Thursday, 30 December 2010

Out on a Limb

I thought that Cautley Spout would be the last route of 2010 since Cath and I were heading up to Scotland for a week's mountain biking over Christmas and there wasn't much likelihood of getting in to the remoter crags in the area that we were going to (Dumfries and Galloway). However a look through  John Biggar's site showed some ice close to the road and just as importantly it was close to one of the 7Stanes - Kirroughtree, so we could get the route done and do some mountain biking as well!

The one big doubt was that the route was low lying and close to the sea so it may not have formed but the extended cold spell should have done it's magic. In fact we went for a short bike ride on Christmas day and it was freezing!!! One of my xmas pressies was a new pair of crampons so I wanted to try them out.

Cath did need a bit of persuading - I think that other than the route on Barden Moor last season she hadn't done any winter climbing for ten years, however with the route just a minute from the road there wasn't much commitment in finding out if it was in and with the biking nearby then it wouldn't be a wasted day. The drive over was "interesting" as even though it was a main road, it hadn't been gritted or ploughed. Perhaps more of a surprise was that Clatteringshaws reservoir was frozen over - this large expanse of water is only at 180m A.S.L. A couple of miles downstream and we were at our route - The Grey Mare's Tail. An interesting name given that there is a more famous fall of the same name near Moffat, cue a bit of mischief of which more later.

First looks at the fall and it looked wet, very wet. Cath declared that it wasn't in condition but I wanted to check so scrambled over the icy rocks at the base to the main fall and whacked in an axe - perfect plastic ice! The top of the steep section looked a bit thin unless you were prepared to climb close to the running water but other than that it looked OK.

Back to the car and back with the kit and it's time to head off. Easy climbing up and left to a step where I put in an ice-screw then up and left again to the edge of the running water. Things were steeper now and it took  some gentle footwork to make upward progress on the thinner ice. Soon the angle eased and I sauntered back  to get a belay round a large boulder - then promptly fell through the ice and got a wet foot! Overall about II 3 which is what it was given originally. After a bit of relayed communication with a watching tourist (and his dog) Cath set off. Other than ensuring the rope was snug she didn't have too much trouble on it.

Scrambling out of the gill we were approached by a single bloke who wanted to know what the condition was like. After a quick chat he reckoned he'd solo it but would like us to stick around just to make sure he was OK. We had a look at the upper fall which would be much more impressive if it froze fully, however even after three weeks of very cold temperatures it just looked too brittle and not well enough formed.

Soloing the Grey Mare's Tail

On the steep bit at the top of the main fall.

Back at the car, the soloist reckoned that ours was only the second ascent and his the third of the route since it had only been done earlier this year.

As for the mischief: well a text to Mike and Steve stating - "Grey mare's tail - tick" did the trick. Might tell them the real story tomorrow :-)

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Worth the Wait!

Have finally finished work prior to Christmas and a perusal of the usual suspect web forums showed that Cautley Spout was close to being fully formed. It looked like conditions would only get better through the week provided that the hordes didn't hack things to bits.

I'd wanted to do the Spout ever since I lived in the Lakes but it only comes in to complete condition very infrequently, though it was done last year in the big freeze, fifteen years seems to be about the periodicity. A week (well several actually!!) of sub-zero temperatures and if it wasn't in now then it would never be.

I'd arranged with Steve to head over today (Thursday) but had mentioned to Mike that we intended to do it so he'd taken another day off work as it was on his hit list as well. Another fifteen years and we'd be drawing our pensions!

By the time we got to the car park at the only pub in England that doesn't serve alcohol there were already half a dozen cars parked there. Looked like it was going to be busy so no use racing in to the route - we could take our time.

The first pitch is a 30m fall that is the last to form. Now however it was complete, wide enough for a team to take either side and avoid the thin crust over the main flow. A team of four was starting on the left so we'd go to the right. Steve and Mike had both said "Bob can lead the first pitch then we'll do some of the upper ones". Suited me. At least I didn't have to argue my case!

