Archive for April, 2010

Not over till it's over

Friday, April 30th, 2010

20 degrees in the valleys, hottest weekend of the year so far – plan for the weekend after Easter? Go ice climbing on the Ben of course! Me and Matt left York at about 1pm on the Friday, with a stop at Tescos for food and Fort William for fish and chips. Got to the north face car park for 8.30, by which time Simon and Carmen were already sitting back with a cup of tea in the hut. It was still light enough to walk through the woods without torches, getting overtaken on the way by several other climbers with disconcertingly smaller packs than us. The rest of the walk up the Allt A Mhuilinn was somewhat soul destroying as the lights of the CIC hut floated in front of me, never getting any closer. Walking up hill with a heavy sack immediately after eating fish, chips and mushy peas is also not to be recommended.

Despite the summer-like temperatures, the signs of a good winter were evident around the hut – some huge snow drifts from around 600m and the north face glistening white in the star light. Reports in the hut mainly involved people backing off routes because of dodgy conditions – not too encouraging. A relatively early start the next morning saw Simon and Carmen heading for Observatory Gully to climb the classic combination of Tower Scoop (III *) and Good Friday Climb (III ***). They found good ice conditions with old snow banking out much of the route. After topping out near the trig point in the sun, they descended Coire Leis to spend a leisurely afternoon sitting in the sun.

Meanwhile, with no real plan in mind, me and Matt headed straight for the nearest snow in Coire na Ciste, a hundred yards from the hut. This led up a nice little mini-canyon with a stream running underneath where our way was blocked by a crevasse (yes, really). We decided to escape via a rock scramble which turned out to be rather worrying on loose, wet rock. Unperturbed, we wandered past an impressive icefall which had fractured and buried itself in the snow towards the base of Garadh Gully (II *). This route can give anything from grade I to grade IV difficulty, depending on conditions. We found it in easy grade I condition, banked out with old snow apart from one detour onto rock to avoid another crevasse. This turned out to be a brilliant approach to the routes in the upper left corner of Coire na Ciste, which spread out before us in the sun.

Comb gully was discounted as too scary in the conditions, Raeburns looked too easy and Matt had done Glover's Chimney. We therefore chose Number 2 Gully Buttress (III ***) which still looked plastered with an obvious ice pitch low down. This turned out to be an excellent choice. Never technically difficult, but all of the belays were buried which kept our concentration up! The first pitch gave the best ice, while the supposed crux ice pitch was actually on steep, soggy snow ice which would not take any screws. The finish on deep powder with the sun sparkling off it was unnerving but at least there was no cornice.

Not satisfied yet, we headed (rapidly) down number 4 gully and saw the sun just starting to catch Douglas Gap West Gully (I **). We marched over there in scorching sun with little avalanches going off to add to the Alpine atmosphere. A quick sunbathe in the Douglas Gap and down Douglas Gap East Gully (I) got us back down to the hut for about 6. Pleased with our haul of 5 routes for the day, we all devoured Carmen's curry and hit the bunks.

After more reports of dodgy conditions, no sign of a frost and with aching limbs, we were sorely tempted to walk back down and go skiing for the day at Nevis Range. Thankfully, we chanced it and headed back up into Coire na Ciste behind Simon and Carmen. They headed off for an adventure on Italian Climb – Right-hand (IV **), one of the few lower routes with obvious ice still remaining. They found it in excellent nick with thick chewy ice, but got a bit lost trying to descend and ended up abbing back down the route – a 3 hour endeavour!

Meanwhile, we'd plodded up to the base of Number 3 Gully Buttress (III ***), once again having the whole of Coire na Ciste almost to ourselves. From beneath, the diagonal snow ramps at the start of the route look really easy so I set off soloing without getting the rope out. This proved a mistake as the snow was bullet hard neve and the exposure very quickly kicks in with the long snow slopes below. After a bit of faff, we got the ropes out and a couple more easy pitches got us to the foot of the hard step (the belays along the snow shelf are excellent and very comfortable). The step to exit the snow slopes looks really hard from below but there is a devious traverse at the top which, although extremely exposed, reduces it to just a couple of moves on rock. Matt led this and was somewhat relieved to find easy snow and a belay round the corner.

I led off up an icy groove on what we thought would be an easy plod to the top. Instead, after 20m I was confronted with an outrageously exposed rock move to get between two snow terraces. It was only about a 3m traverse of probably vdiff, but with a 200m+ vertical drop beneath your feet it was exciting to say the least. All that remained was steep and crazily exposed snow to the summit. Quick check on the radio: 20m of rope left, my guess just over 20m of the route to go. I started along the snow to find the sun had turned it to mush. Axes ripping and feet slipping I ran out 10m, letting out a wail of fear every so often. Thankfully I found a bomber hex and nut to protect the last 10m. More rubbish snow and the final rock wall was in reach – rope goes tight. Argh! Don't want to hang around here! Matt takes down the belay and starts moving together, a belly flop and I'm on the top in the sun with a monster boulder to belay off. What a route! 60m ropes advisable though.

