Archive for December, 2010

To Hell and Back

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Roadside Ice

It was the day after the club Christmas do, so we couldn't face the pre-dawn start that would be needed to get to anything much in the Lakes, so instead we decided on a speculative trip to the Dales. Plan A was to wander up to High Cup Nick, where there are apparently a couple of winter routes, but as we reached Appleby decided we couldn't be bothered with the massive 3 mile walk in, so turned round and headed for Wild Boar Fell instead.

We didn't really expect anything to be in, as it's relatively low (about 400m) and the main watercourses are fast flowing. So we were pleasantly surprised when we pulled into the layby and saw a small but perfectly formed ice fall about 30 seconds from the road.

Roadside Ice

Unfortunately there was no more above, but it made a pleasant little grade II warm up.

Next we wandered along towards Ais Gill. As expected, the lower falls were still very wet. The middle falls were much icier, but also much wetter.

Ais Gill

Luckily Carmen spotted an icy chimney which provided an escape route, again about II/III.

Escape Route

The smaller upper falls looked feasible, in a wet sort of way, but fortunately access was barred by thin ice over deep water so we walked up the side instead.

Finally, we went for a quick look at Hell Gill on the other side of the road. The main falls looked promising from the road, but turned out to be very wet still, with the ice at the top seemingly not attached to the rock. Closer inspection showed that the ice in the middle wasn't attached to much either! But given this week's temperatures it may be climbable by now.

Hell Gill

The continuation of Hell Gill further up the hill goes through a deep narrow slot canyon. We had a brief look from the top, and there was no sign of any ice at all down there – presumably it would take a much longer freeze to come into condition.


More photos here.

Cascades au le North York Moors

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

During the unseasonably cold start to December, the ice climbing mecca of the North York Moors came into condition earlier than usual. The only question was: where to go? Landslip, Maiden Spring, Raven's Scar – the list of top quality winter venues goes on and on.

Me, Andy and Matt eventually decided on Cringle Crag – usually the first of the Moors crags to come into condition and sporting lines from grade III ridges to tech 8 mixed test pieces. We managed to get the car as far as the cattle grid halfway up Carlton Bank by having two of us pushing and using a weaving action to wear through the snow. I fear we may also have worn through Matt's clutch.

The views on the walk up Carlton Bank were ridiculous. It looked like an Alpine ski resort after a devastating avalanche. Where the snow plough had been up, the walls of snow either side were higher than the stone wall. Hopes of a bacon sarnie in Lord Stones cafe were dashed when we found the picnic tables had two feet of snow on top. We were also disappointed to see no sign of a trail up to Cringle Moor.

We set out breaking trail, using a combination of crawling, swimming and occasionally stopping to declare: "it's hopeless". Walking along the tops of dry stone walls is not to be recommended, particularly when they have a 6 inch cornice to hide the edge. 3 hours later we made it to the summit of Cringle Moor and peered into the gloom to try and spy the icefalls. For future reference, the first crags which are visible just below the path did not have any worthwhile ice (though they would give some good short mixed challenges).

Eventually we found a small climbable icefall lower down before continuing across the face looking for "Cringle Ridge" (apparently 45m of Grade III – we never found it). On the way however, we came across the small recess containing the Franco Cookson route "Tell Chris Craggs Nowt" on the left. This was full of very solid but somewhat short icefalls (perhaps 4m maximum). We soloed a nice icy corner on the right before setting up a top rope on a steeper fall to the left. This gave good climbing and we spiced things up for Andy by giving him 2 metres of slack for his top rope fall. We finished up snow slopes above, outflanking a genuine Yorkshire cornice on the left.

The quickest way to get to these crags is to walk about 0.5km along the Cleveland way until shortly before the path starts dropping down you descend left.

On the way out we met a soloist who had made use of our tracks and got up in much quicker time. He'd found another small icefall to climb. I believe if there had been a thaw and refreeze the potential for ice would have been much better. As it was, all seepage was frozen into the ground. It's also very difficult to find anything on the face because the crags are so broken. But nonetheless, the novelty of climbing moors ice was achieved!

