Wednesday, 30 December 2009

grivel with a swivel

Apologies to everyone who is interested in reading something, well, interesting on this blog, as this is yet another gear and engineering post, once again related to ice axes although this time to do with leashes and lanyard systems. I promise I will come up with something different to write about soon! Anyway…

Climbing ice or mixed routes with a pair of ice axes is an exhilarating and fulfilling experience, but should something go seriously wrong, say for instance you drop an axe, it can go from being fun and challenging to serious and terrifying in a matter of seconds.

I’m not going to talk about the differences between climbing leashed or leashless, as for me it is a no brainer – I am very firmly in the leashless camp. That said, I do own a set of clipper leashes for my axes, but I somehow doubt they will ever really be used again…

FILE0100 crop
I used to use my clipper leashes in scotland in winter on mixed routes where, if I did somehow drop an axe things really wouldn’t be good. So they were more for tool security than my own (I’d rather shake out when I’m pumped than simply hang all my weight from my wrist loops). On a trip to Cogne climbing frozen waterfalls and deciding to try out the clipper leashes whilst seconding a WI4+, I discovered just what a pain in the butt they can be – I got pumped simply trying to detach from the axes to remove the ice screws. Ok so I’m sure I would get used to the clipper system through use and wouldn’t feel so much like no sooner had I unclipped, I would then proceed to dislodge my axe and send it plummeting down into the void, but, why would I bother? Why would I try to get used to a system I don’t particularly like when there are much better options?

And so we get to the meat of the post. Leashless lanyards.

On that same Cogne trip, the evening after my little escapade with the leashes, I decided there and then that I wasn’t going to wear them on anything steep where I felt I could knock an axe down. So how would I stop them being easily droppable? I took a length of 7mm tat out of my bag and tied two cord lanyards.

Now, these lanyards worked brilliantly. Long enough that you could still swing at full stretch, and pretty unobtrusive on steep ice. They did have one major shortcoming however: on anything less than vertical they dangle round your knees providing a very real tripping hazard (especially dire in easy angled gullies), so my thoughts shifted to the new type of ‘spring leash’ systems now being made by both Grivel and Black Diamond.

Now, me being both skint and keen on anything I can make myself, I decided initially that I would make my own version using 16mm tubular webbing and shock-cord, but an epic evening spent not being able to get the cord far enough through the webbing (a problem that could be worked around I’m sure) led me to want to have a proper look at the commercial systems, to see whether I really was wasting my time for very little saving.

I had a look at the Grivel Double Spring Leash and the Black Diamond Spinner Leash, making comparisons of their respective advantages as I played around in the shops making myself look like a deranged idiot:

Grivel Double Spring
  • Available with or without crabs
  • Supplied crabs feel less crappy to me than the BDs
  • Less tension than the Black Diamond meaning they are less obstructive to your axe swing
  • Cheaper (buying without crabs makes it significantly cheaper than the BD)
Black Diamond Spinner
  • Same strength rating as the Grivel (rated to 2kn, equivalent to the 200kg claimed by the Grivel)
  • Very snazzy looking and innovative springy webbing stuff
  • Captive crabs (for some these would be an advantage, even though I don’t like them)
  • In-built very neat little swivel, meaning that tangles are completely avoidable 
So they both have their own relative merits, but I think it’s probably pretty obvious which set I plumped for.
I bought a set of the Grivel Double Springs, without the supplied crabs (£15 without and £25 with) – I had my own 400kg rated ‘accessory crabs’ I bought a while back (when I was thinking about making my own clipper leashes, but I digress), which, seeing as the spring leash itself is only claimed to hold 200kg, are perfect. Sadly I can’t seem to find these little crabs in the shops again anywhere as I’d like to buy a few more.
So, yes, I bought the cheapest ones. I really like the swivel on the Black Diamond, but am not prepared to pay £40 for them, just for that, especially when I can self-engineer my own version (it’s the best of all worlds, mwahahaha!).

A tiny bit of effort later and here we have it, the Grivel with a Swivel.

FILE0092 (2)crop
The swivel is a 6mm stainless steel captive eye swivel shackle, bought for about £3-4 from a sailing chandlery (incidentally the swivel itself has a SWL of 1tonne – meaning that it could probably be shock loaded with a force equal to about 5 times that without breaking), larksfooted into the leashes and with a short length of 4mm accessory cord tied through the other side to attach to my harness or wherever I decide to attach. Ok so the swivel is definitely heavier than BD’s offering, but significantly cheaper and stronger. I will detach it and leave it behind when I want to go super lightweight (i.e. Alpine climbing) – an option the BD simply doesn’t offer you.

FILE0092 (2)crop swivel
To say I am pleased with these is an understatement – for me, this is pretty much the perfect system. That is, until I find an even smaller and lighter swivel capable of fitting my needs.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

axe update and a brief tutorial on using self amalgamating tape

I’m an engineer. I trained and studied as an engineer. I worked as an engineer. My husband is an engineer. What is my point? Well my point is that I have an engineering mind – I like to solve problems, I like to improve things, I like to find alternative ways of doing things and most of all I like doing it all myself. This may be part of the reason why winter and ice climbing appeal so much to me – gear and glory and all manner of opportunities to utilise an analytical mind.

I post previously about modifying my ice axes to make them a bit more user friendly (primarily when dry tooling) by using self-amalgamating tape to enhance the grip of the shaft. I also promised I would write an update after I had tested the new grips out, and this is it.

My concerns about the tape getting worn and damaged still stand, but don’t feature too highly as an issue as replacing the tape is very simple and inexpensive. Anyway, not only have I tried out the new grip position on the dry tooling board, but I have tried them out on an ice route (see previous post about Aladdin’s Mirror Direct). My observations:

  • When dry tooling, the tape provides a much better grip than just the slippery shaft, allowing gloves to ‘stick’ rather than just slide around.
  • When ice climbing the grip is likewise improved, which does provide you with additional options for gripping and resting when climbing leashless, especially noticeable when wearing thick gloves (I liked it, lots).
  • When out in winter, when it is cold and damp out, you are plunging the axes in snow, using them in ice and just generally getting cold, the tape insulates the shaft and makes the axe much more pleasant to hold (i.e. not freezing cold metal).

The biggest revelation for me was how much more pleasant the axe shaft was to hold with the tape on compared to the bare metal shaft. Holding onto the shaft was like connecting yourself to a heat-sink – the metal is COLD, and as such makes your hands cold, even through gloves. Now, this is all fairly obvious stuff really, but one of those things that I needed to try out and experience to learn the real lessons…

So, some further modification has had me make a ‘third grip position’ with tape, this time at the top of the shaft, not for pulling on in the conventional sense, but to make using the axes in the daggering* position more pleasant and less likely to induce the hot aches.

To say I am pleased with these simple little modifications is an understatement, not only are they hugely effective, but they actually look quite good too (there’s definitely something about tools that look like they’re used and cared for, and that some thought has gone into their use, isn’t there? A bit like the opposite of the ‘all the gear, no idea’ notion).


Notes for those interested in performing similar modifications:

The tape you want is self amalgamating tape, available from places like Maplin or Screwfix. This tape is essentially just a strip of rubber which, when stretched and stuck back onto itself just self-fuses, so there is no adhesive involved to come unstuck when wet or anything like that.

Tips: the classic mistakes people make with this stuff (and having used this type of thing at work for 6 years believe me I’ve seen all kinds of basic errors) are firstly and most embarrassingly, not removing the backing tape and then wondering why it’s not sticking to itself. Give yourself a slap if you do this. Secondly, the other classic error is to simply stick the stuff directly onto itself without tensioning and stretching it – the tape is springy rubber and you need to stretch it out as you apply it (stretch it as much as you like, just don’t snap it), so that the elastic pull creates a sort of tensioned fusing joint where it contacts itself. Remember this tape has no glue and so it does not stick to things – you need to tape it to itself for it to stick.

If you use quite a thin tape (such as the type available from Maplin), you need a minimum to two layers of tape otherwise it will simply be too flimsy. You may even want 3 or 4 layers depending on what you are doing and the use and wear it’s going to take.


