Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Deep in Cairngorm Powder

     I drove up to Aviemore early on Sunday morning and made the essential stop at Tesco and headed up through Glenmore to the lower ski centre car park. My bag was packed ready for the trip ahead and the day was growing late, 2:30pm as we started up onto the hill. The plan was to walk in over Cairngorm towards Loch Avon and stay in the Hutchinson Memorial Hut. The snow was soft and the going tough as we zig zagged our way up through the ski tows, working on our timings as we went. We were concentrating too much on our map work that we hadn't noticed the darkness coming in and soon enough the head torches were out. 
Piers heading off into the clag on Cairngorm
     The bright lights and droning noise of the piste bashers driving up and down the slopes reminded us of the infrastructure and development on this mountain and how different I would feel in a couple of hours time as we walking within the deeper Cairngorms. One driver thought we were lost and wandering the mountain, with the car only 20 minutes away, but I guess it has probably happened. He gave even funnier looks when I replied that we'd only just set off and were walking into a hut over the back of Cairngorm. As we passed the Ptarmigan and onto Cairngorm summit the wind increased and it began to snow, another group of eight walked by and the line of torches nodded as I nodded back. 
The Hutchinson Memorial Hut, Cairngorms
     We bumped into another torch as we descended off Cairngorm towards the 1141 cairn. Ben was knelt in the snow, bag off, looking at his map. Turns out he was headed the same way as us but didn't feel entirely confident descending the steep slope to Loch Avon. So Ben tagged along and descended to Loch Avon and onto the Shelterstone. We made slow progress through the powder covered boulder field and up to the col before Loch Etchachan. The time was getting on and it had been a long day as we slowly plodded on before a brief incident with a tarn not marked on our 1:50000 maps. Turns out there are four small tarns on the 1:25000 map. We plodded slowly down the burn towards the bothy, arriving to find the place like a sauna with nine people already there, it was to be a cramped night. 
Piers climbing up the slopes of Beinn a' Chaorainn
Lunchtime at the Fords of Avon Refuge
     We all awoke after a cosy night in the bothy to a cracking day as the sun was still rising over the mountains, its' glowing warmth lacking in the glens. Piers and I were the most organised in the bothy chaos and first to leave as we climbed the slopes onto Beinn a' Chaorainn and its subsidiary summit Beinn a' Chaorainn Bheag. The order of the day was pacing; different slopes, different snow, boulders, heather, up and down. 
Walking towards The Saddle from the Fords of Avon
Alpenglow across the Eastern Cairngorms
     Powder was tough going through the day on every angle of slope, the boulders and heather covered ground made progress slow as we stopped for a quick lunch stop at the Fords of Avon refuge. A climb up to the saddle and into Ciste Mhearad and a steady plod down the ski slopes with our weary legs ready to plan the following days outing, after being well fed and watered.

Friday, 26 December 2014

2014 - What a Cracker!

     I have been meaning to write a post reflecting on my year at some point this month, but it wasn't until I started looking back through photographs that I have realised what an amazing year I have had. It has been an incredibly busy year for me in all aspects of my life: going self employed, moving house, completing some qualifications and of course lots of time spent outdoors. It has been a struggle trying to select photos to use to share and portray my year without reams of text, but I guess here it goes...
A few days visiting Tom + Emily in Torridon with some absolutely wild weather, before heading across to the Cairngorms
Piers walking into Coire an t'Sneachda in February
A weekend of scrambling in early March on some of Snowdonia's finest scrambles
Bluebird day at Pot Scar, Yorkshire Dales in March. Great trad limestone crag.
I thought my climbing year was over here and it was only April. No climbing for 2 months after popping a finger at Armathwaite.
Claire and Piers following up Hope, Idwal Slabs in June. I had just finished my post at Low Mill Outdoor Centre and was about to spend the whole summer climbing in preparation for my MIA assessment.
Finn and James following up Ardus on a teaching day at Shepherds, Borrowdale

