Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A mixed bag in the Northern Corries

Having spent the previous 6 days in the mountains completing our Winter ML Training, Piers and I were super keen to get some climbing in before heading back to Yorkshire and work on Monday. We opted for the short walk in to Coire an t'Sneachda to grab a couple of routes before driving back. Unfortunately for us it was Sunday and a really early start was necessary to beat the crowds, and we left the ski centre at half 7, with several teams already ahead of us.

We arrived in the corrie to see two other teams kitting up, fortunately for us we were all heading for different routes. The cloud was low and it definitely seemed a bit warmer than the last few days as we made our way up to the popular route of Fingers Ridge. This 3 star classic has always caught my eye, with the iconic 'fingers' being visible on the skyline from across the coire. 

The route didn't disappoint, with sections of mixed climbing broken up by patches of perfect neve. We made rapid progress in great positions right in the centre of the coire, maintaining interest with good hooks, gear and ice providing sustained but never desperate climbing. Once we had threaded the fingers giving a good bit of exposure we headed to the top of the coire.

 After a swift descent down the well tracked Goat Track, we traversed across the coire to the Aladdin's buttress. Our next objective was Original Route on the left hand side if the buttress. The beginning of the first pitch was deceptively awkward even though it was only 15m long, poor hooks and spaced gear made it feel pretty spicy. An easier pitch of a few blocky steps an snow slope lead us to the base of the main pitch. The snow on the route was definitely poorer than on Fingers Ridge with a cruddy layer on top making it pot luck as too whether I hit the patches of good neve. 

 The top pitch followed a short steep corner before a step across onto a traverse of a narrow ledge, in a brilliant position overlooking Aladdin's Couloir before pulling through a series of rocky steps on cruddy snow lead to the top. One abseil gained the lower section of Aladdin's Couloir and a quick descent to the bottom of the coire. 

A great days climbing rounded of a top week of meeting new people, lots of learning and spending more quality time in the Scotland, I just hope I can get get another trip up before the end of this season.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Scottish Mountains, sunshine and blue skies

Over the last week I have been up in the Cairngorms on my Winter Mountain Leader Training. Throughout the whole week the weather has been amazing, pretty cold with blue skies giving us great views across the national park. We were based in Grantown on Spey just to the North, which gave us a number of options for venues to escape the crowds of the Northern Corries. The course was run by Pete Hill MIC for 6 trainees looking to develop and consolidate our skills to, after an assessment, take groups in to the demanding winter mountain environment. The structure of the course enabled us all to get the most out of Pete and a lot of learning took place. The course covered areas such as: ice axe arresting, crampon techniques, step cutting, steep ground anchors, night navigation, snow holing, avalanche awareness, group management and loads more. It was an intense course, with 6 days in the mountains wearing everyone down mentally as well as physically.

Ice axe arresting, an essential but often overlooked skill necessary for traveling in the winter environment. Just think, when was the last time you practiced ice axe arresting? Bet it's been a while, like myself, it is not a skill that many people purposely go to the mountains to practice. We spent a good part of our first day on the course practicing, analysing and coaching each other on the 3 main variations of the arrest; sliding sat up face forwards, on your front head first and on your back head first. Each variation requires its own sequence of movements to finish in an successful arrest. Following milder temperatures last week the current cold air had consolidated the snow pack to make it really stable and hard, which made for fast sliding. It was really beneficial for us all to work on this skill as we worked with each other and Pete to scrutinise every slide as there are so many parts to the overall arrest it is easy to forget one whilst concentrating on another.


The final 2 days of the course were spent on a mini expedition with an overnight in a snow hole. I had only snow holed once before on a trip to the Cairngorms with university. I remembered it as a cold, wet, unorganised affair, but still being a brilliant experience. We headed into the small corrie of Ciste Mhearad above the ski runs and close to the summit of Cairngorm. Our snow holes were based on a Kaloo design with a Christmas tree shape dug into the snow pack before mushrooming the inside with a platform to sleep on before covering the upper triangular section with snow blocks leaving a small entrance with room to crawl through. Digging our snow hole took around three and a half hours and is pretty intense work. As the sun began to set and dropped out of view, the temperature dropped significantly, hitting -8 at 4pm. Inside the temperature was a lot more bearable, and with a few candles dotted about on shelves cut into the snow, creating a warm orange glow within our kaloo. I was glad to get back into the kaloo after spending a few hours out on night navigation in the evening, and get into the warmth of my sleeping bag. It was surprisingly comfortable warm nights sleep, and completely changed my view on snow holing. What a great experience to be in the middle of such a wild, hostile environment but escape the elements in a shelter that you have created yourself.

For anyone interested in finding out more about the Winter Mountain Leader Award some info can be found here:

Also worth checking out is Pete Hill's website if you're interested in any mountain courses or awards:

I have also created a Winter ML top tips page from the notes I made during my course, hopefully a worthwhile resource for anyone involved on the Winter ML scheme.