*daggering – holding the axe at the top of the shaft, just beneath the head and stabbing the pick directly into the slope, not swinging it from the handle. This is a technique used on easier angled snow and ice slopes.

winter climbing tips: axe transport

Ice axes – classified by police as offensive weapons. They are…well…sharp and dangerous. Not only are they sharp and dangerous when wielded by some drunken moron in a crowded nightclub, but they are also a great tool for punching holes in helmets or ripping gouges in expensive clothing when packed in your holdall, trust me on that one.

This little idea just came to me in a flash of inspiration whilst I was seated on the throne (you know, where you get all the best ideas!), and will be most useful to people transporting their ice axes when flying – that is, when the axes need to be packed in a big bag with lots of other stuff. Now, lots of people do complicated things like removing the picks or wrapping everything in bubble wrap, both options that are quite frankly a pain in the bum.

So, want a way to quickly and easily protect your axe picks and spikes (and consequently everything else in your bag)? Want it to be cheap/free and maybe even involve recycling?



I give you, the humble toilet roll tube!

first winter route of the year

Patrick and I journeyed up to the snow and ice of the Cairngorms over the weekend, the aim being to have 3 days climbing in Coire an t'’sneachda. Monday was our first day out (and my first day out after contracting a nasty strain of the flu a couple of weeks ago), so we headed for Aladdin’s Mirror Direct – a route that I seconded last year as my first experience of ice climbing, and as such, had a real desire to go back and lead myself.

The ice fall was in surprisingly good condition considering it is only December, and we followed another pair up it, and then up the last 2/3 pitches of Aladdin’s Mirror.

I would just like to say a big thank you to Donald, the climber I met at the belay above the ice fall, who left one of his cams for me to use. Unfortunately I can’t read the postcode written on the label on it, so I’m currently on a mission to find out where to return it to, but anyway…

The route was a mixed experience for me, the ice fall was fine, although I will admit, pure ice climbing in my stubby ‘mountaineering’ crampons is not that pleasant an experience – but my G14s (currently set up as mono-points) would have been a terrible choice to use given the conditions on the rest of the route, an easy angled snow/ice gully. The gully was where it got ‘interesting’ for me, because I had made a rather foolish decision sometime last week: calf raises. I did a couple of sets of 50 calf raises, to the point of cramp in the muscles, and unfortunately seem to have given myself a kind of perma-cramp. Front pointing up easy angled sh*tty snow and ice in a gully was probably the worst and most painful thing I could have done given the state of my perma-cramped legs – I did not enjoy it at all.

(Actually, the state of the rock was somewhat challenging. We spoke to a fair few other climbers who had done actual mixed lines and they all agreed with what we had experienced – lots of very pretty rime ice build up on the rock, that was completely unusable for climbing, and also lots of ice and snow making finding gear in cracks damn near impossible.)

The gully was also a great big pointer as to just how much the flu has taken out of me, I mean, a few weeks ago I was feeling strong and reasonably fit. Now, I have a base level of fitness lower than I can remember it being for years, oh and no stamina whatsoever, as I am about to explain with some not inconsiderable disappointment…

After Monday’s efforts I was ‘done in’. Tuesday simply wasn’t going to happen – I woke up and just knew that I wouldn’t even manage the [easy] walk-in. So we spent the day bumming around cafes and shops (more on that in a later posting). The real kicker to this was that the day turned out to be stunning. Sort of Alpine in style of weather – beautiful clear blue skies and very very cold, so perfect for climbing. We were hoping that Wednesday would be similar, but British weather is a fickle and unpredictable thing, so of course we had 4-5 inches of snow overnight meaning that the ski road was closed and of course conditions would have been really rather hard going and unpleasant. So we drove home.


Saturday, 19 December 2009

winter climbing tips: ginger cake


By far the best food I’ve found for a winter day out in the hills, be it Scotland, Norway or the Alps, is a tasty, sugar laden cake that simply does not freeze.

Behold! The ginger wonder.


  • 150g unsalted butter (I have used salted and it doesn’t make a massive difference actually)
  • 125g dark muscovado sugar
  • 200g black treacle
  • 200g golden syrup
  • 3 teaspoons ground ginger
  • fresh, finely grated ginger, lump approx. 2-3 thumbs

note: I’ve upped the ginger amounts massively from the recipe I was originally using, and even these quantities aren’t overpoweringly strong. Beware of using much more fresh ginger though as it seems like too much can make the cake rise a little oddly.

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 250ml milk (we only ever have semi-skimmed but I don’t think it really matters what type of milk)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda dissolved in 2 teaspoons of warm water
  • 300g plain flour


Preheat your oven to 170 C (gas mark 3).

Pre-line a loaf tin with baking parchment.

Choose a large saucepan (you can mix the entire cake in this), and melt the butter, then add the sugar, treacle, syrup, ginger and cinnamon and ‘melt’ these together (use a low heat so as not to burn the butter to the pan, be patient!).

Take the pan off the heat and add the milk, eggs and the bicarbonate of soda. Mix (don’t worry that the mixture seems to be layered at this point).

Sieve the flour into the batter mix, slowly and in increments, whilst stirring (I usually add a bit, stir it all in, then add some more until it is all in, roughly 4 or 5 batches). Now, at this point it WILL be lumpy, no matter how careful and patient you have been, so the next stage is to stir, stir, and stir some more – trying to work out most of the lumps. You may be stirring for quite a while, but eventually you should end up with a nice silky looking liquid batter.

Pour the batter into your pre-lined tin, then carefully put it in the oven (middle of the middle shelf), for 45mins – 1hour (keep checking on it – when it’s done a knife or skewer inserted into it should come out clean – any gooey residue and it needs a touch longer.)

Once it is cooked, take the cake out of the oven and carefully lift it out of the tin, onto a cooling rack. Let it cool! When it’s feeling solid enough, remove the baking parchment, then replace the cake on the rack and let it cool completely (trust me on this, it actually tastes better when it has cooled down! Honest!)


And there you have it! Glorious sticky ginger cake. Cut it up, stick some in the freezer if you want to keep it (note: it probably won’t actually freeze solid – one of mine hadn’t gone hard even after 2 months in the freezer!)

Oh, and one more thing to be aware of – this stuff is deadly. Or at least it appears deadly on the security scanners at airports when it’s packed into your hand luggage. I kid you not…

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

can women get man flu?

I think it must be possible, I mean I don’t think I have real flu or even swine flu, but this is definitely much worse than a cold (and it came on really quickly), it’s also not the lesser known ‘wine flu’ – that requires about 8 glasses in order for the symptoms to appear and sadly I have had none.

Anyway, today I have spent the whole day bumming around in my dressing gown feeling sorry for myself and occasionally dosing myself up with paracetamol. In my somewhat dishevelled state I managed to finish reading one of the books I currently have (had?) on the go - ‘The Real Heroes of Telemark’ by Ray Mears (book of a TV series maybe? We’re looking into that). Having climbed in Rjukan last year and having a 2 week sortie planned for February, it seemed appropriate to actually find out some of the real history of the place and what happened during WWII and the ‘heavy water’ sabotage raids, rather than simply leaving my knowledge at the ‘have watched the crappy hollywood blockbuster and so have no real facts in truth’ stage.

I highly recommend reading this book and/or finding out about these events – I for one had no idea that Hitler even had an atomic weapons programme, let alone that the simple yet incredible actions of a few highly trained men in destroying and disrupting the production of ‘heavy water’ (again, despite being interested in this sort of thing, I didn’t even know what heavy water was) in a small hydro plant on the edge of one of the most inhospitable wilderness areas on earth, could well have swayed the outcome of the war.

