Archive for March, 2011

Classic and Not-so-classic Rock

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

It's March, the forecast is for summit temperatures in low single figures, so where would be a good destination for the weekend?

After a few minutes' thought we hit on the obvious answer – Pillar Rock a north-facing crag at around 750m, and one of the remotest in the Lake District.

So having somehow squeezed climbing kit, camping gear, and two bikes into the back of the car, we duly arrived in Ennerdale on Friday night. The next morning started well, with clear blue skies, but on the 4.5 mile cycle up the valley it began to cloud over. As we approached the crag, a light but bitter wind arrived to complete the picture.

After much dithering about what to do, we eventually decided to stick with Plan A and duly arrived at the foot of Rib & Slab Climb (HS ***), one of the pair of Pillar routes in Classic Rock. A bit more dithering later, and having donned 5 layers of clothes against the cold, Rob set off on the first, uninviting pitch, a short traverse followed by a steep dirty-looking groove.

In the event the pitch was much better than it looked, taking the clean rib next to the groove. The next pitch was mine. The tricky starting moves didn't seem hard enough, so I climbed up and down several times until I'd lost all feeling in my fingers and toes before finally committing. When I'd recovered from hot-aches in my toes, I brought Rob up as the sun at last made a brief appearance.

He quickly despatched the next pitch, a fine unlikely-looking traverse into nowhere, but the holds kept appearing when needed. I took the last pitch, another short traverse and then straight up a fantastically rough slab to the top.

Some more dithering followed as we decided how best to descend, in the end we opted for an abseil into the Jordan Gap, followed by an exposed scramble to the top of Pisgah, which we later discovered to be Pisgah West Traverse (Mod). A nasty scree descent down Western Gully led back to the rucksacks.

We now dithered some more about the next route to do. South West Climb looked excellent, if unlikely at MVS 4b, but the cloud and cold breeze had returned and we didn't fancy an epic, so plumped instead for New West (VDiff ***), the other Classic Rock route on Pillar. We'd both done it before, but it's worth repeating. An excellent route in 4 pitches, including two more fantastic exposed traverses. Abseil – scramble – Pisgah – gully then back down to the bikes and a quick half hour down hill got us back to the car.

The next day we dithered briefly before deciding on something south-facing, so to make the most of being in Ennerdale we went for a look at the seldom-visited crags on the Ennerdale face of High Stile. A shorter cycle to just past the Ennerdale YH was followed by a steep slog uphill followed by a long traverse to the diminutive crag of The Knorrs. A spot of sunbathing was interrupted by some badly placed clouds, so there was no option but to climb something. I started with the excellent traditional chimney of Squeeze Box (S+ *), surprisingly clean but a bit runout, then Rob led Short Change (HS-), poorly protected and quite tricky, even on the blunt end it felt closer to MVS 4b.

Next we traversed to the main crag, Raven Crag High Stile. Rob started, leading the excellent line of Butterfly Crack (S+ **) – a potential 3-star route, but unfortunately very dirty with some suspect rock – would benefit from more traffic, which it's unlikely to get! I finished up with Outside Edge (VDiff *), again very dirty, with a boulder-problem start followed by easier but poorly protected climbing with a 20m runout to finish. There are some fine-looking harder routes up here as well, including Emperor (E1 5b ***), Painted Lady (E3 5c ***), and Alpine Ringlet (E4 5c ***), but all looked even dirtier than what we climbed.

As we reached the valley the weather started to improve rapidly, the dense haze that had hidden the hills for much of the day cleared, and by the time we started the drive home the whole of the Lakes were bathed in sunshine. C'est la vie!

An excellent trip, not the best of weather but far from the worst, and apart from one group of walkers who mistakenly followed us on Sunday as we traversed towards the crag, we didn't see a soul on the hills all weekend. Great wild-camping too, somewhere to go back to (but could be midgy in summer). And enough routes on Pillar to keep us busy for dozens more visits…

Rob's photos here
My photos here

Stanage Sunshine

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Peri - giggling on  Gashed Crack VS 5aThe combination of not wanting to cross a picket line for two of us, a day’s annual leave for another and a lucky person enjoying retirement led to myself, Peri, Rob and Guido heading to a relatively people-free Stanage on a gloriously warm, sunny and quiet day last Tuesday – anyone jealous yet?

Rob had various routes on Plate Glass Slab in mind to climb. A short soloing warm up was had by all before starting on the routes in question….oh with the exception of Guido who spent most of the day soloing over 30 routes (still awaiting the exact total)!

