Monday, 29 November 2010

Early Snows

With the TV news getting all excited and blethering on about the "extreme weather", it was time for a change of style this week.

From various blog reports (The Front Point) and posts on UKC it looked like things on the East side of the Helvellyn range were coming in to condition. Steve was keen to head over so we arranged for a 6am start from Skipton. Come Friday evening and Steve was still at work and would likely only get home by 9pm so we decided to be lazy and head over at midday and avoid the crowds that way. It's a problem these days, you either have to be very early or be prepared to climb in the dark to avoid queuing on many winter routes. Since we both have Hope headtorches, climbing at night is not an issue, in fact, Steve has done most of his winter climbing at night!

As it happens we had a dump of snow overnight so we had to spend an hour or so cleaning and gritting the lane so that we could get the car out.

After a stop in Kendal so that Steve could use his Pete Bland voucher (he came 5th in the Tour of Pendle) to get some new fell running shoes, Kirkstone Pass was passable but looked like it would ice up quite easily.  Parking is permitted at Glenridding mine through the winter months so it was worth a chance getting up there as it would save 2Km walk-in, and out! As we approached a cattle grid a skier (heading down from the tow at Raise) was walking across it and wouldn't get out of the way so I lost all momentum and ground to a halt about 50m further on. After reversing back down and turning round in someone's drive we parked just above the pub, just 400m from the main road.

Our destination was the Red Tarn area of Helvellyn, I'd never climbed here before - in the days when I lived in the Lakes there were just a handful of grade I gullies - these days there is a bit more to go at. From memory I think I've only ever been down to Red Tarn just once when walking in my teens so definitely a new area. Since it was 2:30pm when we left the car it wasn't surprising that we were the only ones heading uphill.

What you always forget about winter climbing is just how much hard work it is - from the enervating cold to the clumsiness of the equipment needed to counteract it. By the time we were at the outflow of the tarn we had a healthy sweat. A quick change of clothing - not pleasant in a stiff breeze and spindrift but better than climbing and belaying in damp thermals. Then it was off up the approach slopes hoping that we'd correctly identified our climb - V-Corner - before the light faded.

Walking in to Red Tarn at dusk

Off to our right there was a lot of shouting and swearing going on which eventually faded by the time we started actually climbing.  As was the light. I'd got first lead so I headed off mainly following steps in the snow to the first ice. The lower parts were nice and thick but above it was mainly a thin covering over rocks which neccesitated keeping to mixed ground leading up grooves to a bay at the top of the ice. From here a steeper corner seemed to be the key to further progress but my last piece of gear was 20 metres below! There was a reasonably substantial icicle but I had no slings with which to thread it - a couple of quickdraws clipped together just went round, it would have to do. A move higher and a perfect peg crack appeared. A few taps later and I'm much happier and step down to retrieve the quickdraws. Once out of the corner I was soon at a stance and took a belay. I'd run out nearly 60m of rope, so much for the guidebook's 20m!

By the time Steve arrived it was nearly dark so on with the torches. As he was leading the next pitch I was sure that I could hear a helicopter flying around and a couple of minutes later so it proved as a set of lights and a lot of noise appeared over Swirral Edge. After circling the combe a couple of times it flew off. The party who had previously been doing a lot of shouting were still in the same place so it looked like something was amiss.

With repeated fly pasts and hovering above the party communication opportunities with Steve were limited but before too long he was at the belay just as he ran out of rope, at least this time it was closer to the stated 30m! I had got cold on the belay so it was good to get moving. The helicopter was still to-ing and fro-ing so it was just a case of getting on with the climbing. The last pitch was described as just a snow slope but early season you never can tell, but the guide didn't lie. Well apart from the pitch length! The rope ran out when I was about ten metres from the mini cornice.

It was now that the helicopter came back and took the casualty off to hospital so I had to wait a bit before Steve dismantled the belay and we simu-climbed until I got on to the plateau. No belay so I just walked back towards the cross walled shelter as Steve climbed. Eventually we get out of the wind and pack our gear away. Then it's stumble down Swirral Edge in crampons and up on to Catsyecam.

I kept my crampons on for most of the walk out as the path had hidden patches of water ice and taking a flyer on a path wouldn't have looked cool. It did make walking awkward though. Just before we got to the car a Land Rover pulled up and a couple of MRT lads had a chat. It seemed that the accident was a woman who had slipped and fallen around 100ft hopefully her injuries aren't too severe. By the time we were back at the car it was 7:45pm. We headed home via Penrith hoping that the road would be clear rather than risk Kirkstone Pass, the car thermometer showed -8C at one point.

Sunday and my legs were knackered from the twisting and knocking on the path due to wearing crampons, my muscles hadn't had such awkward movements for a long while. Thus the planned bike ride didn't happen. Given that the cold weather is meant to last for at least another week it may be that next weekend's Sportive may not take place. Certainly Cath said that she had been frozen on her bike ride on Saturday.

With the cold snap set to continue until at least the weekend things should be good for next weekend as well.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Something New, Something Blue

It's rare these days for me to visit a new crag especially one closish to home and not some scruffy over-hyped recent discovery but I'd never been to the Bridestones nr Hebden Bridge. Mike was quite shocked about this, it's one of his favourite venues. Perhaps the answer is that I've never really been in to bouldering. The main reason for this has been that in the day before bouldering mats the regular jumping off played havoc with my knees, more recently my knees have been bad enough that even with mats that I haven't been keen to participate.