Right, on a different topic, today I have also knocked another item off of my chores ‘to do’ list – Phil very kindly bought me a new roll of self amalgamating tape to modify my ice axes with…

FILE0091 Before

FILE0094 After

Only trial will show whether my newly modified secondary grip position (oooh get me, sounding all techy) will actually be any good. My worries are that the construction of the shafts (hot-forged I-beam construction – more techy stuff, ooooh) will mean that the tape will get damaged/worn pretty quickly because of the big gaps behind it. A more standard shaft would not present a problem, but oh no, I have to have ‘different’ axes of course (don’t get me wrong here, I love them to bits!).

I will update on the state of these once they’ve seen some use on the board.

Monday, 7 December 2009

egg banjo

Apparently a fried egg sandwich is called an Egg Banjo.

Awesome. You learn something new every day!

Friday, 4 December 2009

dry tooling

Ok so at long last I’ve got the board equipped with enough of my fabulously engineered, home made, wooden dry tooling holds to start some serious training sessions.

I’ve never felt a pump quite like it – a deep deep burn inside your arms. Wonderful!



Thursday, 19 November 2009

top tips on how to eat more healthily when you’re away from home

Following a set of discussions with a friend of mine who commutes to London for work every week (i.e. he stays during the week), I thought I’d try to pool some of the ideas and techniques I developed for eating [at least relatively] healthily when I was working away from home alot.

(There may also be more to come on this subject in the future.)


  • Firstly, and obviously, think about what you’re eating, generally – does your diet consist primarily of convenience snacks and fatty foods? Can you simply eat healthier things?
  • Think about and plan when you are going to eat each day (this may not always be possible, but you should try to stick to a well thought out and consistent regime as much as you can).
  • Set yourself a guideline as to which meal is going to be the main meal of the day (classic example: if you expect that one day you will have to skip lunch, plan to make your main meal in the evening, or if you think you will have to work late, perhaps consider making lunch your main source of sustenance for the day and have a simple snack in the evening).
  • If it does look like you will need to skip lunch on a particular day, think about taking in a ‘packed lunch’ bought or prepared the day before, that way you won’t actually need to skip the meal entirely – this should help you to resist the urge to ‘binge’ later on, or snack on chocolate or crisps from a vending machine.
  • Think about where you will be getting your food from each day – if you have this planned out in advance, you will be far less likely to just grab something horrendous from the first convenient fast food store or chip shop.
  • Plan the general outline of your meals (by that I mean roughly what and how much of particular types of food like sandwiches, pieces of fruit, snack bars etc).


  • Find places that sell healthier types of ‘convenience’ food – a good example is the chain ‘EAT’ – alot of the food they sell actually isn’t too bad.
  • Try to minimise the amount of heavily processed and ‘calorie rich’ food you consume. Generally avoiding fairly obvious items like chocolate, cakes and crisps is ALWAYS a good idea.
  • Substitute ‘healthier options’ for those calorie rich items you are now avoiding – fruit is an especially good choice.
  • At lunch, don’t have soup AND a sandwich, have one OR the other (this also means don’t have two sandwiches – a sandwich AND a sandwich).
  • Packed lunches are your friend as they stop you going out and just buying whatever you fancy at the time, which for those who lack a degree of self-discipline, is a sure way to end up buying and eating too much, even if what you’re having isn’t necessarily unhealthy.
  • Go to a supermarket and buy the basic ingredients to prepare your own meals.
  • A quick, easy and healthy option for an evening meal you can prepare in a hotel room is pre-flavoured cous cous (just add boiling water), plus some cooked meat or chicken to add in.
  • Pot Noodles are BAD.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Thursday, 12 November 2009

list number 17: build a training board

Well it is finally done. I have my own garage ‘woody’ – a 30 degree overhanging plywood board with a roof to finish. I need more juggy holds to put on it though because at the moment even the easiest ‘rainbow’ problems to the high jugs are probably V0+/V1 ish!

Pictures to follow.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Penderyn, welsh single malt whisky


Welsh whisky!

Not bad, but not stunning either. If it were £20-25 for a bottle I’d buy it, but seeing as it is priced (varyingly) at £30-40, I think I’ll pass – it simply isn’t that good, not when compared to similarly priced scotch.

That’ll be number 40 off the list then.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

the list: day zero

So what the hell is this all about then – Day Zero…the easy answer is go check the website:
In short, this is a pretty pointless exercise, but one that the super-anal list maker and ticker in me loved the idea of – 101 things to be done in 1001 days. Of course it is unlikely that I will complete all of them in that time, but I will of course be trying.
So the stats: this frigging list has taken me some 3 weeks or so to write (you have no idea just how many things 101 is until you try to make a list of them, oh and the vast, VAST majority of other people’s lists will be full of ideas which to you will seem tedious and insignificant (in the words of a friend of mine - ‘banal’), and so will fail to provide any inspiration at all). Phew.
My start date is somewhat contrived to include a couple of routes that I have climbed recently into the count figures so that everything is legit (the only exception: my summit of Mont Blanc is included in my 15 Alpine summits goal even though it was done before my start date, simply because it really was quite a major thing for me, and it wasn’t all that long before in reality…)
Start Date: 15/09/2009
End Date (1001 days): 12/06/2012
1. Climb F7a (sport)
2. Climb F7b (sport)
3. Climb F6c onsight (sport)
4. Climb 20 routes of F6c and up (4/20) In progress
5. Climb another 20 routes of E1 + (trad) (4/20) In progress
6. Climb E2 onsight (trad)
7. Boulder font 7a or V6
8. Climb WI5+ (ice)
9. Climb VI onsight (Scottish winter)
10. Summit the Matterhorn
11. Summit the Eiger
12. Climb the Frendo Spur
13. Attain 15 Alpine summits (5/15) In progress
14. Summit a 6000m+ peak
15. Do the Cuillin Ridge traverse (summer)
16. Do the Cuillin Ridge traverse (winter)
17. Build a training and drytooling board in the garage Completed 12/11/09
18. Do a winter route using a vintage ice axe
19. Go to a climbing themed lecture Completed: 17/11/09 BMC Winter skills, 21/11/09 Andy Kirkpatrick at Kendal, 26/11/09 Doug Scott, 19/02/10 Nick Bullock in Rjukan, PyB/UKC Alpine Festival
20. Do a route on a sea stack
21. Climb 10 routes that feature significant traverses (2/10)
22. Learn to jam
23. Climb 30 grit routes (trad) (0/30)
24. Write an article and have it published
25. Make a great photo collage
26. Get a Wedding photo album made
27. Photograph a landscape from the same spot in all four seasons (0/4)
28. Create 5 instructional videos for my blog (0/5)
29. Take a photograph of the Greenwich Meridian line
30. Build a big, elaborate sand castle on the beach and photograph it
31. Write a paper diary of this list In progress
32. Take (or have taken) 101 pictures of myself that I actually like (0/101)
33. Bake some Yorkshire Fat Rascals
34. See the Northern Lights
35. Go to a Mountain Film Festival
36. See a West End show
37. Volunteer as a Special Constable
38. Do a tour of a mine
39. Eat a vegetarian diet for 1 week
40. Try the Welsh single malt whisky (Penderyn) Completed 3/11/09
41. Ride on the London Eye
42. Visit Llanberis Slate Museum
43. Visit Powis Castle
44. Visit a WW1 battlefield
45. Visit a former Concentration Camp
46. Go to an Air Race
47. Go to an aerobatics competition
48. Do a motorcycle track day
49. Go to a classical music ‘prom’
50. Go caving with Dave W
51. Be a tourist in Paris
52. Have a go at kite boarding
53. Be a tourist in Stockholm
54. Go to Switzerland Completed (Arolla Aug '10)
55. Go to Russia
56. Go to Ireland
57. Drive something cool (like a tank or a rally car?)
58. Visit a vineyard
59. Run a marathon
60. Run the Midnattsloppet with Anders
61. Run 2 miles with a sub 7 minute pace
62. Run around Lake Vrynwy
63. Do sets of 20 pull ups
64. Do the Welsh 3000’s
65. Have a sports massage Completed 22/08/2010
66. Ride the MTB runs at Llandegla
67. Ride the MTB runs at Coed y Brenin
68. Fly to France
69. Get a taildragger rating
70. Fly solo in a Tiger Moth
71. Land at Barra
72. Take David flying
73. Join a Mountain Rescue Team In progress - NEWSAR
74. Shoot for food
75. Cook a meal without using any shop bought ingredients (hunt, forage, grow etc)
76. Learn to navigate well (on foot) Happy! Passed NEWSAR hill team nav assessment 23/06/2010
77. Do a mountain/wilderness First Aid course In progress - NEWSAR training
78. Do a night hike
79. Bivi Vallee Blanche 11/07/10
80. Build and sleep in a snow hole
81. Learn to ski
82. Learn some basic Welsh
83. Learn some basic Norwegian (for trips to Rjukan)
84. Learn to canoe properly
85. Learn some basic photography skills
86. Learn to SRT (caving)
87. Learn to identify some of the constellations
88. Ride a motorcycle offroad
89. Get another job… Semi-completed (short term contract work)
With Phil
90. Visit RAF Cosford Completed 28/02/2010
91. Visit Duxford
92. Get the guns back
93. Do a long distance walk or canoe journey
94. Canoe on Lake Vrynwy
95. Cycle round Lake Vrynwy and have a picnic
96. Visit a Brewery
97. Visit another 5 whisky distilleries (0/5)
98. Learn to use the sextant
99. Stay in an ice hotel
100. Do 5 extra things of Phil’s choosing (0/5)
101. Start writing a new list…

