'For Adventures of a lifetime'

Friday, 29 March 2013

Night Raven (Crag Gully) - Super Heroes

Not the usual Thursday evening before Good Friday but if it happens again next year I for one will not complain.  The current wintry conditions are not everybody's cup of tea but there are a few of us out there who are sniggering under our breath. 
Craig at the foot of the route...Glorious evening

Mike (Saddler) came up with the idea of doing a night ascent of the classic route from the book Cold Climbs - Raven Crag Gully Grade III/IV over in the after frantically packing I met up with Mike and Steve at Mikes house in Yarm around 3pm.  Steve drove, lets say at a moderate speed, and we were in Keswick at 4.45.  I had made arrangements to meet Craig (aka The Stanley Lad) of Crags Adventures to partner up for the climb as two pairs climbing would be easier than a group of three, especially in the dark.

Walking into the bottom of the route Craig and me were chasing (running) Mike and Steve up the hill (I think they wanted to go first) and we were there around 6.30pm.  A quick brew of mint tea and honey (not gay at all and don't knock it until you try it) , some chocolate and bubblegum flavoured candy and we were ready.  Craig has not been out winter climbing much this year so was happy to hand the lead to me.  

Raven Crag Gully III/IV
It was now dark! The first (actual 2nd in guide) pitch up a steep ramp and hanging corner looked thin but Steve managed to do it with no gear...brave or crazy?...However, when I started up it, it felt a bit tenuous and I really wanted some protection wasn't long before I found a bomb proof cam placement and then a good ice screw and felt much better. Just as I got the protection in a small piece of ice from above (not mentioning any names Mike Sadler!) hit me in the bridge of the wasn't until the following pitch that I realised I was bleeding a little and there was no one near to offer any sympathy.  

The 'Square' out of his comfort zone
The nasty Mike Sadler
Not sure why I'm pouting but the results of a piece of ice hitting me

Following this a steep 12 foot ice wall leads to a good belay.  Craig still feeling a little out of his comfort zone having metamorphosized  into a 'Square' (boulderer) of late, was enjoying the climbing but happy I was leading.  The next pitch takes a steep short ice wall on the left (only when the ice allows, today we were lucky :-)) and then climbs a few little bulges to easier ground which leads to another good belay below the 'chockstone pitch'.  Craig arrived at the belay singing and happy with life.  If you're ever feeling a little low Craig is a great person to share this sort of experience with and always makes me feel happy...even more so when he shares his mum's fruit cake. For some reason I was a little apprehensive about the chockstone pitch but it all went well and was actually some good mixed climbing as you climb up to the huge imposing chockstone overhead and make a relatively delicate traverse out to the right to avoid the difficulties.  A pull over some snowed slabs and I was once again onto easy ground.  

Happy boys!
Craig was enjoying himself by this point

Craig then led up to below the impressive final pitch where I joined him for a moral boost and a share of 'Life is Wonderful' statements.  Meanwhile Mike and Steve were already at the top (how much gear did they really place en-route to the top?) Two hours in the dark is pretty good going for this route and obviously no queues (no one else daft enough!). 
Craig trying to look gnarly!

 The final pitch according to the guide book is one of the best pitches of its grade in the Lake District and I would have to agree...I have done the route once before a couple of years ago and being December we ran out of light on that trip and so once again last night I found myself in the dark with the huge steep wall of ice in front of me. Just 25 meters would see me on easy ground.  After placing a couple of wires I made the diagonal traverse out right and up to a huge (it was dark folks) ice mushroom.  A good ice screw just below, a well placed axe above and a pull round the bulge and I was up to the section which I had difficulty with last time, however, this time I managed to get a huge hex (protection) in and life was good...actually the ice was good and it ended up being quite a simple move this time around.

The huge ice mushroom on the final pitch
Craig nearing the top of the final pitch
One more move dude! 

Craig joined me at the stance whooping and singing and saying how gnarley he thought I was (always good for self esteem :-)) and what amazing night we had pleasure in experiencing.  He led the final ice slabs up to a tree and we climbed together to the top of the crag.  A quick hand shake, some mint tea, chocolate Minstrells and we were off down the hill.  The moon full and huge kept us company all the way back to the car...WHAT AN AWESOME NIGHT...have I mentioned that?