Climbing some classic routes with good friends in the sunshine through July and August. 3 happy fellas chilling above the sea
Lakeland classics were climbed through the dry July. Me climbing the penultimate pitch of Eagle Front (VS, 4c), Eagle Crag, Buttermere
An Alps trip in August. Wild weather on the summit of the Dent du Geant
Team send of the Aiguille du Pouce. Ben, Kirsty, Olly + Piers.
Moving house in October to the heart of the Dales. My new playground. Ingleborough from the lane. 
The view from the garden, Pen-y-ghent in the distance
Brocken Spectres on the only good weather day of my MIA assessment at Plas-y-Brenin in Snowdonia
I am incredibly proud of being a member of AMI after passing my MIA
A time to enjoy some bouldering and some cracking gritstone days, but now winter is upon us its all about Scotland!
     Winter is now upon us and I am making my first trip up to Scotland in a few days time, whilst fitting in training, rock and work between trips for the next few months. This set of pictures provides me with some many memories and I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to spend so much time in the outdoors. I am now looking forward into next year and what it will bring, hopefully it will provide as many adventures the past year. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Grit Season Has Arrived

So over the last few days the snowflake picture has appeared on the temperature gauge in my car. Four degrees celsius, and dropping in the valleys. The skies have been blue and hills have their Autumnal coat on. I passed my Mountain Instructor Award assessment at Plas y Brenin last week, so am keen to chill at the crag rather than focusing on the MIA syllabus. So bouldering it is, and a chance just to enjoy the movement and simplicity of climbing on the grit in great condition.

I headed to Embsay and met up with Rob ready to march up the hill with the pads to Crookrise. I had been a few years since I'd been to Crookrise, and having only climbed routes in the past, I was keen to sample the bouldering. The sun shone, the friction was great and the problems were nails. I definitely have a few reasons to head back up there this winter!

Rob on Sadcocs Wall f6B+ Crookrise

Olly on Barry King Size f7A

Rob on Barry King Size f7A

Rob on Hovis Super Direct f7A

Olly on Crease Direct Start f6A

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Stress of Assessments

Since finishing my post at Low Mill Outdoor Centre at the end of June, I have had one focus; MIA assessment. The Mountaineering Instructor Award trains and assesses candidates in the skills required for instructing mountaineering, including all aspects of summer rock climbing, including the coaching of lead climbing, and scrambling (Mountain Training, 2014). I have spent a lot of time preparing myself for assessment through the summer taking people multi pitch climbing, scrambling and teaching climbing. 

Last sunday I headed to Plas y Brenin ready for assessment to start on the Monday. I'm afraid I don't have many pictures from the week as I was too busy to take many. Monday was personal climbing day and we headed to a wet Tremadog, and partnered with Dave we climbed One Step in the Clouds and Merlin under the watchful eye of Tim Neill. The routes were pretty sopping or gippy as Dave described them. Today was a day to be slick and controlled despite the poor conditions and being quite gripped on a few occasions. 

Emily descending towards Crib Goch
With rain approaching from the South we climbed at the Great Orme for our improvised rescue/problem solving day. This day felt pretty stressful at the time, and I was quite flustered at the beginning of the day before settling down into it. 

Our mountain day was the best weather of the week, as we climbed up the shady Southern side of the Llanberis pass to Crib y Ddysgl and the Clogwyn y Person arete, a grade three scramble. I had Tim and Emily on my rope as I lead them up the route,with my focus on the fluidity of the climbing and not letting it become to much like a multi pitch route. From the top  we were treated to sunshine and Brocken Spectres. We made our way towards Crib Goch and Tim quickly lead Emily and I up the classic Reades Route before being traversing Crib Goch and descending to Pen y Pass. 
Tim heading towards Crib Goch
I met my mock clients, Lee and Charlotte, on thursday morning for a quick chat about their climbing and their aspirations for the day, before driving through the drizzle in search of dry rock and Tremadog. We climbed the two pitch Crack Slab, Lee's first multi pitch route, and descended by abseil down the Rio slab. This was Lee's first abseil since he was in the Scouts which proved no issue. Charlotte and I descended in a stacked set up, pulling the ropes and with a quick lunch headed round to Oberon a three pitch route avoiding the polished slab by the groove round to the right. Charlotte and Lee were brilliant clients and made great progression through the day despite the poor weather.
The Brocken Spectres followed us along Crib Goch
Just Friday morning navigation to go, up towards the Glyders from Pen y Pass. We each lead a couple of legs and worked on our teaching points and relocation whilst following blind. The weather was fair and windy, and we were quickly heading back to the Brenin for debriefs after a slick morning of nav. 