Thursday, 29 October 2009

…uses for a nutkey

Nutkey, aka proddler. A climbing tool used primarily to aid the removal of leader placed protection when seconding.

Quite simple little devices really – basically a short, flat metal stick with a hook on the end. So, what are they really for…

  • thwacking nuts/wires that are ‘solidly placed’, usually when seconding (where it is your responsibility to recover all of the gear the leader has placed, no matter how masochistic you may think they were being)
  • re-seating’ non-optimally placed wires, when leading (of course, as a leader you won’t ever place bad gear, nor will you ever have to resort to the kind of violence for which your second is well known when removing your extremely secure gear placements)
  • hooking’ the trigger bars of cams/friends that have walked too deeply into a crack to be released by hand. This is what the hooks on the end were originally designed for. (Ok, ok, so I know this one is a bit of a stretch – has anyone EVER managed this?)
  • gardening’, that is, removing moss, mud, crud and other substances (eww) from cracks and holds
  • animal control’ – mainly removing large spiders from cracks, usually with a deft and elegant flick of the wrist in order to send said creature into a section of space a LONG way from you, and hopefully not onto your belayer’s head. (Other ‘animals’ may include all manner of insects, from flies, woodlice or earwigs, to man-eating furry caterpillars – anything larger is often best dealt with by running away)
  • fishing’ – retrieval of dropped items, sometimes achieved by tying the nutkey onto a section of rope which is then dangled (similar to ‘hooking’, but generally more useful)
  • as cutlery
  • as a stirrer (not the same as cutlery)
  • as a bread knife (although probably more accurately described as a bread disintegrator)
  • scratching those hard to reach areas
  • pointing at stuff, especially obscure guidebook references
  • torture, i.e. in transportation (how often do the damn things end up digging in your back through your rucksack? And what’s more it nearly always happens when you’ve made an extra special effort to prevent it – it’s like they know…)
  • for aiding with mud bank top-outs to routes – the ‘mud-axe
  • the ‘universal toolkit’ – knife (very blunt), saw (even more blunt than the knife so you’ll have to be very persistent, it should also be noted that the universal nutkey saw is generally less than effective on any material with a hardness or density greater than that of lukewarm butter), chunky flatblade screwdriver (try it!), can opener (maybe? could be painful though…you have been warned), scraper (although possibly not ideal for scraping ice off of car windscreens…), etc
  • poking unidentified items you don’t want to touch, but for some inexplicable reason, you just need to

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

another 6c!

Margin of Error, the 6c next to Traction Control (my first 6c lead). The route had a very similar style of climbing, and one that suits me down to the ground – fingery, extremely technical and requiring precise footwork. Gorgeous. Anyway, I had only really hoped to get it clean on top-rope, so that I could come back and lead it on another occasion, but after I’d got the sequence dialled and had toproped it cleanly and with ease it seemed silly not to just go for it.

To cut a long story short, I was cold and fluttery. My climbing was nowhere near as smooth as I would have liked, but nonetheless I did it. My second 6c. What a brilliant feeling. Another 6c, done in a single session. Maybe I really am getting better!

Oh and a huge thank you to my dearly beloved for belaying me without complaint and just being fantastic.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

west rib, dinas mot (HVS 5a)

I’ll let Patrick lead the crux pitch, the 5a one. That way he will feel good because he’s done something harder than just VS, and I will feel ok because I only have to do the 4b and 4c pitches which must only be VS really…

So, I had a minor epic on the first (4b) pitch. It would probably have been fine had I actually gone the right way, but that wouldn’t be much fun now would it? I went off route onto scary and entirely unprotectable ground after I had dutifully arranged my ropes in such a manner as to generate such horrendous rope drag that I very nearly pulled myself off - I demonstrated a textbook method of eliminating the advantages of double ropes in reducing rope drag, by placing my gear in such a manner as to direct the blue rope into a nice crack where it could quite happily jam itself, whilst being hugely runout above my last piece of absolutely terrible gear. Oh yes, that last piece of gear did in fact lift out I think…I had found my way into the ethereal zone of ‘unanticipated ground-fall potential’, that place where climbers become vividly mortal, and belayers either wonder how absorbant their underpants are as they shut their eyes, or ponder the value of their partner’s stuff when listed on ebay…

Needless to say, I discovered my little ‘rope management issue’ as I was mid pull through a committing move on poor footholds using handholds which were somewhat smaller than desirable given the circumstances…cue a stream of obscenities and panicked yanking at the poor lodged string holding me down…

Once I finally got to the belay I couldn’t pull the blue rope up so Patrick had to climb only on red until he’d freed the blockage. My poor rope will never quite be the same again. Once he joined me at the belay I had a bit of an angry tantrum like moment, mainly because I was still full of adrenaline and fear (sorry about that mate). Anyway, the decision was made to continue and so a little while later I found myself merrily seconding the crux pitch with numb fingers (it was cold in the shade).

The final pitch was only meant to be 4c, so I stupidly made the assumption that it wouldn’t really be HVS climbing, that was all behind us. In reality I found the pitch hard, extremely committing and scary, especially when I discovered the crux after a steep section of crack climbing for which I had had to overcome some MAJOR ‘head-f*ck’ issues. So I climbed the cracks (aka ‘hollow flakes’) and made the scary ‘mantel onto the steep arete’, only to find myself stood up with a seemingly blank section of rock between me and the top, a big drop at my feet, and no gear. I panicked.

Flustered and shaking I allowed myself a second or two of unashamed emotion after which I really did just have to deal with it (I pressed my head against the rock and let out a single gentle sob, then talked myself into generating some serious courage and control). Switching on my brain and finally getting some gear in at my feet made me feel a little better, after which I decided that up was the way I had to go – that is, I had to go up the arete to a flake traverse, rather than immediately rightwards on a flaky hand/foot traverse at my feet (this may or may not be the ‘correct’ way as per the guidebook, the reason I say that is that it sure as hell felt harder than English 4c). So up it was – left had onto a sidepull of sorts, right hand on a small and crappily shaped crimpy spike on the arete. Feet on, well, nothing much…deep breath, pull…aaaaaand...back down onto my ledge. Damnit. Right, just get on with it...

‘Ok, sidepull, pull, stand up on those crappy feet, ooh a bridge. Eeesh this is crap. Ok left hand into that sidepull pocket…oh god it’s tiny…shiiiiiiiiiiit…ok two fingers in the pocket, blimey it really is crap, can I really layback off of the single pads of two fingers? Foot up, better foothold…oh crap…PUUUUUULLLLL! Ok right hand, where the HELL DO I PUT IT?! Ooooh ok, shitty, shitty, shitty crimp…cummmmmoooooon…just stand up…’

The next hold wasn’t quite the jug I had anticipated but by that point I had no choice but to make it work, so I did. No real chance to hang on and get any gear in, I knew I just needed to get over the slab to the next arete, so I hung on, composed myself and then padded across.