A team on the left and myself on the right on the first pitch.
 An easy apron lead to a steepening of slightly brittle ice so in with an ice-screw then sidestep the steep bit and up. It continued like this: steep ice avoided by side steps and moving up to a rest to the final couple of metres where it was easiest to climb the crust over the main flow and so to the belay. Mike and Steve followed together (thus managing to overtake the team of four).

A climber leading at about the same point as I am in the first shot.
Steve and Mike lead the next easy pitch together then we put the ropes away and headed up the gill. After a left turn, the upper falls are revealed. As ever ice when viewed front-on appears much steeper than it really is and so it proved, with the general angle being 45 degrees or so.

Steve on the upper falls.

The main flow was visible here so you had to choose between left or right and stick to it. Soon we were at the top having caught up some of the earlier teams.  Gear away and we headed back to the car, the whole route having taken about an hour and a half. The quarter of a century wait had been worth it.

More photos on my website

Friday, 17 December 2010

That End of Year Feeling

Surprisingly last weekend was one of the few this year that I didn't get anything done. All a bit quiet really. Everyone else was either injured or on christmas party time. We've actually done quite well since most years the weather craps out and you are forced on to climbing walls. This year I've only been to the wall once, then the weather went from summer to winter almost within a week. One point to note is that I think this is the first time that I've ever done a winter route in November.

On Saturday Cath and I went out for a road bike ride. The problem was I fell off 5 metres from the house! My chain was jumping all over the place so as I set off up the hill I had to stop but with having my road shoes on which have absolutely no grip whatsoever I was on the deck. It took most of the ride to actually get the gears sorted, I think that the cold weather has affected the cabling. Saturday night was spent in Skipton as it was Andy's birthday do. A few pints in the Narrowboat then on to the Aagrah for a curry buffet before deciding on which pub to finish the night in. Avoiding the disco inferno we went for the quiet pub, only for a proper pub brawl complete with broken glasses and stools to break out! I think it's the first one I've ever witnessed.

Sunday was a waste since I obviously can't drink heavily these days and took most of the day to recover! Monday we went christmas shopping in Harrogate for some "bling for a BMX" whatever that is!! Needless to say we didn't find any, a bit of internet shopping is in order.

Completely off-kilter is the observation that the damage I did to my thumbnail at the beginning of September (see Blue is the Colour) has finally grown out to the end of the nail. It's been a black spot slowly crawling across the surface of the nail, a bit like own version of Jupiter's Red Spot :-)

Hopefully the forecast is correct and things are going to get cooler again then routes will come back in to condition.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

More White Stuff!

While the country moans about having a proper winter for a change, those of us who enjoy the winter conditions were scouring the forums for clues as to what was in and worth heading out for.

Saturday was a funny day, it was meant to be dull but was actually pretty miserable with the freezing level around 200m and a front passing over meant that any precipitation was damp rather than snow and whether you got rain or snow was almost a matter of chance. Steve didn't fancy heading to the Lakes for two days in a row - we had a team ready for Sunday and wasn't fancying nipping down to Cliviger, so out for a walk to get some fitness. Unfortunately there wasn't much to view as the clag was down and it was constantly raining or sleeting. Not a nice day.

For Sunday we had a choice of venue, neither of which I'd been to before so I left the eventual selection to the others. With winter climbing being so popular these days it was time for an early start - which meant getting up at 5am! By six we were away and having to take it slowly as there was thick fog all the way out to the M6. Initially it had been decided to go to Brown Cove Crags but as we headed over, it was felt that it would be better to head in to Haweswater to try something above Blea Water. The only possible fly in the ointment would be the road alongside the reservoir as there had been significant snowfall overnight.

As it turned out the snow had been flattened and Steve had winter tyres on his car. There were only three cars at the car park so once we had sorted out the gear it was time to head off to the crag. An hour later and we get to the foot of the main gill - imaginatively named Blea Water Gill. Despite being early there were two teams ahead of us, one of which - a team of three was just setting off. Time to chill - not literally though. It was decided that I would climb with Pete and Steve would climb with Ross, Steve and I to do the leading.

