Monday, 31 January 2011

Big Bad Ben

Obviously not as fit as I thought (or hoped)! Nor had the walking around in plastic boots done much to get my legs used to stumbing around in the dark and half-light on rocky paths. All this is a way of saying that two days' climbing on the Ben and I was knackered!

The plan was for a four day weekend but we ended up using Thursday to drive up to the hut at Roy Bridge rather than rushing it either Wednesday night or early Thursday morning so as to get some climbing done on the Thursday, the plan would have been to do something around Bridge of Orchy. Steve had never winter climbed on the Ben before but was keen as ever, hopefully conditions would allow the sports plan to unfold as intended. A piece of luck in that we were offered the use of the forestry key for the day which would save time both on the walk in and out.

A 5AM wake-up on Friday morning led to us leaving the car around 0615 for the long trudge up to the CIC hut. The path has been "upgraded" in recent years so no more trudging through the infamous Allt a Mhuilin bogs. It was just daylight when we got to the hut, a group of three young lads arriving just ahead. Chatting to them it turned out that one of them was the son of the person I'd last climbed on the Ben with - 25 years previously! They were heading for Tower Face of the Comb.  Our original intention was for Point Five but since the last grade V I'd led was the occasion of my last trip up here I was having doubts. We settled on Comb Gully.

After another hour's slog we were behind a team also heading for the same route - b***er! We waited a bit then Steve headed off up the easy part of the gully. 60m later and he's at a belay and my turn. More easy slopes lead to a steepening, this is good neve, good for step cutting, good for axe placements, not good for ice-screws. So it was a case of getting on with it and up to the belay.

I'd caught up with the team in front so we had to wait about half and hour before there was enough room to bring Steve up. The next pitch looked similar to that below but more sustained. Steve set off and made short work of it. The second piece of gear was interesting - a thumb sized loop of wire sticking out of the ice! Steve said he was glad it was there and he didn't care what it was attached to! By the time we were on the top it was a white-out so we headed down the zig-zags as I'd never been down that way then headed back to the Allt a Mhuilin and the car for a ten hour round trip. Some photos of the route here

Saturday: day two and we didn't have the forestry key so it was a walk in from the North Face car-park, another 350m of ascent though plus it was drizzling. We'd been recommended Thompson's Route, again high in Coire na Ciste, so the CIC was only going to be halfway. It was definitely light by the time we got to the hut but it was very murky. Enough so  that we spent the best part of an hour finding the route.

Steve set off up the first, short, pitch but after some tooing and froing at the start of the steep ice declared "I've lost my mojo!" and down climbed.  After swapping ends of the ropes I head up, a quick look over the gear and onward and upward. The direct line was verglas and looked hard, the previous team had taken a line to the right then moved back in to the main line so that's the way I went as well. An easy ramp lead to a steep shallow corner, in with a warthog then up on some dinner plating ice to an excellent belay.

I offered Steve the next pitch but he decided that it would be quicker if I led it. Again we moved the ropes around and I moved in to the chimney. The climbing was excellent and varied with a definite crux bulge that felt a little exciting but nothing over taxing. It was over all too soon and I was at the large flake belay at the top of the chimney. By the time Steve had joined me the clouds had cleared out and we had good views of the teams at work on the wall opposite.

Kev Avery on the crux of Darth Vader
The next pitch was easy so Steve said he'd lead it. Eventually the ropes came tight but no shout to begin climbing. After a minute or two I set off anyway and the ropes  began to pull in. Steve's stance was on the prow of the buttress and was shared with a team on No 3 Gully Buttress. After some time we got going again but rather than follow them across to the right I headed straight up some snowy grooves which were quite interesting even if easy. Eventually I reach over the small cornice and pull on to the plateau and sunshine.

When Steve arrives we decide to head up to the summit as Steve has never been on the mountain at all and it's a chance to get another Munro.

Steve nearing the summit of Ben Nevis

We decide not to head over Carn Mor Dearg Arete as planned since we missed the turn and ended up on the top of North East Buttress. Ooops! This time rather than head down the zig-zags we dropped down No 4 gully. Fortunately the snow was soft so descending was much easier and we were soon back at the CIC hut. It was dark by the time we were back at the top car park it was dark and by the time we were at the car we had been out twelve hours. A long day.

The following morning we consider heading up to Aonach Mor but a quick enquiry at the gondola ticket office reveals that there are 35-40mph winds at the top of the slopes. Probably just as well as we are both knackered.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

All Quiet on the Climbing Front

With the cold snap gone, it's all gone a bit quiet. The weather at the weekends hasn't been brilliant so I've not been doing any climbing - slightly greasy gritstone isn't my thing. I wonder why? : -)

The weather is more autumnal at the moment so as mentioned in my last post I've gone back to a winter training regime that I used to do around twenty years ago of going for walks with a big heavy sack and wearing my plastic winter boots to get some hill fitness. I used to do things like the Ennerdale Horseshoe like this which is something like a twelve hour day, it certainly got you fit. I didn't go as far as one of the Kendal lads who would carry the crankshaft from a Ford Transit in his rucksack! Mind you he was a fireman so the weirdness goes with the territory.