Nothing ventured…

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

With the sudden thaw on Friday and Saturday, we didn't have much hope of finding any winter climbing conditions today. But ever optimistic, we thought we'd drive up to the moors for a look anyway, just in case. With car thermometer hovering around 1-2 degrees across a still-very-snowy Vale of York things weren't looking too bad.

It was sleeting slightly at the car park, but as we walked up hill towards the crag this quickly turned to rain.

The crag was black, the gullies were black, we returned to the car and bought a Christmas tree instead.

You win some you lose some…

Cautley Spouting

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Will and I made the most of the recent very cold spell and headed for Cautley Spout in the Howgills yesterday. Leaving at a reasonable 6am and -6 or so we arrived via clear roads, and cold temps(min -13) to a car park with 2 cars – bugger. Short flat stunning walk-in and we met two teams – a pair and a 3 (inc Pete Nugent ex of this parish). A few small steps lead to the main pitch 30m of ice up a huge fall (mixed variant on left a possibility).

main pitchFirst leader made steady/slowish progress but left the gear in for their mates (plenty of screws in thick ice and wires at the top). Top out looking like the awkward bit, and avoiding a drenching from the spray also tricky. The top of the main falls was in full sunshine all morning and with quite a flow, looking a bit dubious the more traffic it got.

After the usual waiting about and a bit of bouldering and running laps on the first steps to keep warm a soloist/er, kitted out like a pro, appeared and in the normal way went for a look off line before coming back onto the main line, made some weak excuse – but I wanted him out of our way so suggested he get on with it. He called down a few times for us to follow as he 'wouldn't knock anything down' – tell that to the lump that caught me square under the eye – thanks. He starts to faff at the last 6m step up the melting ice – then calls me up – oh dear.

I catch him up – he's apologetic (as he bloody well should be) and basically he's shafted. I place a few screws and end up untying one rope and giving it to him so he can 'lead up'. I then have to tell him to drop the rope for me to reattach and carry on. Would have been less painful if I wasn't stood full in the spray at this time. I did garner a lovely wet-look finish to my sac – the frozen spray making it shiny and stiff! Anyhow I tied on, placed some wires and finished the pitch – mainly easy mixed. I'd lost my rhythm a bit but was trying to be sanguine so as not to ruin the experience. Belay to a huge tree and try to warm my toes and dry my hands – had to wring out my gloves!

Will playingWill was freezing cold (having rejected the offer of a belay jacket – plonker) but romped up the pitch and lead the next short step just for some ice screw placement practice. We coiled the ropes – well when I say coiled – some bits were stiff as rods from the spray.

What we hadn't realised was quite how good the continuation steps/pitches are. Must be 4 decent mini pitches in really good nick. Catching up the group of 3 as they pitched the last section, we soon were at the top having soloed from the top of P1/P2. Top day out, easy walk in and out.

We drove back via Tebay to have a look at the falls but it was getting dark and we couldn't be arsed although there is some good thin ice lines there, didn't really want to put our wet clothes back on and set up top ropes. Will apparently drove back as I woke up at Scotch Corner!

Full set of pix

Unexpected Pleasures

Monday, December 6th, 2010

We wanted to take advantage of the cold snap last weekend, but only had one day free. The A66 was closed which meant we couldn't get to the Lakes for a day trip; the North York Moors had too much snow; and publicity on UKClimbing meant that the icefalls near Todmorden were likely to be heaving. So we decided to take a look at Wild Boar Clough, near Crowden in the northern Peak District – if it wasn't frozen then it'd be a good day for a walk.

After a leisurely 8am departure, the drive over was suitably sub-zero with clear blue skies all round, until the last couple of miles when we drove over Woodhead Pass into the clag. The walk in was easy at first as we followed the footsteps of someone who'd been there (presumably) the previous day, but being descent tracks they soon turned uphill, and we had to resort to wading as we traversed in to the clough.

The first fall was well frozen – there was a team there before us who were just finishing it, the second climbing with walking axe and very old hammer, it was his first ice climb. The fall looked easily soloable but partly due to being the first outing of the season, felt slightly worrying, so we got the rope out despite its being only 4 or 5m high and I led off. A bit scrappy, but it was good to be out, even placed a couple of ice screws! The pair in front were well out of sight by the time we'd finished faffing so we were on our own again.

