Wednesday 27 January 2010

tower ridge

On Monday Patrick and I did manage to set off to the Ben after that stupidly early alarm clock (and unfortunately for me, not much sleep as I just couldn’t stop thinking about the route!), for my first time on Tower Ridge (and his 4th or 5th!).

I’ve wanted to do this route for a while now, since before I’d even been to Ben Nevis (which, for the record was for the first time around this time last year when I first met Patrick and we climbed Ledge Route, but I digress…)

Tower Ridge is the longest winter route in the UK, although its actual length remains somewhat of a mystery to me – one of our guidebooks quotes 800m, another 600-1000m. So I guess the actual length depends on where you consider the start to be – at a guess it is 600m from the Douglas Gap (reached by climbing up a gulley on the East side of the Douglas Boulder).

Snow conditions weren’t ideal, with some sections of very scary loose powder on top of…well not much really, meaning the sections of snow that were good, felt amazing.

The three cruxes – the starting chimney (where I managed to get myself into a right pickle and only managed to progress by using a combination of bare hands and axes and crampons on rock and knees on whatever the hell I could get them onto, needless to say I looked like a real pro!), the chimney thing after the Eastern Traverse (which Patrick led as I did the Traverse itself, and which turned out to be really rather ‘out there’) and Tower Gap, were all of course in do-able condition, but possibly harder than when conditions are somewhat better!

I hate to admit how hard and scary I found Tower Gap, but place that down to how tired I was feeling by then and how little food I’d eaten all day. Anyway, it was done eventually and the final exit slopes were wonderful, especially after I was on the top!!

I’m not going to talk about why the descent took us 4 hours…but you can all simply assume that we were being very VERY blonde…

IMG_0132 Starting chimney (above Douglas Gap)

IMG_0137 The Little Tower

IMG_0146 Me on the Eastern Traverse

SDC10224 View over to the summit

scottish winter mush swimming

Well yesterday I got back home after another wee trip north of the border, this time to the west – Fort William being home base.

Friday was spent travelling up whilst going slowly mad listening to Abba. Yes, that’s right – Abba. I actually now can’t quite remember what it was exactly that started the initial Abba conversation, but that doesn’t really matter – what does matter is that we ended up listening to ‘Abba Gold’ for a good portion of the journey once we were north of Glasgow. This was fine for a while, until our minds began to wander away into the mist, eventually becoming lost in a white out of ridiculous new ad-libbed lyrics, all on a porno theme, all sung at full volume in order to overpower the originals. Lots of giggling ensued, especially after my rendition of ‘Dogging Queen’…

Ok back on topic: Saturday we had originally planned to head up to the Ben to do Tower Ridge, but after arriving at some stupid time in the evening on Friday (and then having to eat etc etc), neither of us could quite face setting the alarm for 5am. Hence the slightly daft (given the conditions and forecasts) idea to head up to Aonach Mor.

Now, I’d never climbed on Aonach Mor before, and was [mistakenly] under the impression that it was a short easy walk-in after you got off the Gondola. I wasn’t completely expecting a chair-lift ride (which, actually was in a sad way rather exciting for me, having never ridden a proper chair lift before), followed by a 40min hack up hill to get to the top of the East Face. Still, in hindsight it was actually quite a short, easy walk-in in Scottish terms, just not in my weedy little anglo-welsh terms. Hmm.

So once at the top (with only 3 other teams present…surprising for a weekend), we headed to the top of Easy Gulley where I was to be presented with a couple more things I’d never really done before – abseiling over a cornice (free hanging for a brief moment!), off of a snow bollard. Now, I’ve played with snow bollards before, and I’ve seen and avoided cornices, but this was something new and not a little unnerving, but thankfully uneventful.

Once at the bottom we headed round to find our route. We had originally thought of having a look at doing the classic grade IV, ‘White Shark’, but when we couldn’t even spot it, we ended up round at the foot of ‘Left Twin’, another crag classic where one of the other parties we’d met at the top were engaged in battle. By this point Patrick had realised he’d dropped an axe somewhere and after a brief moment of swearing, headed off to find it whilst I sat and amused myself at the base of the route.