There are a number of reasons why rock climbing is such a fulfilling and addictive sport, one of them being the feeling you get when you’ve just completed a technically challenging and wholly committing set of moves - those where nothing matters except how well you cope with the adrenaline ride. The feeling I got when I reached the far arete and the last few meters of the last pitch of that climb on Dinas Mot. The feeling I had when I finally got a decent piece of gear in after committing myself, the feeling knowing that it was done, that now, even if I blew a move and fell, I was no longer looking at a fall with potential for paralysis or death.

The final few meters to the belay were euphoric in their simplicity and ease, and so it was with a sense of deep-set relief and joy that I brought my wonderful and long-suffering partner up to join me, feeling justifiably satisfied. Thankfully he agreed that the arete section I had just managed to smoothly tremble up on minuscule holds and faith in my feet, had indeed been quite challenging.

Friday, 2 October 2009

it’s been a while

Ok so I’ve been a bit lax in my bloggage of late, for that I apologise. I don’t really have an excuse, it’s just that sitting here and typing anything worthy of reading hasn’t been something I’ve felt terribly capable of just recently (and I will admit, this is unlikely to be worth a read either).

Anyway, what have I been up to? Not much of note to be honest. I’ve been out climbing a few times, a few days at Tremadog (amongst other places) ticking off some more of the easier routes, and even managing to haul my arse up the 3-star classic E1, The Plum (yes, I led the crux. No, I did not manage to climb it onsight, for which I blame my head, not my body. I did climb it totally clean though – so I don’t ever have to go back to it, thank god). I should say thank you to Ritchie for getting me up the route, and for not making me lead it all as one pitch – the second ‘half’ was truly harrowing (or at least that’s how it felt to me – maybe it was all the adrenaline surging through my competent but ‘unaccustomed to extreme graded trad lines’ body…).

So I feel like I’m actually a fairly reasonable and capable climber now, just so long as the routes are graded VS. Anything harder and my head does a number on me, and with easier routes I often get scared on the less ‘conventional’ type moves that are supposed to be easy (think oozy, squeezy, chimney udgy type things…eughhhh). Ok so maybe I’m useless, but my ropework and general equipment skills are good at least!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

a new found love

Sport climbing. Maybe it isn’t so bad after all.

On Tuesday I managed to red-point my first 6c, an absolutely cracking limestone route called ‘Traction Control’ at Trevor, Llangollen. I’d first tried this route with Patrick at the end of on Saturday’s easy sport climbing, where we’d just done loads of routes in the 5 – 6b region, I decided I wanted to have a go at this 3 star 6c, as seeing as it was easy to get a top-rope on it (as the lower-off was right next to the lower off for another route Patrick climbed), we had a crack.

The start sequence took a while to fathom, but once that was sorted the rest of the route just sort of fell into place. I didn’t try leading it that day, because by the end of the session I was shattered and my fingers were just crying for a rest.

So, a couple of weeks later I headed back with Mick (and his clip-stick – oh my goodness what an amazing invention. I want one.) Had a couple of goes on a top-rope then just decided to get on with it. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I cruuuuuuuuiiiiiised it. Awesome!

P1000073So, on to a new bolt-clipping challenge. Having never even attempted a route harder than 6b before this one, and having found this lovely 6c actually quite straight forward (all the moves were fine, it was just the working of the sequence that proved a challenge), me thinks it is time to actually find a 7a to work on (and yes, I know I’m missing the grade of 6c+ out completely there). Could my goal of climbing 7a sport actually be achievable before the end of the year? We shall see…

Meanwhile, I still need to get my trad head in gear. Maybe this weekend will see a return to some kind of form? Again…we shall see…

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

running out


I've contemplated doing some serious distances but I just find it all too tedious. Went for a run this morning  - did 7.1miles (11.4km) in 1hr12mins or so, which is pretty slow really (but my circuit laps are incredibly hilly- I used to be much much faster when I was running on flatter surfaces, and I guess I still would be). It’s the first time I've pushed that kind of distance in a while and boy did I feel it towards the end.

Have you ever had a weird sensation of cold when running? Like you've just crossed that barrier of having used all your readily available calories and your metabolism doesn't seem to know what to do, so you feel cold and almost shivery, even though you're running just as hard as you were before? This morning was the third time I've felt like that, it's almost like an extreme fatigue where mentally you just can't imagine being able to finish the route - you've given everything and now you're running out, but you keep going anyway, one step at a time, you grit your teeth and keep going, swallowing the pain and the nausea until eventually you're done - and you hadn't even realised...

I’m not sure if I’m really cut out to be a runner, it’s just not my ‘thing’. Part of me wishes that I could suck it up, train and go run a marathon (a friend of mine got me thinking about this – he’s been a real inspiration to keep me going of late so thank you Anders), it seems like one of those things that you should do at least once in your life and what’s more, it would make my Dad proud. So maybe I should – I’d love to see the look on his face as he stood at the finish line waiting for me. He used to run and compete alot, he ran marathons – running WAS his ‘thing’. I’m sure he is proud of me, and of all the things I’ve achieved so far, but it doesn’t stop me wanting to make him smile and feel that warm glow inside, the one you get when someone you love does something amazing and you feel good to be a part of their small circle. So yeah, a marathon…I’m going to have to think on that one…

So anyway, this week is [hopefully] going to be a turning point for me – I’ve decided that because I still don’t have to go to work, and the main reason I left the world of the employed was so that I could train harder, get fit and become a better climber (well that and so that I wouldn’t end up killing my bosses), I am actually going to get my act together and start training properly. Too little effort, too much time spent reading, watching DVDs, cooking, eating cake, and just generally being lazy of late has not been helping me in my quest – so this week that all changes. I just need to resist the calling of the scones…

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

flying with family

Flying with Lauren 033

Just a cool picture my niece sent me from the day I took her flying (and my mum for a brief if nerve-wracking spell"!)

Friday, 28 August 2009

my head


Ok so I admit it, I have some serious head issues. I mean, what is it that causes me to freak out when climbing a route using hand placed protection? Ok so I’m not the most confident climber anyway (falling? What’s that? I’m too scared to fall indoors let alone out), but it seems that traditional climbing brings out the worst of my issues much more directly and strongly than any other form of climbing. Ok so that may sound logical to most, after all, relying on small wire wedges in sometimes questionable placements has got to be more dangerous than relying on a nice solid resin bolt yeah? Well for me the head issues used to be the other way around, I used to get far more scared on sport routes than traditional ones – a phenomenon I could only reconcile by assuming that the focus and concentration required to place solid gear on a traditional climb brought me a seemingly higher level of confidence in my own mentality and control than the simple clipping of quickdraws required on sport lines. I also used to think that traditional routes may have offered you more freedom of direction and routing than that provided when you have to follow a trail of steel hangers…however, my views of the different forms of climbing have begun to change…more on that soon.

Anyway, this week has been moderately successful training and climbing-wise as I have managed to do a decent length run (admittedly really slowly, more of a jog really I guess), a couple of wall sessions at the Beacon (which were INTENSE), and have been out real climbing on a day where the sky didn’t seem to be caving in on us like someone had left the taps on in the bath and the ceiling had finally given way.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Sport climbing, Trevor Rocks

Ok so for the first time in ages I went bolt clipping. It hadn’t been the original intention but it was what Ritchie and I ended up doing. And it was brilliant. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a day’s climbing so much in a long while, and what’s more I’m hopeful that it will have given me enough of a confidence boost to be able to stop just pottering around so much on trad routes. I’m a far, far better climber than I ever give myself credit for.