I passed and I am so chuffed and proud to be an MIA. All my handwork and time has been completely worth it, and I throughly enjoyed going the through the process, growing as a mountain instructor as my climbing developed. In hindsight the assessment was extremely chilled and the assessors were brilliant, with any stress completely self induced, nervous with anticipation each morning about the day ahead before relaxing into the day once we started and just doing what I do. 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Close to Cashing in My Air Miles on Esk Buttress

     I eagerly watched the weather forecasts develop through the week and the stable high pressure looked like it was hanging around into the next week. It had been dry for what seemed an age which means one thing, up to the mountain crags. Esther and I met up in Langdale and had a cracking day up on Pavey Ark, climbing the classic routes Astra and Cruel Sister. If you haven’t climbed up at Pavey yet, I highly recommend it as the rock is superb and the crag full of classic routes. On the way back to the car Esther asked where I was keen for tomorrow and only one route popped into my head; Central Pillar on Esk Buttress.
Esther on Astra, Pavey
     After camping at Cockley Beck we began the walk into Great Moss and the crag. I had wanted to climb Central Pillar for several years, through my time in the Lakes, when visiting friends up there, climbing trips on the mountain crags nearby, but for some reason it had never quite come together. The crag is stunning, huge clean buttresses of rock looking over Great Moss like a fortress at the head of the valley. I was pretty nervous as we walking in, the anticipation of climbing the route in good style, I knew at this point it would definitely be pushing me close to my limit. The crag grew and grew as we got closer until we were gearing up at the bottom with the crag rising above. 
Esk Buttress
     I was leading off, up the start of Bridges Route, a classic Hard Severe until reaching a pinnacle I was heading straight up the wall. I stood comfortably on the ledge looking up the wall for the crack line I was meant to be following which was little more than a few intermittent splits in the rock. For some reason I was worried about what lay ahead, but i managed to talk myself round and got on with it. The pitch pieced together, the holds appeared and the gear was plentiful. I reached the comfortable belay ledge, slipped my boots off and bought Esther up. 

     Esther led off up the slab, on quite a long pitch linking lots of features of rock. Up a slab, traverse to a ledge, breaking through some ledges and into a groove above to a comfy ledge above. Sounds easy when written down. The pitch was complex, I followed through the lower sections which climbed well with really nice moves. The groove proved problematic however, it seemed blank of both holds and gear, a top effort by Esther, who, at the belay had left a lonely zero cam some eight metres below here. I pressed and smeared my way up the insecure groove, cursed Esther for the small holds she had left chalk on. She could only remind me that her hands are smaller than mine and therefore the holds felt bigger and fine. I reached the belay and could see my next pitch ahead and simultaneously a lump appeared in my throat. 
Esther heading up Pitch 2 on Central Pillar
     Here is what Hard Rock has to say about this pitch: ‘The second man, belayed in this position is excellently placed to apprehend his leader’s fate. A slight traverse onto the wall, which tilts out above the groove below leads to a piton. Despite the situation’s unsuitability for such antics, a series of boulder problems ensues. A pull out onto a block is both insecure in itself and leaves doubts as to the block’s stability. After standing on the block a long grope upward to holds in a quartzite band in the only escape. The band is seized, pulled on to and traversed to a cool haven in Bower’s Route.’ Well I’m glad I hadn’t read that before climbing the route as I probably wouldn’t have done. 