With our adrenalin reserves well and truly used up, we headed back down number 4 to the hut, packed up and walked back down to the car. Only a 6 hour drive back to york to go and in bed for 1.30am. Another brilliant weekend in the CIC hut which now sports luxurious indoor toilets and a functioning drying room. Just got to work out how to pack a bit lighter next time.

3 Peaks and a few bogs

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

The planned 3 peaks walk took place on 11 April on a beautiful spring day with brilliant sunshine for most of the 11 hours and 10 minutes it took to complete.
Members completing the walk were Jenny Owston, Luke Farrow, Alan Gott and me. We were accompanied by my son Martin, Richard Philpott, Sam Philpott, Mickey and Tony. Peter Evans kindly provided support in the way of drinks and food, and carrying spare clothing etc that was used along the way.
Everyone arrived at Horton in Ribblesdale on time and the walk started at 9.00 taking the anti clockwise route of Pen-y-Gent, Whernside and Ingleborough. The summit of Pen-y-Gent was reached in just over an hour, and at this point Peter left us to return to his car and drive to Ribblehead to meet us after the next leg.

As expected, the leg to Ribblehead was very boggy, and several members of the party managed to put their feet on non terra firma. Luckily no boots were lost to the bogs and the only thing lost was the pride of certain individuals.

The boggy bitHow deep is a bog?  At least three quarters the length of Richard’s leg.

We eventually arrived at Ribblehaed at 13.00 where we met up with Peter who provided us with drinks of tea and a supply of water to replenish our water bottles


Pit stop at Ribblehead

We reached the summit Whernside around 15.00 where we had spectacular views Morecambe Bay and the Lakeland Fells.
By this time tiredness and injury were starting to slow down the party, and it took us a further 3 hours to reach the summit of Ingleborough, including another pit stop with Peter near the Hill Inn.

Summit of Ingleborough

It was a relief to everyone that we had climbed all 3 peaks and it was now 4 ½ miles downhill all the way back to Horton in Ribblesdale. We eventually arrived back at the car park at 20.10 feeling very tired and weary, just as it was turning dark.

Well done everyone for completing the walk; in particular the members of the group who were finding it hard going for the last 4 hours. It can only be described as character building, and by that time they have read this they will want to walk the 3 peaks again!

Distance walked 24 miles (38km) and total accent 1,533 metres.


New lead climbers' day at Scugdale

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Luke belaying carlosAt the Easter Cairngorms meet we had many fine ideas in the pub, as you do, and one of them was to organise a day of easy climbing at the start of the season to allow newish climbers to find their feet leading. So the promise of a sunny April weekend seemed a good opportunity to follow up on this.

Luke, Roy, Ian, Rob and myself from YAC all turned up, as did Ali from York Climbers who is doing her SPA and so happy to help out, and Carlos, also from York Climbers, who is an experienced climber but has somehow never got started leading, so I had promised to help him break his leading duck.

Both Rob and Ali put their SPA skills to good use and by the end of the day everyone was merrily placing nuts and cams on the lead, setting up anchors, using the correct swearwords at the appropriate times, and similar important skills. Ian had in fact never climbed outdoors on rock before so this was a double first for him – very well done. Also well done to Luke and Roy who were building on the Indoor to Outdoor course we were able to put on in September with funding from the BMC, and got lots of mileage in, well done guys, and to Carlos who was looking pretty cool and confident by the end of the day.

Ian on the sharp end of the rope

Ian on the sharp end of the rope

All in all a very succesful day, and hopefully the start of a succesful and fun outdoor climbing season for everyone.

Rob's pix

In which Peri organises a meet that ain't cancelled

Monday, April 19th, 2010


With under a week to the Easter meet in the Cairngorms, reports of apocalyptic blizzards bringing Scotland to a halt convinced me I had acheived the Holy Grail of organising three cancelled meets in a row. But it was not to be. My application to be the fifth horseperson of the apocalypse (the proposed five being War, Plague, Famine, Death, and Crap Weather) has been rejected and we had a very successful meet with lots of Munros being ticked, during the course of which:
*various sheep were bothered by Andrew and Donal, under the pretext of rescuing them from certain death buried deep in snowdrifts
*Rich and Jen went all the way to the Aberdeen sea cliffs before realising they had forgotten their climbing harnesses
* Pete Evans got injured (again)

Since there were a lot of peope and I couldnt remember what everyone had done I asked people to send me some notes. This has cunningly allowed me to just cut and paste verbatim as follows:

Account 1) In which Simon and Carmen conspire to cripple Pete

"Friday. Drove over to Spittal of Glenshee to do our last remaining Munros in the area, Glas Tulaichean and Carn an Righ. We were right on the edge of the area of recent snow – to the south the hills were mainly snow free. Walk up the glen was quick at first, up the line of an old railway, but slowed down as we got higher and met deep soft snow drifts. Once on the hill though we sped up again, crossing nice hard neve. We met the soft drifts again on the traverse to the second summit, and the descent down the glen was again slowed by deep melty snow.

