Archive for December, 2009

Blencathra in the snow

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

After much dithering, Will and I decided to head for the Lakes yesterday. In typical British style we chose to ignore the "A66 closed" signs on the A1, as the roads were clear and there was no sign of falling snow. They must have been left on after earlier problems, mustn't they. Er, no actually. The snow gates were closed at Bowes.

We decided it would be quicker to wait for the road to re-open than to try to find an alternative route. 90 minutes later we were off, and arrived at the layby near Blencathra some 4 hours after leaving York. So much for the early start, by the time we were walking it was almost midday!

At least the late start meant that a trench of sorts had been worn through the deep powder (up to a foot deep even in the valley, knee-deep higher up). A series of mini-avalanches could be seen below the path, triggered by passing walkers. As we slogged up, we passed 2 guys descending on skis and one on a snowboard, who had skied all the way from the summit to the road. In the Lake District, in December!

Without much hope of finding anything climbable due to the powder, we nevertheless traversed under Sharp Edge through thigh-deep powder to the foot of Foule Crag. It was clear that most of the normal lines were going to be difficult, unpleasant, and possibly dangerous due to the snow. But at the left end of the crag we saw an obvious turfy buttress, immediately to the left of Blunt Gully. It's not in the guide but it looked a reasonable option so we decided to give it a go, we didn't fancy yet another day carrying climbing kit for a walk!

Up close, it looked a lot steeper, and appearances weren't deceptive. Will took the first pitch, with excellent turf to start. An overhanging wall could probably be taken direct by someone competent, so we went round it. There seemed to be an easy option on the left, so Will went right, swimming up the totally unconsolidated start of Blunt Gully, before moving back onto the ridge. I took the next pitch, much more pleasant up well frozen turf with a few rocky steps. Total gear for the 80m route consisted of a very dodgy nut backed up by an even dodgier bulldog. Blunt Gully Buttress, grade II/III.

We topped out at the start of Sharp Edge, so finished up this (grade I/II) – easy enough as it was all snow rather than ice, with a well trodden path – just a couple of short but awkward and exposed descents, involving strategic use of buttocks.

We arrived at the summit shortly after sunset, and had the place to ourselves (apart from a cold looking mouse). Glorious views in all directions, with the whole of the Lake District visible, and everything covered by snow. A quick descent down the Scales Fell ridge returned us to the car at 5pm.

Lots more photos here.

Free Sunday in Vegas

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Although tempted to join Simon, Carmen, Rob and Peri on a cold and wet scramble up Elbow Ridge, I decided instead to spend last Sunday climbing at Red Rocks just outside Las Vegas…

The walk in - Mescalito is the peak in the centre.

Ok, so I didn't actually take a 10 hour flight just for a Sunday's climbing. I was in Las Vegas for a conference for work and fortuitously had Sunday free. With no partner to climb with, I had hired a guide (Mark Limage) through Jackson Hole Mountain Guides to take me out. After a jetlag-aided wakeup, I set off at 5.30am from my hotel, leaving behind the gamblers still emptying their bank accounts into slot machines. Mark suggested an early start as it was Thanksgiving weekend and likely to be very busy. This turned out to be a great decision as by the time we parked up, there were only two other cars there and no other climbers visible.

Birdland climbs the middle of the second buttress from the left.

I said in my email to Mark that I was looking to do classic, low grade multi-pitch. When I booked it sounded like I wouldn't be able to lead but luckily it turned out he was happy to let me. We parked at the head of Pine Creek Canyon and set off walking towards the obvious peak of Mescalito. After about 30 minutes walking, we decided to head for the 5 pitch, 190m, 5.7+ route Birdland, which it subsequently transpired had been put up by Mark. Most of the popular routes here have bolted belays and this route also had one lead bolt. Bolting is now forbidden so any new routes will rely on natural belays.

Exiting the chimney at the top of pitch 2.

Mark led the first two pitches, the first a juggy face pitch up incredibly featured rock at about vdiff. The second a harder chimney pitch leading out onto a large belay ledge. The first two pitches are shared with another route which then heads up a large corner crack to the left. On the first ascent, Mark said they were expecting the route to be much harder from here but some clever route finding means you get into some spectacular positions without any difficult climbing.

Leading up the leaning flake at the start of pitch 3.

The crux third pitch had good gear so Mark suggested I give it a go, first traversing up a rising flake, then a few harder moves getting over a bulge followed by easy climbing to a wonderfully positioned belay. The rock was very amenable to climb on with tons of good nut placements and combinations of cracks and face holds. By the time I reached the belay, hordes of climbers could be seen approaching from the car park (by the time we abbed from the top, there were 4 other parties on the route!)

Finger crack on pitch 5 slab (nicked from another site).

The 4th pitch moved out onto a more open face with more variable rock to a small belay in the middle of the face. Mark handed me back the lead for the final 5th pitch. This began with an easy but run out traverse followed by a steep but juggy finger crack over a bulge. Past the bulge, the perfect finger crack continued up the middle of a spectacular hanging slab which got increasingly difficult and harder to protect. The last couple of moves on small holds to reach the tiny belay ledge took me quite a while to work out. Once I'd clipped the belay I could take in the airy position and spectacular views across the canyon.

5 abseils took us back to the bottom with plenty of the day still left, so we hiked further up the canyon to a couple of single pitch crack climbs. The first, "Remote Control" – a 5.9 up a corner crack, was reasonably straightforward with good face holds where needed. I seconded it ok but am not sure I would have led the 5m run out to the belay! The second, "Out of Control" – a 5.10a jamming/offwidth, was a real battle and very reminiscent of gritstone (my guess is this would be a 3* E1 on a peak crag). I jammed the first third reasonably well but ran out of strength when the crack narrowed to finger width. After a rest, I then launched into the offwidth section where I thrashed around slowly gaining height and eventually falling onto the rope again. By the time I got back down I felt like I'd been beaten up. A classic single pitch route (if you're better than me).

Spot the climbers - a pair on Y2K

Before walking out, we looked across the canyon at a spectacularly positioned pair on Y2K – a 5.10a up the north east side of Mescalito. The whole area is really impressive and according to Mark, massively undeveloped. He pointed out whole huge buttresses which have no recorded routes – many with obvious cracks and chimneys running the full height. To have so much climbing so near to a big city is amazing – I'd definitely recommend it!