Friday, 15 February 2013

A Day of Firsts on Scafell

I had thought a lot of Lakes winter was almost all gone following the thaw through early last week, I was really surprised and highly motivated after seeing Rock+Run post photos of Moss Ghyll, Scafell on the Saturday! I had a day off on Tuesday so formed a plan for a one day hit round to Wasdale.
John leading up Steep Ghyll Direct V,5
On the 11th feb John and I headed up to wasdale head ready for an early start to Scafell the following morning! We had decided on a route and waited to see how things were looking up there, after a brief thaw on Sunday. The snow level was down to about 300m with a couple of inches of fresh powder atop of surviving neve. The approach was faster than I remember, last time was slogging up to climb Central Buttress in scorching sunshine! No sunshine this time, nicely overcast, cloud just above the summits and a really still wind made for pretty pleasant conditions.

We first headed up Steep Ghyll direct V, 5, John put in a sterling effort on the lead, with the sloping rock strata making edges for crampons almost none existent. This meant John had to throw some shapes to make progress up this steep chimney!

Me leading the traverse pitch
We soloed up an easier section of Steep Ghyll before I lead a traverse cutting left across the buttress to the main feature of our chosen routes, Slingsby's Chimney. There was quite a bit of powder on the route, meaning protection was hard won after much digging and the uncertainty as to the solidity of each step lead for quite a spicy pitch.
Me looking up to Slingsby's Chimney
 We had a right battle with Slingsby's Chimney, causing us some frustration. Powder in the back of the chimney made for poor placements and awkward positions restricted available foot placements. I got super pumped, completely locked my left arm for what seemed like an age, unable to get to my harness to place any gear, desperately searching for a good hook with my right axe, nothing! I got the disco leg, but could not throw any moves to progress up the chimney. Deep breaths, desperately trying to relax, I tried to move up but then my hooks became unstable, the right one ripped, I managed to hold the slip, purely by my shoulders wedging into the chimney, I tried to reverse the moves back to the belay. The blood in my forearms were now full of lactic acid, my hands ended up uncurling from my axes, and I took the short fall on my gear! My first winter fall!

 I didn't like the failure, and have always climbed with the rule that 'you can not fall in winter' and that is what I tell people I climb with in winter. I revelled in the challenge, we were only 7 metres from the easier ground leading to the summit, I tried once more, but again got stuck in a similar position, this time reversing the moves, defeated.

John trying to find an alternative route
 John attempted an alternative finish, traversing up and to the left, making delicate moves across some blank slabs with marginal hooks, but again could not find a way through a further section of steeper ground to the top, so returned to me at the belay. From there we retreated, making a long abseil back down into Steep Ghyll and descended off the mountain. My first winter retreat!

On this day the Lakes winter was definitely not over and still provided us with a serious challenge on one of the many quality mountain crags in the area. It was a day of firsts for myself, and key milestones within my climbing were crossed. I am only positive about this experience and believe it will help me to grow as a climber. I am now looking forward to heading back up to Scotland on sunday for the following week on my Winter Mountain Leader Training.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

First dry rock of 2013 - Slipstones

 Slipstones - 2/2/13

So after a pretty mixed January of snow, major thaws, near floods and generally rubbish weather, there was some respite. One good sunny, cold day, and I was off work. Jack, Piers and myself headed up to Slipstones and I was super keen to be on my first dry rock of 2013. The sun was shining and at some points the rock was almost too warm, even t-shirt weather.

 It was great to be back on the grit, it had been a while and I wasn't expecting much. I was just keen to get some mileage in, spurred on by new found enthusiasm. The grit at Slipstones is great quality, very little if any polish, the rock is really pure. Definitely worth a visit if you haven't been before.
We all had a cracking days climbing, enjoying the crisp air, friction and most of all, dry rock.

I was stocked with my session enjoying the movement of being on rock again, climbing a range of problems up to V5 as well as being inspired by some harder problems. A reason to head back soon! And the sign of a good grit day, pink fingertips, and the inability to hold a cup of tea for the next few days!

Monday, 11 February 2013

2013 - A new approach to my climbing!

So for 2013 I have decided to write a blog about my climbing, and time spent outdoors, in particular the mountain environment that I am so passionate about. My plan is for it to provide a more in depth record of my climbing, somewhere for me to reflect on these experiences and a way to share them with others.

After a pretty wet and miserable 2012 with not as much progress within my climbing as I would have liked, I am using 2013 and the new year as a fresh start setting myself a series of goals to achieve in the forth coming year. This blog will aid my focus and motivate me to keep working towards these goals, by allowing me to record my adventures, talk about the routes I have climbed and develop my writing.