So what did we (I) do? We headed over to the Fudd Walls area and clipped some serious bolts! Here is the list:

  • Item 1: Warm up on a 6a (!), ‘All Fudd Up’. Easy onsight. Nice
  • Item 2: A 6a+, ‘Chocolate Fudd’, from which it is more than plausible that the crux holds have fallen off (it was much harder than the 6bs!), and sadly I rested on it.
  • Item 3: A vague feeble attempt at a 6c called ‘Would I, Should I, Fudd I’. Neither of us had the bottle to go beyond the first bolt!
  • Item 4: A 6b called ‘Fudd Off’. I thrilled and surprised myself by onsighting this one (my hardest ever sport onsight!), finding only one hard move. Recovery of QD from the 6c.
  • Item 5: Another 6b, ‘The Fuddites’. This one Ritchie attempted first but failed on (trying not to use a crack feature, which I decided was more than fair game), so after watching him I can only really, truly claim a flash (although to all intents and purposes I onsighted this one too!).
  • Item 6: Some weird ropework at the ledges by the lower-offs (Ritchie walked over to the 6c from ‘The Fuddites’ and lowered down from the ‘Would I, Should I, Fudd I’ lower off bolts in order to rig a top rope on it), led to me running up ‘The Fuddites’ for a second time to strip the ‘draws on second. Again, totally clean!
  • Item 7: Top-roping the 6c (‘Would I, Should I, Fudd I’). Bloody hard. The route is described as having “an intense and reachy sequence”, and boy did it. Happily I managed all the moves on my first proper attempt, completing the route in two continuous halves. Don’t think I’d have the balls to lead it as the crux follows an incredibly committing semi-dynamic layover move to a cruddy sidepull, between the first and second bolts. Whilst you probably wouldn’t deck from the crux (so long as your belayer was on the ball), the possibilty of a deck-out can’t fail to enter your mind. Think I need to find a safer and less insecure feeling 6c to redpoint!
  • Item 8: Moving onwards back towards the car, we stopped at the Compact Walls area, and set off up a 6a+ called ‘The Great Escape’, where the fatigue from a fairly intensive day’s climbing began to rear its ugly head. I got to the last bolt and couldn’t commit to the final couple of moves to get up to the lower off. Gutted. My failure then proceeded to turn into a bit of a circus act as Ritchie also failed to do those last moves up, leading to him making a bizarre and hugely worrying traverse of the crag until he could finally get up to one of the numerous lower-offs. He then had to be lowered off and shift himself across the wall on a truly horrendous diagonal line in order to clean the route. Great fun!

I can honestly say the route ‘Would I, Should I, Fudd I’, graded as French 6c, was the single hardest route I have ever attempted outside. And what’s more, I enjoyed trying it. The hard moves felt good and it was a great feeling to be trying things that actually felt physically hard rather than just mentally. I’m pretty sure now that I could redpoint a 6c in a reasonable period of time – after all, I did ALL of the moves on this one on my first burn. I think that maybe, just maybe, I would actually like to have a crack at some hard sport climbing in the near future. Wow.

Monday, 17 August 2009


Sometimes life is good. Everything seems to be going well: you’re in a great relationship, living comfortably in a really nice house in a fabulous area, you’re secure financially and lovingly supported in your pursuance of ‘a life less stressful’ (i.e. still don’t need to go back to work), you get to go into the mountains to climb, walk or scramble whenever you want to, and you’ve even just managed to bake the most fantastic batch of scones you’ve ever laid eyes on (yes, they really are that good!). But somehow, something still isn’t right.

I don’t know what it is, whether the crack on the head I received in the Alps has caused a horrendous chemical imbalance in my brain that’s causing me to feel this way, or whether I was never destined to break free from the suffocating chains of the depression of years gone by, but things don’t feel good right now.

Sometimes life is good, sometimes bad. When life is bad you tend to find a way to fight through the bad feelings, the lows, the agonies and the depressive moments, your mind copes because it has a reason to – you understand why you feel unhappy and this provides a kind of solace and comfort, or at least that’s how it’s been for me in the past. Right now though life is good, yet I have been suffering those horrible, terrible fraught feelings of desolation and panic I thought I’d left behind in my recovery. Why has it all come back? Why am I finding myself breaking into random sobs in the car? Why do I look at my scars and wonder what it would feel like to gain another? What is this feeling of emptiness and hollow loneliness when I’m not alone? I really don’t know. I just hope it gets better again soon.

Friday, 14 August 2009

climbing words of wisdom, vol 1

In the past few days I have partaken of a range of differing climbing experiences, ranging from bouldering with small children, to teaching ‘less experienced climbers’ the various nuances of trad climbing with double ropes, to climbing in new venues with long walk-ins and disgusting descents. In these past few days the following little snippets of sensibility have made themselves apparent to me and so I thought I would share:

  • Approach shoes are fantastic things. Small enough and light enough to clip onto the back of your harness so you needn’t risk your life on steep wet grassy banks in shoes that are about as grippy as a wet turd in a sewer pipe. Approach shoes (or at least the amazing 5.10 tennies I’m now the proud owner of) are also often capable of climbing quite well, so for easier routes you may not even need to go through the modern day rock shoe ‘foot-binding’ ritual. Brilliant, or at least they are when you DON’T leave them in the boot of your car. D’oh.
  • Wet slimy rock really is just that, wet and slimy. There is no getting around it – if the rock is wet and slimy, it is going to be manky and frictionless. Remember this.
  • Scary Incompetence comes in all shapes and sizes, and believe me there is a never ending supply of terrifyingly incompetent actions that can be made within the realms of the climbing world for you to become witness to. If you ever think to yourself “well, now I’ve seen it all!”, you are wrong. You will never, ever have seen it all, and there will always be someone, somewhere, who will be capable and keenly ready to display even more terrifying and unsafe actions than you previously even considered to be possible. Trust me on this one.
  • When out for a pleasant day’s climbing, lunch is a really good idea. Whilst surviving on the ‘emergency’ chocolate supplies buried in your rucksack is occasionally permissible, it is usually a good idea to actually have a think about your day to come, and to pre-prepare some kind of sustenance for yourself.
  • Nut keys are an absolute essential for anyone climbing trad. They are useful in a whole host of situations, not just when you’re seconding a route where your mate has seemingly devised a never-ending trail of chinese puzzles instead of simple gear placements…For example, when leading there are a number of situations that may require the use of said nut key, from the fairly obvious “oh crap that nut has gone in at a strange angle, will never hold a fall yet seems to be permanently stuck” moments when you do actually need to re-adjust some failed gear placement, to the more obscure, but even more vital, ‘removal of wildlife from vital holds’, usually being of the spider or slug variety. The wildlife removal may also be necessary as a second or belayer – occasionally, you just may find yourself faced with a huge caterpillar sitting on your nice neat pile of rope…


Friday, 31 July 2009

Cneifion Arete

Ok so today I decided against going cragging with a random UKC’er who hasn’t let on what sort of grade he climbs as yet (I at least need info before I commit to climb with someone), but instead chose to do the 1 3/4 hour drive up to Ogwen and repeat the Cneifon Arete.

Ok so my original intention was that the next time I did this route I would continue it on and descend via Bristly Ridge as per Patrick’s [excellent] suggestion. Today that wasn’t to be as I didn’t manage to crawl my way out of bed until some time around 11am, after which I needed breakfast and then to pack my ‘sac. All this meant that I didn’t actually arrive at Ogwen Cottage until just before 3pm. Shocking I know.

Anyway, I headed out at bang on 3 o’clock and made fairly reasonable progress up past Llyn Idwal and to the base of the route. I say reasonable progress because it wasn’t a blistering pace by any means, but neither was I ‘hanging about’.

Now, the weather of late has been taking the mickey somewhat, one minute it’s sunny and the next it’s hooning down. Today was no exception – I started out in overcast but pleasant conditions, slightly boggy underfoot because of all the recent rain, a bit of a breeze with the odd strong gust, but nothing to write home about. I did most of the walk-in in just a T-shirt. This was soon to change…

No sooner had I committed myself to the initial ‘Mod’ section of the route, it started to rain. 'Twas a deceptively pleasant drizzle initially – the kind of lazy, unassuming type of rain that usually stops after a couple of minutes, like the clouds just can’t be bothered any more. Unfortunately I think the clouds were watching me and were in need of a laugh – they patiently waited for me to be completely committed to the route (Mod followed by Grade 3 scramble), and then proceeded to slowly and very patiently drench everything, including all my underwear.