So, Peri, Rob and myself were left to initially tackle routes including Plate Glass (HS), Carbrundum (VS), Square Buttress Arete (VS) and Mantelpiece Right (HVD). The two most epic routes of the day for different reasons were: Square Buttress Wall (HS) and Gashed Crack (HS). Both were led first by Peri. Square Buttress Wall was epic for its decision to spit Peri’s gear back out, leaving her stranded over halfway up minus protection – EEK! (I think that was Peri’s exact word at the time) and Gashed Crack’s epic-ness was due to Peri’s decision to heel hook successfully, while laughing, from the ground onto the overhanging crag 2 metres up – very impressive! I believe there is video evidence of this feat!

As the sunshine was beginning to dip behind the wonderful hills, Rob and the ‘now returned from soloing’ Guido decided to fit in another few climbs on their ‘to do’ lists before sundown. These included Hoaxer’s Crack (HS), Trivial Pursuit (VS), Niche Wall Direct (HS) and Nicheless Climb (HS in my book but I think only S in Guido’s which we all thought was a bit low). After which, four weary but very contented climbers plodded back to the car trying not to step on any sheep in the dark!

Thanks to Peri for driving 🙂


Rob's pix:

Dunmail Raise

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Rob and Ben on Helm CragBooking the hut with the outside hope of winter conditions as per the last couple of years I suppose was the guarantee of warm and wet weather. Well it wasn't to be, it was cold and wet – at least on Sat.

A huge 38 seater hut (though would have been cosy) easily swallowed the 13 of us who made it on Fri night, to be joined on Sat evening by the three part timers.

Sat started with a sweary Peri not best pleased at the lack of hot water – which got fixed. After breakfast a few different teams headed in various directions. Ben, Rob, Pete & Dave D headed over Deepdale Hause, passing Grisedale Tarn, to drop down into Link Cove and scramble back to the summit of Fairfield before scree running to the tarn and heading home. The mist providing ample opportunity for nav practice and for Ben to get cold (needs some fat on him that lad!). Simon and Carmen continued the gentle approach to knee rehabilitation with a stroll along the valley, followed by a flog up to Brown Cove, Helvellyn and over the tops back to the hut. Debra joined the 'experienced team' walking around a wood before shopping in Keswick. Alan K and Graeme ran around most of Langdale in shorts, and Peri walked around the hut three times and claimed a summit.

All this activity meant a long meal preparation but still required an emergency delivery of a cauliflower required for the soup, before the main course and salads and superlative fruit delights from Karen's allotment for pud.

Sunday dawned fine and sunny and many people headed off back up the hills behind: Peri, Debra, Karen and Annie towards Fairfield; Tom and Fliss over Helvellyn; Simon and Carmen, Dave D, Ben and I over towards Helm Crag (lion and lamb) before splitting into 3 parties. The runners ran about a bit before heading home, and Andrew and Donal people played on some bikes I believe. Pete went back to bed.

Shame about the weather but a good big hut, comfy sleeping and well positioned for the winter cliffs and not too far from Langdales.

Some Pix: …


Manse Barn, Onich

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

The Manse Barn is a small hut, a bit cramped but next door to the Onich hotel which provided a second living room, otherwise known as a bar.

Jamie Brown, Simon Caldwell, Roy Crouch, Paul Davies, Carmen Elphick, Fliss Emery, Ann Gostling, Michael Marven, Tom Shepherd, Will Smith, Rob Stone, Peri Stracchino all made the trip north.

Will and Rob got up at 6am and were walking in by 7.15 heading for North Butress (IV, 4) on Buachaille Etive Mor – a classic winter line following a grade 3 scramble. They were still walking in by 9.30 having wandered around the hillside looking for the start! (for reference the Great Gully is a square cut gully with large red slabs where the path crosses it, previous gullies don’t reach the path or are scree slopes!) 4 great pitches of not-too-hard climbing with good gear and 5 abs back down felt like a proper mountaineering day out.

Roy, Tom, Fliss, Annie, Jamie, Michael, Peri and Paul headed up the Lost Valley with the aim of finding some decent slopes to play on. On the way up Fliss slipped crossing a stream and cracked her rib on a rock. She carried on up, but after a while decided it would be better to head down, accompanied by Annie and Michael. As the others headed higher, the snow got deeper and steeper, and more avalanche-prone. The weather was not promising, so after reaching about 900 m, they too turned round and headed down. Much snowball rolling took place on the descent with small balls growing cartoon-style as they rolled down the slope. This was followed by a long bum slide in soft snow.