The initial chimney of Blea Water Gill

By the time it was our turn, the first team had belayed halfway up the pitch proper so forcing the following teams to belay there as well. The climbing was easy but a little thin in places where you could see the water still running underneath the ice. Above there was easy snow leading to a series of short steep steps before the final main icefalls.

There was plenty of variation possible on this section with the teams ahead each taking a different line, there was also another team who had snuck in from the side to avoid the queues below. The first step was steep for a move or two then eased to a large ledge. The next step was a choice between a large pillar with water flowing down its centre or a thinner pillar to the right. I wasn't sure of the larger option so put an ice screw in as high as I could reach and started up the smaller pillar. It was steep but the curved axes I had bought last season made things surprisingly easy - Steve with his traditional axes said he was beginning to get pumped on this bit. If it had been any longer I would have given this grade IV. As it was, getting on to the easy ground above was the hardest bit as the ice thinned out (it often does with ice routes) and needed hooking behind frozen boulders. Above, there were two obvious lines: the right hand one had the two teams we had been following on it while the left hand had only the new interlopers, the left it was. 

The right hand line of the upper fall.
The ice to the left was a bit sugary on the surface and took more care than it first seemed, in fact Pete fell off seconding when all points of contact slipped through! Above a further easy pitch of a few short steps amongst snow lead to a bowl. From there it was easy to the top so we simu-climbed in to the sun.

Pete on the easy upper section.

By the time Steve and Ross arrived it was mid afternoon so no time to get another route in. Pack the gear away and head down to Nan Bield Pass then down to the car. Some deep drifts with few footprints to ease the way so the going was a bit harder than you'd like at the end of a day.

By the time we were back at the motorway it was dark and the temperature was again dropping. In fact we stopped at Tebay services in the mist and it was the coldest it had been all day.

Due to having masses of days holiday left I'd got the Monday off and the weather was perfect! One idea was to do some ski-mountaineering - I'd got the gear but never had chance to use it. However the one piece of kit missing was a pair of ski boots (just looked and they are £350 - £500!!!) and skiing in mountaineering boots is really just for very good skiers and that doesn't apply to me! Backing this up was an incident skiing down the Vallee Blanche above Chamonix when descending from a route when I hit a pressure ridge in the glacier, did a somersault and landed on my left thumb. To say it hurt is an understatement! It hurt even more when I did it again about ten minutes later. I didn't get it looked at until I got home (after soloing the Swiss Route on Les Courtes) when it was declared to be broken.

So time for a walk. I'd never been up Great Whernside before, summer or winter, so that would be a good thing to do and if I'd got time continue on to Buckden Pike. The first thing was getting out of Kettlewell - always tricky dealing with buildings and streets. Once away from the village centre, the lanes were hard packed snow which was a bit dicey to walk on. The initial slopes were obviously popular with sledgers as there were masses of tracks in the fields. As I got higher the tracks became fewer and more importantly concentrated in to one path, too often I've come across every walker determined to create their own steps in the snow which just makes it hard work for everyone.

Higher up there were some serious drifts  but by the summit rock the wind had removed most of the depth. As is typical, the sun had gone in by now and it was quite cold. There were a couple of ski tracks heading off towards Park Rash so I followed these until they split at a wall. Decision time. Left. A 100m later and the ground drops away in a steep slope of deep snow, the wind direction indicated that it wasn't a lee slope so probably safe, plunge stepping down this was a bit unnerving at first but nothing moved. The ground at the base was covered in deep and unconsolidated snow which made the next few hundred metres very hard.

Eventually I got to the road of Park Rash. Time was pressing now so down the road rather than continue on to Buckden Pike. I got back to the car after about two and a quarter hours, not exactly fast travelling for little more than three miles. Still I'm feeling a bit hill fitter and getting used to moving in plastic boots again.