Another slightly longer icefall followed, not quite as steep so Carmen led it in fine style, with absolutely no panicking at all. This was followed by a few short ice steps, and a big isolated boulder containing a fun chimney for playing on/in. Finally a long wade through more deep snow led to the Bleaklow plateau.

On the drive over I thought I'd seen a frozen stream further east, just the other side of the summer crag of Shining Clough, so after lunch we thought we'd wander over and see if there was anything worthwhile. We didn't expect much, but it was a stunning day, we'd walked up through the cloud to emerge into clear blue skies so there was no hurry to head home. The walk was only a mile or so, but took us well over an hour as we had to negotiate deep snow drifts, and were also forced to keep stopping to take photos.

As we neared what we thought was the top of the clough we were aiming for, we saw a couple of climbers topping out from something so went over for a chat, they said it was in good condition and that the lower falls were frozen, which was rare. Not having any idea that there was even the potential for something climbable we decided to go for a look, even though it wasn't even the place we were trying to find but the next stream across. A steep descent through snowy heather got us to the foot of the crag, where we saw our new goal, a fine looking icefall, much bigger than anything in Wild Boar Clough.

The approach was harder, wetter, and colder than expected, but we got there eventually, and with an hour's daylight left decided to give it a go. A very steep start up fat ice (full depth long ice screw) was followed by less steep but much thinner ice (partial depth short screw), with added spice where it started dinner-plating, but after a brief pause for the season's first hot-aches I made it to the top.

Of course I'd left my rock gear at the bottom so we had a brief faff with rope lowering etc before I could set up a belay, but Carmen then made it look easy (which it probably is with a rope above you!). It was starting to get dark by now, but we decided to continue anyway. Another shorter icefall looked quite wet and brittle, so we avoided it with some mixed climbing/scrambling on the left. A few more icy steps led to the top, where head torches came out.

The descent started OK, following a worn track through the snow, but at some point the footprints vanished and we ended up wading slowly through deep snow to reach the old railway at the bottom. A couple of slow miles along this led to the road, where we were saved from the final mile of tarmac by a kindly passing motorist.

Lots more photos here.

The winter begins

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

A week after climbing in 22 degrees of sunshine in Greece, Carmen and I found ourselves with a boot full of winter climbing kit on the way to the club meet in North Wales. The snows had arrived, and it was touch and go whether we'd even make it to the hut, in the remote Crafnant valley. All 14 of us did, though the cars had to be abandoned in the field below as the last 100m was impassable.

Saturday saw Andrew and Karen go heather bashing round Llyn Cowlyd, while the rest of us eventually decided on a mass ascent of Carnedd Llewellyn. Going was slow for the first few miles of mostly trackless terrain, with some deep snow and even deeper heather, but the views once we reached the tops were worth it. The ridge above Craig yr Ysfa was narrower and trickier than some had expected, but easy enough with care. The weather had started out cloudy but by now had changed to the normal Snowdonia blue skies and sunshine, though with a bitterly cold wind that kept us moving. We descended via Craig Llugwy to pick up the long but easy path by the reservoir feeder canal to pick up the outgoing route just as it got dark. About 3400 feet of ascent and a little over 12 miles, but felt a lot longer!

The day finished in perfect style with a massive meal courtesy of Clare (who even baked her own bread to go with the soup!), with apple pie but no custard from Peri.

The next day most people decided to get their cars out of the valley, and headed for a fine day's walk on Moel Siabod, above Capel Curig. Rob, Carmen and I opted to explore some of the hills near the hut, and did a short circuit over Crimpiau, Craig Wen, and Creigiau Gleision. Only 6 miles, but the weather was so glorious that we took it slowly and dusk was approaching by the time we reached the hut. Luckily the roads were much clearer than on the way in!

A great hut in a quiet valley, I'm sure we'll go back for another visit sometime. It's quite a way from the main climbing and walking areas (though only 2 miles from Capel Curig as the crow flies), but there is a lot of documented rock climbing in the valley, as well as unfrequented hills to explore.

Carmen's and my photos .
Debra's photos .
Rob's photos .