Posts Tagged ‘powder’

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.

New Year Meet 2009

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

This year's new year trip was to the Alex Macintyre Hut, near Glencoe. A dozen of us made the journey north, and for once the snow didn't all melt the day before we arrived. Carmen and I drove up on Boxing Day, everyone else turned up a day or two later.

December 27. Sron na Lairig, grade II. Supposed to be an easy warm up day, but the deep snow put paid to that! The 4km walk in took a couple of hours, under grey skies with occasional snow flurries. The climb itself was trickier than expected, with no ice but loads of powder over rock with a little mostly frozen turf. A great mountaineering route, with some mildly terrifying pinnacles and an a cheval snow arete near the top, for which we roped up. The continuation to the summit took an age, as it was knee-deep snow all the way with little sign of any recent visitors, but also because the skies had cleared so we had to keep stopping to take photos. The summit too was deserted, nobody else had been that way all day despite its being a Munro. The descent was down the NE ridge, with its notorious bad step. Again, harder than expected – all possibilities looked too scary so in the end we abbed down the last section just as the last of the daylight disappeared. Luckily the full moon was bright enough to throw shadows as we continued along the ridge. We opted for an early descent into the valley, at a point where we could see there were no major crags to find a way round. It still took a good hour to cover the 1/2km to the bottom!

December 28. Definitely a short day this time, a walk up the twin Munros of Buachaille Etive Beag. We'd both done them before but not on as glorious day as this. Plenty of other people about (though most only did the main summit) so the paths were well trodden. Spectacular views in all directions, but especially of Bidean nam Bian and our previous day's route. Meanwhile, Alan and Nigel went for a long walk up Gulvain (near Glenfinnan), finishing long after dark.

December 29. Aonach Eagach (grade II/III). A winter traverse has been on my "to do" list for years, but every previous winter trip to Glencoe has been preceded by a massive thaw. Not so this year! Strong winds were forecast so it was without much optimism that Alan, Rich, Jenny, Carmen and I slogged up the hill. But somehow we managed to be sheltered along the whole ridge – Peter and Annie were on the other side of the valley and had trouble walking due to the wind (or was it the pies?), and Simon, Debra and Ben had a similar experience on Beinn an Dothaidh. It was worth the long wait for winter conditions, we had a magnificent day in clear cold conditions (between -6 and -8 along the ridge). Quick progress at first gradually slowed as we all started to tire, and the ropes came out to safe guard the pinnacled section. But we had passed the tricky bits before the sun set, all that remained was the ascent of the final Munro and the long descent in the dark back to the car we'd left at the Youth Hostel. 12 hours car-to-car, a great day.

December 30. Wild weather was forecast, and duly arrived. Ben and Nigel joined us for a short walk up Sgurr na' h-Eanchainne, a Corbett on the other side of the Corran Ferry. At least I thought it was a Corbett, but realised half way up it was actually a few metres short, so no ticks today, much to Nigel's disgust A nice little hill, with superb views across to the Glencoe hills and further north to Ben Nevis. Peter and Annie pushed their bikes round some snowy woods, I'm not sure about the others!

December 31. Expecting a sunny day, we plumped for the Ballachulish Horseshoe (Beinn a' Bheithir). The ascent up the NE ridge of Sgorr Bhan proved trickier than expected, and soon Carmen and I were on our own. Ben took a long detour round the awkward bit, hoping to meet us later, while Simon and Debra retreated to the nice warm hut. Sadly the forecast sun never arrived and we spent most of the day in the clag. We briefly considered heading back from the col between the Munros, but Ben had left his car at the far end so we pressed on. There was no sign of Ben, but not much sign of anything else either, so we decided not to wait. Navigation on the last section proved tricky, with undulating terrain and loads of identical small lochans, many not marked on the map. But eventually we emerged from the cloud, in roughly the right place. The final descent was a little more entertaining than hoped for, as we had to find a way in the dark round countless small outcrops and a couple of large cliffs, but we made it to the road and soon met Ben, who in best Annie style had bumped into an old friend on the hill and taken the descent from the col. I'm not sure what everyone else did – I think Annie and Peter went up Gulvain, but cheated by taking mountain bikes for the long approach.

New Years Eve. Preparation of the haggis supper was well under way, when suddenly we were plunged into darkness. The main fuse had blown! So we adjourned to a quiet and atmosphere-free Kings House for dinner before returning to the hut – where Nigel had nobly remained to organise an emergency electrician, so we had light in time for the customary new year falling asleep.

January 1. A return to the Beinn a' Bheithir for Carmen and me, this time for some ice climbing. Very slow going through deep powder with a hard crust which sometimes supported, and sometimes gave way. When we reached the north ridge of Sgorr Bhan we saw a small icefall and took the opportunity to stop for a rest and climb it. Nice easy climbing on fantastic ice, Carmen led straight up the middle for a good little 30m grade II. After this, some more crusty powder led to the main route of the day, Russian Roulette II/III. I say 'main' but it's only 50m high! Loads of ice, though more brittle than our first route, with lots of dinner-plating. Back to the sacks just as the last of the light disappeared, and the standard walk-out in the dark.

January 2. We decided on an easy day with a short walk in so went for a look at the Aonach Dubh cliffs on Bidean nam Bian. We didn't bother with a guidebook as we were just looking for some short easy angled ice to play on. Firstly we tried the Allt Coire nam Beithach but there was too much flowing water and not enough ice. Higher up though, there was loads of ice. A steep icy gully looked tempting but probably too hard, and there was a group of 3 just starting (we later found that this was Number 6 Gully, grade IV ***). So we went for an easy looking line of ice further right, which looked about grade II and one or two pitches. One minor epic and 3 pitches later, we reached the top – much steeper than it looked, the last pitch was vertical for a few metres! Harder than anything else we'd done, I reckoned about III/IV. Consulting the book later it turned out to be Squaddies Climb, grade II/III, only mildly humiliating – fun though.

A great week, in great weather – and it was just the beginning of a great winter!

Loads of photos here.
Peter's bike-pushing pictures here.
Debra's photos here.

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.