can't list as they don't keep logs. Finally me and Cef headed hopefully for PMC1 only to find the toproping group still in situ, so headed for Belle Ami (VS4b) instead – a really enjoyable and satisfying route with sustained laybacking at the bottom and an exposed but well protected arete at the top. A fine place to finish the day belaying from the top pinnacle.

More photos can be found here.

Where was everyone?

Monday, September 8th, 2008

An excellent warm sunny Sunday, and we had Wharncliffe almost to ourselves (just a group of kids doing some top-roping on Black Slab). The walk in was wet and muddy (the newly resurfaced track has already been washed away in places), but apart from the north facing buttresses (which were luminous green) the crag was in excellent condition.

Ticked off a few new routes – Railway Wall (VS 4c) being the pick of the bunch, but the adjacent Diff and VDiff were also surprisingly good.  Carmen did her annual lead of Beta Crack (S), then it was time for a spot of lunch and some sitting around enjoying the warm sunshine.

At about 3, the rain arrived, suddenly and torrentially.  We sat out the first downpour in a sort-of cave, nice and dry until the waterfalls started, then took advantage of a 15 minute dry spell to flee back to the car, arriving just as the next deluge started.

Another good day, at another unaccountably neglected crag.

Avoiding the sheep

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

Evening light on CurbarIt was only a week since we last went to Curbar, but it's so good we couldn't resist a quick return.  There are dozens of routes left to do, we'd not been down the far left end before, and it was quiet on a sunny Bank Holiday Sunday so should be quieter still on a normal weekend.

We arrived to find an in situ top-roper. Would we have to queue? No, we were safe, he was working the E9 next to Peapod, probably a little beyond us for a lifetime or two. So we warmed up on Alpha (HVD), the only do-able route on the Eliminates wall. Rather harder than it looks, felt like top end HS 4b.

Beech Buttress VS 4bNext, it was on to P.M.C.1 (HS 4a), which we'd been unable to climb last weekend due to a group having a top-rope on it for most of the afternoon (none of them got more than 3 feet off the ground).  Carmen had already led it a few years ago, but it's such a good route it's always worth a repeat.  Didn't feel any easier this time round, hard cracks (4b?) to start, then an easier wall, thankfully better protected than appears from below.

Next it was on to the far left of the crag, just a few minutes from Froggatt, where there were several teams queueing for routes, and giving a masterclass in the best use of climbing calls ("take in slack!" "Slack? OK." "No, TAKE IN SLACK!" "But I I'm giving you slack!" etc).

Luckily, none of the queueing climbers thought to wander a couple of hundred metres to the deserted buttresses of Curbar, so we had our pick of routes. Beech Buttress (VS 4b but really poorly protected VS 4c), Amethyst (VS 4c), Campion Groove (HS 4b but probably only S 4a), Pillar Slab (Curbar-Diff, ie about HVD 4a).

Hot air balloonsFinally, we wandered back rightwards. A brief abortive look at Grooved Arete (VS 4c and very steep), and Carmen opted for Potter's Wall instead, HS 4b – the 4b bit is well protected, the top section is unprotected but 4a. It was getting late and the midges were coming out to feed, so in between watching hot air balloons fly through the haze towards the setting sun, a quick ascent of Right Triplet Gully (classic VDiff back-and-foot chimney), and it was homeward bound.

heaving indoors ..

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

weather is crapping out and night drawing in – maybe that's why Oaklands was so crowded. Didn't have to queue and a good team turn out climbing the 9 new routes this week. Of note is the long awaited easy route up the steepest wall at 5+/6a on dalmation jugs. Get on it.