From below it looked fine – straight forward grade III. No problemo, or at least it wouldn’t have been had the snow been even vaguely consolidated and the ice partially hard. Sadly both snow and ice were mushy. Patrick nobly led the first pitch to a good belay, but unfortunately for me, whilst I was seconding up the near vertical mush section, the guys above dislodged a load of snow which slide merrily down the gulley and funnelled straight onto me with the force of a medium sized waterfall. Another first – being hit by a spindrift avalanche. Yummy.

So once I had finally swum my way up to the belay I found myself feeling tired, shaky and less than happy – so I assumed the position of ‘weedy girl partner’ and let Patrick lead the next pitch too. All I will say about that pitch is the gear was shite (ice screws in mush that would probably have pulled out by hand), the snow/ice was shite (axes slicing nicely through like knives in butter – not really what you want), and a couple of moves at the top were on vertical rime. You can imagine how fun it wasn’t. Once at the top of this pitch I ran up the final one and over the cornice to the top and safety.

The guidebook does say that Left Twin gets Grade IV in poor condition, and I would completely agree with this – it was in a serious and not a completely straight forward condition when we did it. Nice. But still, all winter experience is useful – climbing crud definitely gives you a good grounding of skills and knowledge.

Thursday 21 January 2010

climbers for knitwear

My friend and climbing partner Matt has started a new group on Facebook to try to raise the profile of the humble knitted jumper within the climbing community. Inspired by footage of Johnny Dawes in Stone Monkey,

Matt has decided that ‘Fairisle Jumpers’ should once again become fashionable with climbers.
Hell, maybe it could all tie in with the lycra revolution too?

So go on, show your support! Join the knitwear resurgence!

(Note: shamefully, I do not actually have a knitted jumper as yet, but I promise, if I did (or do get one soon), I would wear it to climb in on occasion!)

Monday 11 January 2010

bitter and twisted

Sadly this is not a positive post, despite a good few days enjoying the wonderful cold and icy conditions Wales has currently been offering.

No, this is not a pleasant musing over some gorgeous ‘alpine’ weather days and beautiful mountain situations.

This, is a rant.

Firstly I want to say a massive thank you to the ‘climber’ (one of a group of three soloists, who were so rude, technically inept and downright dangerous it wasn’t even a good laugh watching), who failed to shout a warning after he dislodged a 2-3kg chunk of ice from the ice fall some 45m above us, and which hit me firmly on the top of the head. If you happen to read this (and I know who you are!) then I would appreciate a payment being sent to me to cover the cost of my new helmet (either cash or cheque would be fine – just email me and I will give you an address to post to). Also, one quick word of advice – either learn how to climb ice competently and thereby safely if you are going to continue soloing routes at all, or just learn to use a rope and gear, that way at least you’ll be a touch safer whilst you flail.

Whoooo. Ok so now that one is off my chest, a slightly less bitter and more generalised rant about winter climbing and the prolific availability of information via the internet.

Now, information and communication can hardly be argued to be a bad thing, and this is not what I am trying to say. However, the likes of the ‘definitive’ conditions blogs and UKC are providing very easy means for every climber who has ever so much as sneezed at an ice route to know where to go to find Welsh ice routes in good condition. Not a bad thing at all you may think? Well it wouldn’t be if the more popular and perhaps more easily accessible or ‘classic’ areas and routes weren’t suddenly being inundated by climbers whose skill levels are often akin to my level of ability at glass blowing (which for those of you who don’t know, is something I have never tried, and therefore something I’m unlikely to be good at…). Routes have long queues (for the sake of your sanity DO NOT go to the Devil’s Kitchen on a weekend, not unless you really want to experience the ice climbing equivalent of Stanage on a sunny bank holiday). The main problem in my mind however, is not so much the need to queue for routes, as people’s complete lack of consideration and etiquette (cat’s cradle with ropes as 3 pairs compete for the same 3m wide strip of ice?!), and often, lack of ability meaning the routes are quite literally being hacked to pieces. How there have not been more accidents lately I do not know.

So please, if you go and climb a classic ice fall that isn’t currently known about by the general population, for god’s sake don’t go and post on UKC about how fabulous it was, or let Baggy Richards know so he can tell the world it is in condition (no offence Baggy, I think your blog and the work you’re doing with it is awesome, but sometimes a little knowledge is good to keep quiet about eh?).

Sunday 3 January 2010

welsh winter

Some pretty pictures from New Years Day in Cwm Idwal.

 FILE0091 FILE0095