Now however I just went for a walk up the local fell and back - I did get one or two questions about why I'd got such a large sack on my back though from other walkers. Oh well, makes a difference from the "there's an easy way round the back you know" that you get when climbing.

Rather surprisingly I've been doing some running, not a lot, just a three mile loop, figure of eight sort of thing from the house. About half fields and track and half road. It's enough to raise a sweat (especially since there are a couple of decent hills on the route) but it's not enough to cause my knees any trouble. However I thought I'd try one of my old 6 mile runs, actually the same route as I'd walked up the fell with my winter kit, but it didn't work out too well. For a start I don't think I've "run" it as slowly before, taking nearly 30% longer than my usual time of a year to eighteen months ago, but also my knees hurt for several days afterwards. I'll just have to stick to the shorter runs. I don't think I'll be doing any races though.

Just hope that the winter returns.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Dull and Damp

One point I'd not raised in the review of my year was that despite feeling as if I was going to the same crags all the time I visited fifteen crags or venues that I'd never been to before. This equates to around 25% of all days out on the crag which isn't bad. Obviously it gets harder and harder to visit new places though there are quite a lot of crags that either I haven't visited for many years, in some cases over twenty, or have only visited once. Still plenty to go at to keep me enthused, especially in Scotland.

The weather has definitely turned now - mild and wet is the order of the day. No good for low lying ice-falls but it should help bring the higher stuff in to condition with proper freeze - thaw cycles.

Last weekend was a bit of a washout - literally! My usual partners were either busy or not available so I decided to get some winter hill fitness in - walking in plastic boots and with a heavy sack. Went to the Howgills on Saturday for a walk up past Cautley Spout, now back to being a waterfall - there's more ice on the path by the river than on the falls themselves - before heading up on to The Calf. I'd not been up the valley behind the spout before, I'd run along the edge of Cautley Crags then on to Yarlside but it was new ground though little view due to the low cloud level. Out of the mist appeared a sheepfold and what I thought at first to be a hut but it turned out to be a fancy spire built in to the corner of the sheepfold with the inner quadrant removed. Think three quarters of a cake. Whatever the reason it was an impressive example of dry stone walling.

Shortly after I thought I was heading too far along the valley and ought to cut up to The Calf. By the time I got on to the summit plateau visibility was only in the tens of metres and there was a driving wind carrying sleet and hail. After some slight relocation I came to the summit trig point and another party. Easiest now to head along the Borrowdale track, which I'd been only a few metres from on my approach to the summit. This was very icy until down beneath cloud base and it was easier to walk to the side. By the time I got to the col below Yarlside I wasn't too fussed in heading up in to the mirk again so headed back to the car.

Sunday began with driving rain so after a lot of prevarication by which time things had cleared up I set off up the local top - which I used to go up for my training runs - this time with a full sack of winter kit, it felt as if it was all metal! Let's just say that I'd a good sweat going on the climbs. By the time I got home after a couple of hours or so, I was rather mucky so had to wash boots and overtrousers under the outdoor tap. Let's just hope that the winter weather returns...

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Review of the Year

A quick review of last year while recovering from last night's celebrations.

I only just got climbing again after my accident in 2009 at the start of the year.  First up was a bit of winter climbing but unfortunately I wasn't able to take full advantage of the month long super cold conditions due to work commitments. Still a minor first ascent was done along with routes I'd done many years ago.

As the rock climbing season got under way I had some stamina issues to deal with due to lack of activity but that soon passed with more routes under my belt. Most of my climbing ended up being sports climbing on the local Yorkshire crags, though a trip to the north west of Scotland saw us heading in to Carnmore along with some excellent minor roadside cragging kept my hand in on the trad stuff.

A lack of stamina also showed in my running though I did take part in some long races, whether or not that was advisable is another matter! With more running under my belt I was able to support some Bob Graham rounds and a Ramsay attempt though I was struggling in the heat on one BG leg. Events would lead to a virtual cessation in any running later in the year when arthritis reared its ugly head and I wasn't overly keen to do any more damage. In fact I've only done about five miles of running since August.

As a substitute for running I began to do more cycling, both road and MTb, in an attempt to keep the weight down. A week mountain biking in Scotland with Cath got us in to a few places that I hadn't been before and would be unlikely to visit as part of any climbing trip. Biking to work was only curtailed by the wintery weather at the end of the year.

Back on the climbing front, I was improving both in grade and stamina. I was pushing at the door of F6c for a while and got close to a few onsight but did manage to redpoint one at the grade and came close to others. I was definitely prepared to go for things which paid dividends. Being unable to straighten my arm didn't hold me back too much.

Winter returned early with a deep and prolonged freeze and I managed my first ever winter route in November. This was followed with visits to venues that I hadn't visited or had wished to visit for many years. Allied with new kit (leashless axes and new crampons) I hope to continue this winter renaissance.

With luck this new year will be better again.