Saturday. A poor start with rain, but the forecast was for sun later so we went with Peter to do Mount Keen, the most easterly Munro, and with a reputation for tedium. The long 7 mile walk in up the glen was pleasant, but the hill itself lived down to its reputation – and again soft deep snow drifts slowed us down. The weather stayed fine though with only the last 50m or so in the cloud – but the earlier rain had only fallen as new snow above about 900m. A 17 mile round trip, and Peter was suffering a painful knee for most of it, but carried on anyway – though was broken for the rest of the trip.

Sunday. A good forecast so we decided on a long walk. From Linn of Dee we walked to Derry Lodge – fast going on a mainly snow-free track. From there to the Corrour bothy was very slow, with the usual soft deep snow hiding all the paths – and nobody else had been daft enough to head in before us so there were no tracks to follow. I nearly suggested turning back it was such hard work. After lunch in the bothy we headed up the euphemistically renamed Devil's Point – Carmen's final Munro in the area. Much easier going, with firm neve again, we even got the axes out when it got worryingly steep. Superb views from the summit, and nobody else in sight, even on the more accessible hills nearby. A long day – 20 miles round trip.

Monday. Fortunately it was warm and wet, so we had an excuse to go straight home."

Account 2) In which Donal and Andrew bother sheep.

"Friday – Donal and Annie took a break from the driving to walk around the Devil’s beeftub. Beware sketch maps and descriptions in books. Walk starts near a ‘prominent’ roadside monument. Having visited a variety of prominent monuments that weren’t right, we eventually spotted the ‘prominent’ one, ten metres down a steep bank and completely invisible and unsigned from the road.

Saturday – Lovely walk along a tarmac road near Tomintoul that had thoughtfully been cleared of snow by the local farmer. Not so the track continuing up the hillside, which provided an entertaining waist deep yomp through virgin snow. Andrew and Donal discovered the sport of sheep dragging. Hoping this can be included in the 2012 Olympics.

Sunday – Peri led us up Lochnagger, as she knew the way. This didn’t stop her going the wrong way within 50m of leaving the car park. [outrageous fibbing, I was just checking the map – Peri] Fortunately, the others had spotted the huge well-trodden motorway leading up the hillside to the right. Real alpine feel on top and Andrew even got to wear his new crampons on the way down (once he’d worked out that they attached to his boots points down).

The Old Man of Lochnagar

Bunkhouse – smart, but rather small kitchen for the number of people. Interesting cooking lesson from two Spanish guys attempting to cook minute steaks: ‘Place steaks in pan and turn burner full on. Allow the room to fill with smoke to create that genuine campfire atmosphere. You know the steaks are ready when the fire alarm rings. (For well done, leave a further 15 mins) ’"

Other people:

*Rich and Jen went cragging twice, but only remembered their harnesses once.

*Debra and Simon went munro ticking and collected the usual number of wildlife shots. Debra reports "We were practically tripping over the [mountain] hares on Sunday – they were everywhere.". They also think they saw wildcat footprints in the snow, but do not mention whether this was before or after the pub.

Debra's photos here

My photos here

Like the number 38 bus

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

You wait for years for decent winter conditions on a Wales meet, and then two come along at once. After January's excellent trip we headed back in March, this time to the Cwm Dyli hut, below Snowdon, and once again conditions were perfect.

On Saturday, several of us headed for Cwm Cneifion. Routes climbed include Clogwyn Du Right Hand Gully Direct (III 3 *), Tower Slabs (II/III *), and the magnificent Clogwyn Du Left Hand (IV 5 ***) – one of the best routes I've done this season. The others went walking in the Carneddau, intending to climb Broad Gully on Craig Lloer on the way – but due to low cloud, ended up climbing Hourglass Gully by mistake!

On Sunday, most people returned to Cwm Cneifion. Debra scared herself soloing Hidden Gully (II **) while Simon more sensibly chose Easy Route (I *). Peri and Julian did Clogwyn Du Right Hand Direct, and Rob and Will ticked the rest of the crag with Clogwyn Du Right Hand, Far Right Hand, and Farther Right Hand (what happened to farthest Right Hand?!) and finished with a descent of Hidden Gully.

Meanwhile Carmen was injured and didn't fancy hauling all the winter gear up the hill again, so we headed for Tremadog where we did Hail Bebe (VDiff **) and One Step in the Clouds (VS 4c ***) in glorious sunshine.

Our photos here.
Rob's here.
Debra's here.