Heading over to the crag things didn't look promising, all the roads were damp to wet but by the time we pulled through Blackshaw Head things were a bit drier. Mike was waiting by the path to the boulders, actually more of a small edge than a set of boulders. A short walk and we are at the first of the rocks with a couple of walkers enquiring about our bouldering mats. There is already a small group at play, the climbable faces are out of the wind but there is little sunshine.

A few easy problems as warm up then on to more serious stuff. The rock is strange, the surface is covered in a patina of small grit particles that no matter how much (soft) brushing you do, it always feels like you are standing on ball bearings. Most handholds are sloping, very sloping, and the technique to use them along with the associated footwork takes some getting used to.

Not long after we had arrived, a familiar face appeared - Dave Birkett and his wife Mary. "Got any good jokes?" he asked, "my climbing!" - at least I got that answer in before Mike or Steve! It's always impressive to watch really good climbers in action, they just make everything look so easy and smooth, a bit depressing sometimes though.

Time to move on and we headed to the part of the crag nearest the pub, to an area called Big Brother, Little Sister (or maybe the other way round). Trying one problem here, my fingers slipped in a pocket and I felt a searing pain shoot up my forearm - a pulled tendon. I tried one or two more problems as we worked our way back along the rocks but tried to avoid using my left hand. By now it was nearing sunset and getting quite dark so time to call it a day.

The following day my finger (and arm) were still painful so no climbing. Instead I decided to head off for a bike ride as it's only two weeks to the Christmas Cracker sportive and I need the practice. Heading in to Skipton I was cycling in to a thin strong northerly breeze which made the going a bit harder than I would have liked. In fact heading from Skipton to Rylestone seemed to take forever, whether it was the breeze in my face or the rough road surface or my lack of bike fitness I don't know but I was glad to turn and head through Hetton and on to Airton and Otterburn. Fortunately most of my route didn't involve sustained braking so I could keep my injured finger out of the way. I got home just outside the two hour mark for thirty miles. While not particularly impressive, at least I didn't feel too tired but I don't think I'll be breaking four hours for just under double the distance. I'll need to do another slightly longer ride next weekend, maybe forty five miles, as well then I should be set. 

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Back to the Wall

After a week of not riding in to work at all, I'd put on a bit of weight - about 3lbs - which is a bit disconcerting really as I should be losing more. As an excuse the weather has been pretty bad so biking in would have been only for the really keen.

Unfortunately this meant that the crags were pretty well out of condition - Saturday dawned dull and damp and there was little chance of anything drying out, though it did get sunny for a while. Sunday looked like it would be a bit better but it would be doubtful if anything would be dry so it was off to the wall. First time for me this year, I'm not really in to walls, much preferring to climb outside if possible. As it happens this year hasn't been too bad weather wise and getting well in to November before being forced indoors is good going.

The wall of choice was Awesome Walls at Stockport which has some pretty big sections - up to 22m in places. One of the routines on climbing walls is falling practice - see Dave Macleod's book as to why - but jumping off at the top of the routes is a bit of a big step so there was quite a bit of test falling at lower levels, slowly working up to letting go at the highest lower-offs. To a traditionally raised climber it takes some getting used to - "the leader shall not fall" and all that - but it does work.

One big difference between natural crags and climbing walls, well the crags that I frequent, is that the climbing on indoor walls is much more sustained. On natural crags there is nearly always somewhere to sneak a rest, a little corner or slight easing in the angle. You just don't get that on indoor walls, it's all action from the word go. Still it should improve fitness. After four hours we were all a bit jaded so time to head home.

Back on the bike in to work yesterday - very cold though as there was a thick fog which lasted all day, it was just as cold on the way home, a great temperature inversion though in the evening light. This morning would have been another biking day but the lane had patchy ice which needed gritting (first of the winter) so I decided not to risk it. Hopefully we'll get some proper crisp days rather than the damp wet ones of the last week.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Shock and Awe

Well the shock came on Sunday last - I went for a run! Only a short one, about 3 1/2 miles or so and the ground was very boggy but I didn't actually feel too bad afterwards though by Monday and Tuesday I was somewhat stiff.

The week in general was mixed weather wise and fortunately for me I got the car on the wet days :-) One of those days was Thursday which was particularly wet with nearly 50mm of rain! I needed the car to pick up the computer, it had taken no updates apparently but that doesn't make sense as it had been working OK without any updates. Still it seems to be working OK now. Given the heavy rain, Cath asked for a lift home, not surprising really.

Saturday was spent tidying up and planting stuff in the garden. It felt a bit of a waste of a day but the jobs needed doing.

Sunday was looking like another possible wasted day due to most of the team doing other things in the morning which wouldn't have left much time in the afternoon to get things done with the clocks going back the previous weekend. Gaz wasn't so limited so we decided to head up to Crookrise since there was an easterly wind.

As it happened Steve turned up shortly after we had done a couple of routes with Mike and Simon turning up about an hour later. If the sun was shining then things were nice and warm but with no residual heat in the atmosphere, as soon as the sun went behind a cloud then things were pretty chilly.

Steve on Family Matters at Crookrise

With a few routes under our belts and the sun now permanently behind a blanket of cloud it was time to go.