     I thought the crux moves were the traverse across the ledge and the piton ledge above big enough to stand on. I was wrong. The traverse wasn’t too bad, just relied on balance as the wall above was pushing out. I was after some gear as I reached the ledge, but pulled up to find no piton, just the rusty remains of one, but a deep lock off enabled me to reach some cord around the block. I moved up both hands behind the block and reached up. The hold was not as positive as I’d hoped and the steepness of the wall was dwindling the energy in my arms, I couldn’t commit. I moved down to the ledge, no standing though as it was to small, feet below I shook one arm out at a time. This was not a good position for me, I don’t recover well on routes so couldn’t hang around too long. I pulled up to try again, no way could I make the move, back to the block, shake shake. I had to go now. 
Looking down to Great Moss from the top of Esk Buttress
     My memory is a bit hazy on this next section as I can’t quite remember how I managed to stay on. I reached up again with my left, right gripped this poor pinch crimp, again with my left, flatty. I was grasping, flatty again and stand on the block. I was looking at the air miles into the void below, at least it would be a clean fall I though. I grasped again, the holds had to improve otherwise I was off; jug. Yes. The right hand was a sloper jug with weight on my fingers, and I could guppy the left. Between my hands a small wire slot, number 2. I had to put it in with my left because of my feet, too much weight over my right. I don’t know what possessed me next as I stuck a heel hook out left near my head. What on earth! This took a lot of weight off my right hand and the wire was in. I pulled up onto the ledge and finally had weight on my feet. The holds were small again but I could stand as I traversed right to bridge a groove where I stood for a few minutes before moving up to the belay. I was so relieved, I was sure I was off. Esther came up, surprised that I had managed to stay on and lead us up the last pitch to the top of the crag. Sat on top with the sun beaming on us, I was so chuffed and I was pleased that it was a challenge, maybe a little close to going airborne, but I, we had done it. 

Monday, 15 September 2014

Team Send of the Aiguille du Pouce

The Mont Blanc Massif from the Aiguille du Pouce
     I had never done any rock climbing on previous trips out to the Alps, mainly focussed on the snow routes to the summit. However Ben and Kirsty had hatched a plan on their five week road trip around the Alps and Dolomites. They had always wanted to climb the South Face of the Aiguille du Pouce, taking the Voie des dallas, a 350m route which weaves its way up the face. As neither Piers or I had done any climbing on rock in the Alps, we were a bit unsure as to the conversion of grades, thinking it might have been a bit out of our depth with several pitches of 5c and 5b. Ben said we’d be fine so we went along with it, easy enough for the lad who has onsighted E5 to say. 
The team camping up by the old Index lift
     We caught the last Index lift up and camped by the old lift station ready for an early start the following morning as Ben and Kirsty needed to be driving back that evening to catch their ferry the following day. A 5am start led us up a loose and ever steeping gully of scree and choss towards the col above where we first saw the Pouce. It looked huge, the route being 15 pitches and a long ridge traverse to regain the col on descent, but first we had to climb it. We descended over the col and into the corrie below with no axes and crampons required at the moment, we only had a couple of small snow patches to cross. We reached the bottom of the route and looked up, it was big, and very committing for us with our 50m single rope. I was nervous about what lay ahead, uncertainty at its difficulty and the amount of gear up there, the guide saying it was only partly equipped. 
Cold fingers and toes on the lower slabs
     Piers led off on the first pitch crossed a bold ledge and slab to reach the first belay. The rock was cold to the touch, and my feet felt numb in my rock shoes as I padded up the slab. It was 7:30am. Piers wasn’t to happy with the rock, we probably should have picked a shorter less committing route to acquaint ourselves with the rock and style of Chamonix climbing. The next few pitches were proving to be the crux pitches as I said I would lead through them. These pitches were bold as I lead off, the very occasionally bolt providing some protection up the compact rock. The crux pitches followed and provided some bold slab moves between poor pegs with very little weaknesses in the rock to place my own protection. We moved behind Kirsty and Ben up the route often a pitch behind meeting them at belays. 
Heading towards the sun several pitches up
     The pitches seemed to blur together, as I focussed on each pitch separately rather than the whole route. I often take this approach on multipitch routes, breaking it down and grind away at the route, rather than being distract by the top pitch when I am only one up. Pitch two, three, four and five were done, and after pitch six and seven  then meat of the route and hard pitches were complete. We moved around the face and into the sun at the beginning of pitch six and it was beating down onto my neck straightaway, as I heated up in my windshirt. These harder pitches followed some definite features, stiff thin cracks riddled by pegs and scars. As we moved onto the easier pitches above, we climbed rounded ribs and small corners which didn’t have much definition making route finding harder. 
Is there any gear this way?
Team on the summit of Aiguille du Pouce
     Up and up, pitch by pitch until we reached a the loose chimney of death as we named it. This jumble of huge boulders looked ready to topple at any moment and we hid round the corner as Ben and Kirsty climbed as quiet and controlled as possible not to dislodge anything down in our direction. Kirsty climbed out of view and sounded that she was away from the choss, it was my turn. I climbed as controlled as possible, bridging my way up through the jumble, weaving between the blocks until i was out of the danger zone, up towards the scrambling finish. As Piers appeared over the top of the blocks there was a sigh of relief from us all. Rock boots off, trainers on, with a short scramble to the summit. 
Making our way onto the ridge from the summit
Ben and Kirsty picking their way through the ridge

