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.

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