I just had to keep telling myself that this was the entire point of the exercise – I need to be able to handle committing positions in crap conditions, and seeing as this was exactly what I’d got, that really, I should be grateful for the training opportunity. Somehow though, these thoughts were struggling against the other thoughts my mind was spontaneously producing against my nobler wishes: “I want to get off”, “if I slip this is going to be really, really bad”, “these walking boots are completely useless on rock this wet and slippery”, “what the hell am I doing this for?”, “where would be safe to sit whilst I wait for the Mountain Rescue Team?”, amongst others…Sadly my other attempts at focussing on more important issues like my pile of ironing still left to do, and which recipe for fruit scones I’m going to try first failed to improve matters…

On a serious note though, my walking boots really are not all that brilliant for scrambling, they are adequate, but not brilliant. My gorgeous new 5.10 approach shoes are, however, completely wonderful – I’ve even climbed VS in them! So why wasn’t I wearing them? Especially when this kind of thing is exactly what I bought them for? Simple answer: bog. They do not handle bogs, puddles or streams at all well (they’re just a trainer for goodness sake, what do you expect?). Hence today was most definitely a walking boot day as much of the approach and descent had become nothing more glamorous than a bog-trot.

Thankfully, climbing with a rucksac is a fairly familiar and standard exercise and so this didn’t prove to be much of a hindrance.

Once I’d gained the top and the power of positive thinking had finally proven its worth, the descent became the fairly obvious next priority, and I decided, being of a rather competitive nature, to see if I could catch the guys in front (who had just been finishing at the top of the Arete as I had started at the bottom). This was a stupid idea really as they were quite a long way ahead, nevertheless, not only did I catch them, I overtook and left them for dust! YES! Small victories…I think that maybe I was in need of something to take my mind of the fact that the rather impressive resistance put up to the rain by my softshell had finally failed and I was beginning to get damp…

So what did I learn from today’s experience? Well, to start with, when I pull my finger out I can actually impress myself: I was quite pleased with the way I handled the utterly sh*te conditions, and also very pleased with the (to me) remarkably quick time I made – 1:45 car to car.

Kit lessons:

Contact lenses are AWESOME in cruddy conditions like this. Today I was using the first of my five trial pairs to see how they would cope. Let’s just say I’m converted. There were times on the Arete where having totally misted and water covered glasses would not have been ideal. I’m actually still wearing them now, some 11 hours after I first put them in and my eyes aren’t complaining even the tiniest little bit, so I think I may well be investing…

Softshells are also AWESOME. But then, I’ve been saying that ever since I bought my rather expensive jacket. It’s not just that it was expensive though – it’s proven it’s worth many, many times over now, being perfect for ice climbing, alpine climbing, general cragging and scrambling and even going to the pub (it doesn’t look shabby!). Today was its first real test in the rain though. Normally, if it’s raining I will put a waterproof on (as you do – this is after all what they’re for), but my location at which the thought “hmm it’s raining properly now, my waterproof would be a great thing to put on” occurred was somewhat less than ideal (i.e. I was tenuously back-and-footing my way up a sopping wet chimney groove) and by the time I was actually able to stand with a degree of stability sufficient to take of my pack, my jacket was already wet all over – so I figured I’d just leave the waterproof off and see how the softshell coped. Anyway, it did excellently. I think it must have taken a solid half hour of medium heavy rain for it to finally begin to lose the battle, probably not much less time than my waterproof anyway, given the conditions.

Monday, 27 July 2009

lack of climbing

Climbing of late hasn’t quite been going to plan. I really want and need to be getting out cragging more – or at least I do if the weather holds for more than a few hours at a time.

So why haven’t things been going to plan? Well primarily it has been a lack of decent weather – take yesterday for instance: Patrick had come over and I wanted to go and do some nice mountain VS’s on Glyder Fach, and maybe Noah’s Warning on Dinas Cromlech (VS/HVS). All would have been great apart from the tiny little matter of the driving heavy rain in the morning. So we ended up cruising the shops in Betwys-y-coed, having tea and cake and then doing a scramble – up Bristly Ridge to the summit of Glyder Fach and back down Gribin Ridge. Not a bad day really, but we weren’t climbing!

Oh, the other slight issue has been one of me, my time and my priorities. Last week I headed back to Bucks for two nights – obviously using up three days of potential climbing time (although this wasn’t simply a waste of time as I did manage to fly some circuits at Halton in between thunderstorms, thereby keeping my license current – phew). I’m not sure the weather was that great back here over those three days anyway, but given some motivation, I could have gotten out walking or scrambling or running (fitness, fitness, FITNESS).

So when did I last climb? That would be Monday, my Monday climbing session with Dave. Great, we headed over to Maeshafn and Pot Hole Quarry – two Clwyd venues I hadn’t yet been to. At Maeshafn I led a nice little VS called ‘Puppy Power’, finding the only difficulties to be in working out what the guidebook meant by a ‘shallow groove’ and then the top out – a tenuous horribly mantle onto a very steep mud bank. Lovely. Dave led another VS, ‘Layback on me’, a very misleadingly named route that was much less layback, more tenuous step up. Hmm. Anyway, after our depressingly poor efforts we decided to head over to Pot Hole Quarry, where we were hoping for less mud and more pleasant top outs…

Pot Hole Quarry, small, compact, very near vertical and thereby fairly intimidating looking climbing. I thing the routes are probably really cool – there looked to be an abundance of positive holds and cracks. I say there ‘looked to be’, because I didn’t actually get to climb anything here – our jolly little afternoon in the sun, bimbling around on easy(ish) routes was about to be gut brutally short by Dave coming off the route he was on, only to have his sole piece of gear (a friend, unfortunately notoriously unstable in polished limestone cracks) rip out, sending him tumbling to the ground and a very solid rock ledge. My only use was as a spotter, as belaying had been rendered totally unnecessary by the sudden dearth of gear – so I tried to catch him…I like to think that I somehow stopped him landing on his head and ending up with some kind of horrendous neck or back injury, but we have no real way of knowing if I was really of any use. After avidly telling me he was fine, and me having checked him over to make sure he hadn’t actually broken his back or anything, Dave then decided, in a very matter-of-fact manner, that he thought that maybe, just maybe, he’d broken his foot…

Long story short, after an agonising ‘hop’ out to the car and an even more agonising wait at the hospital (probably more painful for me as by then I was absolutely starving), the poor sod has basically obliterated his heel. Operations involving metalwork and possibly bone grafting are what I’m now told he may well have ahead of him, along with several long months of simply not being able to walk on it at all, let alone drive or even climb. I feel terrible for him, and Dave, if you’re reading this – I wish you well mate and you’re in my thoughts. I hope I haven’t been too unfair in writing this account!

So yeah, weather, me not being able to prioritise properly or even get myself motivated, and losing a partner due to an accident have all been reasons I haven’t been climbing anywhere near as much as I should have done. So what’s today’s excuse? Well, I’m tired, lack motivation and need to get the house in order before our friends come to stay tomorrow. I really should be out scrambling in the Rhinogs or something, but actually, the housework and other chores (including finally making myself an appointment to get some contact lenses!!!) have taken over in priority today. Ho hum!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Alpine trip review

Ok so it’s about time I actually wrote something about my trip to the Alps (other than how much my head hurts).

I’m a bit sad and disappointed really, that in such a length of trip we only actually managed to complete two routes. These route were the Arete des Cosmiques (Aiguille du Midi) and the Gouter Ridge to the summit of Mont Blanc.