     From the summit, the guidebook suggested an hour and a half back to the Index lift. We got the coils on and started making our way along the ridge, which was very undulating, and cairns came and went. It became very time consuming, with lots of rock steps up and down and just took time as the rope was a necessity. We arrived back at the col after an hour and a half just on the ridge, and started battling our way down the gully towards the lift and our stashed gear. Back in time for a busy lift, tea and medals in the valley. 

Monday, 8 September 2014

Disney climbing on the Dent du Geant

     I have wanted to climb the Dent du Geant since first seeing the spire of rock on my first trip to the Alps several years ago.We’d heard that the peak can get extremely busy and even queuing can take place as teams advance up the fixed ropes. We definitely didn’t want to get caught in a queue. Once again there was a forecast for strong winds but good weather for the day. We made an early start from the hut, leaving at 4:30am, with only one team ahead of us. The approach across the glacier was short and well tracked as we ascended a steep snow slope which led to a mixed slope with several short steps. 
Dent du Geant from the Torino Hut
     We left our crampons and axe at the base of the pillar, it was time to call on our rock climbing skills. The wind was strengthening, and this quickly chilled me to the bone as we slowed down to pitch a couple of sections. I was originally reluctant to don my down jacket knowing that I didn’t have any other additional warm clothing, but I was cold now in this wind and couldn’t stand for long. The warmth was instant, and spirits were immediately raised. We alternated leads on the lower section and were quickly passed by one team and continued to leapfrog their second as we continued. We quickly built a relationship with this pair as we shared belays with them, Paulo a guide from Courmayeur and Peter from Scotland. 
Pier on the lower section of fixed ropes
Joining the belay higher up the slabs
     The huge fixed ropes raised above us, guiding us up the upper slabs. I had never quite experienced mountaineering like this, yarding our way up the fixed ropes, clipping the odd piton as a runner, trying our best to keep up with Paulo who is a beast. The fixed ropes had been described to me by others as Disney climbing, how they would depict mountaineering in one of their animated films. I was toasty warm on the belays, and almost too hot whilst climbing, but I definitely wasn’t complaining. We swiftly ascended the ropes, almost forgetting that we were nearly at 4000m and I definitely hadn’t done this amount of arm training before the trip, it was definitely taking it out of me. 
Making progress up the Dent du Geant
The upper ridge section before the summit wall.
     The fixed ropes stopped, and it threw us a bit as we had to think again, our previous pitches becoming almost automatic. I had to climb on the rock as we climbed a ridge towards the final summit wall, the frost covered rock numbing my fingers as I placed protection for Piers across a traverse. Piers lead up the short summit wall as we met Paulo and Peter up there for summit photos. Then the weather changed.
Summit picture with the Madonna

Peter and Piers on an abseil belay
     We had seen the cloud approaching from the Aiguille u Midi and it started snowing. We coupled up with Paulo and Peter on the abseils back down to crampons below. We rolled down the abseils using our three ropes and three abseils later were back at our gear in a near blizzard. We kitted up again and said our goodbyes as we headed back through the whiteout towards the Torino Hut and our lift back to the Midi. Once again the Alps reminded us of what it is like to be in Scottish winter. 
Back through the snow to the Torino Refuge