Simon and Carmen did Golden Oldie (grade II) on Aonach Mor, taking 90 minutes or so to find the start. Climbed it in 10 pitches, whiteout on the summit, and the gondola had stopped running due to the wind/lack of visibility so they had an extra hour's walk down through the forest to end the day. Great fun!

I blame modern technology for the short day on Saturday. Those with fancy internet enabled phones were able to download an updated weather forecast on Friday evening. This said that gale force winds and heavy snow were on the way. With this in mind we didn’t set the alarms and got up late. Looking out of the window, it appeared to have snowed a bit overnight, and the cloud was at about 700 metres. It didn’t appear too bad, but nobody wanted to venture too far or too high in case the predicted onslaught was late and caught us out. In the event, the weather was no worse than either of the other days, and we could have done more.

Will, Roy, Rob and Mike walked up to the Steall falls and jungle bashed up the side, while Fliss and Tom walked along the valley below. They then joined forces, via a wee river wade, for tea and cake in Fort William.

Peri, Paul and Jamie went over on the Corran Ferry, intending to do a scramble further down the coast, but while they were on the ferry they noticed what seemed like a really interesting horseshoe ridge opposite. They decided to do a recce on that instead, walking steeply up beside a waterfall to a hanging valley and then into the corrie and then up the ridge. They got as far as the snowline when clag and a minor snowstorm hit, so believing this to be the start of the forecast stormy weather they turned back. This turned out to be complete bollocks(TM), and by the time they arrived back at the bottom of the hill the day was dry again, which was rather annoying, but decision made they then headed to Fort Bill where they bumped into the others and Shopped for Victory.

Simon and Carmen ventured into the Lost Valley, where the valley floor was now carpeted in snow. But decided against going higher due to the approaching storm etc etc, you get the idea by now!

Since Roy had been obviously disappointed at missing his Munros on Friday, Peri, Jamie and Paul decided to join him in his quest for Buchaille Etive Beag before heading back home. Conditions on the hill were excellent, deep snow, in perfect condition for walking, and just enough wind and whiteout up on the summit to make it feel a bit wild and exhilarating. They made it in excellent time, up and down by 2.30 pm even with time for pie and ribena breaks.

Carmen, Simon and Annie walked up Ben Vane (by Loch Lomond). A lot more snow than further north, so going was slow and Annie had an epic. They reached what was probably the summit but it was hard to be certain as visibility was well below 20m!

Will and Rob were up at 6am again and in a repeat of Friday were walking in at 7.15, this time to Stob Ban, east ridge of the north butress, about II/III ** depending on line. Another longer-than-expected walk in of about 2 hours and it was cold and windy at the gearing-up point. They choose to avoid most of the difficulties to make a mountaineering day of it soloing, Ueli Steck style in an hour, past another team pitching some harder options. A really, really good fun route and one to go back to and make life awkward. White out on top had them on a bearing and slopes aspects to reach the summit before descent on the normal route. Will wishes he took his goggles as he suffered in the wind.

Fliss, Tom and Michael went on a short walk up Beinn Bheag (opposite Buchaille Etive Mor), and then headed home.

Winter Skills Weekend

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

day one - ready to throw ourselves downhill...

The winter skills weekend went ahead in ther cairngorms on 5/6th March. we stayed at Cairngorm Lodge Hotel, with Adam hughes of Hughes Mountaineering booked as instructor. The weekend was so popular we had to extend it from one day to the whole weekend.

Day one was spent working on basic skills – ice axe arrests, moving in crampons – the bunny hop was suprisingly effective! – and step cutting, with plenty of comedy value as we threw ourselves downhill in various ungainly positions.

more stylish (perhaps not) braking

Day two focussed on building snow belays. I had not realised quite what hard work this would be – digging ice like a demented terrier burying a bone, by the end of sunday my arms felt as if I had been navvying.

I particularly liked the way Adam taught this section – we pitched our way up a gentle ridge, taking turns to build bucket seats and buried axe anchors, then did a multiple abseil backdown using snow bollards. I think if we had just practised on flat ground I would have wondered "hmm, but would I be happy actually using that?"

Throughout the weekend we were very lucky with the weather – in fact in the brilliant sunshine we all ended up slightly sunburned. However the springlike weather was not so good for climbing conditions – the snow had been stripped from the mixed routes, and Simon Carmen and Rob had to sack off their plans to sneak in a cheeky route at Hells Lum due to the fact it was falling down.

Thanks again to Adam for his excellent instruction, an excellent weekend all roumd and i think we all got a lot out of it.

PS I am told by my secret informer that if anyone wants a giggle they should ask paul to demonstrate his canoeing skills…