The Arete des Cosmiques was our first route of the trip (and my first ever Alpine route), and was chosen because of its shortness and relative simplicity, being a route that actually finishes at the Aiguille du Midi Telepherique station and also having a very short approach. The guidebooks tell us this route should be completed in 2-3 hours and is pretty simple technically. So how did we end up on the route for close to 8 hours and feel the need to bypass the crux pitch via a heinous and even harder ice chimney (scottish IV or V)? Simple – the queues. I won’t go into this any more right now as my rant on how insanely slow and incompetent certain parties (sadly mainly British) and how rude and discourteous other parties (mainly continental) really are could take up many many pages and simply wouldn’t be worth reading. All I will say is we chose the ice chimney after waiting, stood totally still, for over half an hour (!) whilst a guy hung from slings on the aid pegs on the 5m high crux crack (which is only 4b free apparently), seemingly incapable of getting up the thing. Half an hour! And we were in a queue!


Ok so that could have been a better experience. I can see how the route earns its ‘classic’ status – if it hadn’t been for the interminable nausea of the waiting around I’m sure I would have really enjoyed it.

After I’d recovered from my first ever altitude induced headache, on Tuesday we set off for the Gouter hut where we were going to be staying to start our summit bid early on Wednesday morning. A lovely day, nice weather, sunshine. Wearing approach shoes and carrying our heavy rigid mountain boots in our bags we set out from the train station at the Nid D’aigle, on a long but initially simple walk. All was good until we reached the short glacier crossing to reach the Tete Rousse hut. Short it may have been, but what we neglected to realise was that it was virtually a river in the middle…so picture the scene, both of us tip-toeing across the snow in our entirely insubstantial trainers, big rucksacks on, seemingly in complete control. All good so until suddenly…”sploooshhh!” What are essentially just lightweight trainers are clearly no match for several inches of icy water. We reached the Tete Rousse hut swearing profusely with very wet, cold feet. Still, at least I’d remembered my thick mountain socks (poor Patrick had tragically left his drying back in the apartment).

From the Tete Rousse hut (now wearing big boots, with sopping wet shoes in bags, destined not to dry out properly until the end of the trip), another glacier crossing (complete with fixed cable) and a long(ish) ridge scramble led us up to the hovel that is the high mountain Gouter hut. Now, I say hovel, simply due to the state of the toilets. Honest to goodness I’ve never experienced anything quite so hellish in my life (bearing in mind I spent time wading through blood and wreckage in the aftermath of the 7/7 tube bombings). There simply is no way to describe just how dire they were.*

Now, my idea of a good night’s sleep involves a large, warm, comfy bed with nice crisp, clean sheets and a gorgeous man to snuggle up to. This wasn’t quite the experience I was going to get at the Gouter hut. Ok so there wasn’t exactly a shortage of men – I was sharing a mattress with about 10 of them! The room itself may have contained a further 20 or 30, all smelly, snoring, self-obsessed and not in the least bit considerate of the fairer gender. Oh, and lord only knows when those sheets get changed or cleaned…still, I wasn’t in there long – everyone was up by 1:50am for breakfast.

And what a breakfast it was! Two tiny pieces of stale bread and an old crepe, complete with a mini portion of jam, a shot glass of orange juice and a small bowl of tea (no milk). Awesome. Just what you need when you’re about to spend 14 hours or so climbing Europe’s highest mountain.


Anyway, we summitted at around 9am, having left the hut at about 3:15. Not particularly fast, but I’d been going strong all the way, strangely not seeming to suffer with the altitude much at all (I’d been the slow one, puffing and panting my way up to the hut the day before, but on the mountain I was the one having to slow my pace and wait for Patrick). Unfortunately for both of us, I am officially, a COMPLETE IDIOT.

For any of you thinking of heading up Mont Blanc any time soon – may I offer one very simple tip. Don’t be an idiot. Wear warm technical clothing, not lightweight summer trekking trousers (I have no idea what I was thinking – I never wear anything other than my heavy duty thick winter climbing troos in snow normally – what the hell went through my mind when I left them behind? Honestly I don’t know). Also, TAKE A FLEECE, some kind of MIDLAYER. All I had was a baselayer and a T-shirt under my softshell jacket (and then my belay jacket on top, without which I would simply never have made it). I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand what caused my ridiculous and dangerous errors of judgement in packing…

Long story short, I got to the summit feeling strong but dangerously cold. The higher we had gotten, the slower we had needed to go (Patrick was struggling to breathe a little and so we needed to stop every few paces). This should not have been a problem, but as we reached the Bosses ridge, the wind came in over the mountains, ravenously cold, biting hard through my highly inadequate trousers and seeming to drain all the warmth from my body. If I’d have been able to keep moving at my own pace, and not keep stopping (sorry Patrick, honestly I am not blaming you in the slightest), I may have been ok, but as it was, by the time we got back down to the Vallot emergency refuge I was cold beyond sanity. My coordination and balance had gone and I simply fell into the snow. It was all I could do to get inside and into Patrick’s bivi bag where I would sit and shiver for an hour before we decided that I either had to get myself down or we were calling the helicopter. We made our way slowly back down to the hut (although I can’t remember most of the descent, I think I must have been in some kind of semi-hypothermic stupor). Once down Patrick presented me with a bowl of steaming hot Spaghetti bolognese, a can of drink and a hot chocolate. It was the best meal I’ve had in a fair old while I can tell you! (Up at the refuge I had been unable to eat or drink because of the altitude, but once back down to a sensible height felt ravenous!). After eating we made our way slowly back down the ridge to the Tete Rousse hut where we were to spend the night (we had originally intended to get back down to the train that day, but had taken too long and so had to spend another night on the mountain), where we had another meal and watched the wind and snow outside! The Tete Rousse hut was an altogether more civilised place that, despite still not having any running water, at least had a CLEAN toilet and some pleasant comfy dormitory beds.

The following morning we made it down to catch the first train back to the valley, despite the walk/scramble down now having a blanket of some 2 inches of fresh snow and some very variable visibility. We stumbled back into the apartment at something like 11:30am, then slept.

The next couple of days were spent ‘chilling’, the first because I really needed it, the second because I proved myself to be a true coward and bottling out of heading up the Frendo Spur to the bivi. We did meet an interesting couple up near the Telepherique station, but they are another story…

Saturday was to be our single day attempt at the Frendo Spur after I’d wimped out of the bivi’ing option. Sadly this attempt wasn’t to be, as I was struck on the back of the head by a rock roughly the size of half a brick (see a previous posting).

*One particularly grim experience with these toilets went thus: Me (in desperation), going to do the necessary (in this instance a VERY necessary number 2 I had been holding out against for hours), eventually managing to get the job done into the eco-toilet that may well NEVER HAVE BEEN CLEANED (picture it, caked on splattered excrement, pretty much everywhere, me battling to stay upright and not touch the seat, slippered feet sliding around on the FROZEN PEE all over the floor). The next phase, wiping and disposing of the by now somewhat corrupted paper. Should be simple no? Ok firstly, you’re not meant to throw much paper down these water-less eco toilets so most of it is deposited into a small plastic bin inside the cubicle, but obviously the worst bits can’t go in those bins (that would be just too nasty!) so the very worst goes down the hole to join the main bulk of offending sludge. Again a very obvious and simple concept yes? Well the critical detail I haven’t yet mentioned was the snow falling and the rather strong wind blowing outside (we’d just made it back down from the summit and the weather was turning a touch unpleasant). Ok. Eco-toilet – where the stuff simply falls into a big pile that is fully exposed to the elements – you can see daylight shining back up at you. Strong wind. Very lightweight flappy paper being deposited through the open air poo portal…

I’m sure it would have been utterly hilarious to anyone who could have seen (although they would have needed to have been pretty perverted to have even been there) – the toilet paper is dropped down the hole and then almost immediately proceeds to fly BACK UP, rising some 4 feet into the air, right towards MY FACE. Lots of panicked flailing as I desperately tried to grab the unsoiled edges as the stuff was flapping and floating in the breeze like some kind of sordid phantom then occurred, several times (as it took some 3 or 4 attempts to catch enough of a lull in the wind for the stuff to actually drop down and stick to something).