I was in my bed for 2.00am even after some delays on the A66 on the way back home.

The winter is hanging in there so go and enjoy why you can!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Dean Shaking his Groove on 'Two Grooves'

It was a tad cold up on the Lakeland Fells today...five layers and still shivering!

Joined up with Dean Dalton again today to make a quick hit up on a route which has eluded me for a long time and for no reason really.  The winter is definitely holding on at the moment, especially up on the high fells and with the past few days being really wintry I expected the conditions of the routes to be good.

Arriving at the foot of Two Grooves the route looked good and definitely wintry but it wasn't long after Dean headed up the first pitch that we realised conditions were not good.  The snow which has been blasting the crags on the cold easterly winds was totally unconsolidated and was covering every potential hook and pick placement making progress difficult.

Although Dean has been winter climbing a few years now he would readily agree that this is his first real winter season. Only three weeks ago he climbed his first Scottish routes up on Ben Nevis's North Face and along with all the training, dry tooling and Rjukan ice climbing trip he has been preparing well and is always full of confidence.  So when he came flying down off the first real difficult section I dont know who was more surprised him or me.  On our way down he tried to deny the fall as he had managed to catch hold of a sling on the way past and didn't actually weight my belay.  I explained a fall is fall :-).  The youngster certainly learnt a lesson today and instead of knocking his confidence it spurred him on.  Meanwhile, while I was seconding the route, Dean belaying above was blissfully unaware of the battle I was having with the same section of the route, expecting at any point to be gaining my wings.

At the belay I headed up the 'easy wall' above towards the Second groove not entirely convinced I wanted to go any further.  The wall was covered in the same sketchy unconsolidated snow we found on the first pitch and my head said no and before I knew it I was handing over the reins to the Youngster.  Today was the first ever time I have backed off a winter route...slightly wounded but still cheering on the emerging star I settled into belaying duties.

Dean, now focused with what had happened earlier made steady progress up the difficult grove above.  Only after I had seconded the route did I realise the difficulty of the pitch and the magnificent effort and performance Dean had just executed.  I was impressed not only in Deans climbing ability today but also in his climbing maturity...I'm sure he wants this winter to last and will be looking forward to next winter with what I'm sure will be an extensive tick list.

A coffee and cake in Keswick to replace all those used calories, finished our day.This turned out to be a very interesting and what can only be described as sporting day of climbing.

WGL - Challenging Conditions

Well its been a busy few days running a Walking Group Leader (WGL) Training course based in Windermere in the Lake District.  The course was attended by 7 candidates of mixed abilities and experiences...not always the easiest to deal with but as it happened even those with the lowest level of skills at the beginning left with new found confidence and  a skip in their step by the end.

Helping me on this course was Chris Conley, a true Yorkshire-man!  Chris can often be the classic example of people 'judging the book by the cover!'  Standing at 7 foot tall I'm not sure why he can be seen as intimidating ;-).  One thing that is for sure is that our contrasting styles of teaching make for an entertaining course for the candidates and its strange how we seem to be tuned in to what each other is thinking.  We were also joined on the last day by John Cameron, a very knowledgeable charismatic instructor.  What a TEAM!!!

The weather proved to be challenging throughout this course both in terms of what the synoptic charts were suggesting and what we actually experienced.  Choosing the right locations to teach in is of paramount importance but experiencing challenging weather is also important...and we certainly did that.

As most of you may know the WGL is a 'Summer' leadership award within bounded (roads etc) areas of upland hilly terrain, however,  during training it is not unreasonable to push the bounds both in terms of weather and areas to highlight exactly what is within remit of the award.  Following day one of looking for small features using 1:25k maps we moved onto journeying on day 2 in the area affectionately known as the Howgills using 1:50k maps.  This day certainly pushed the bounds and challenged each candidate both in terms of navigation and looking after themselves and the rest of the group.  The forecast for the day said the windchill would be -16 degrees!  Following evening meal that night we then went out for 3 hours of limited visibility (night) navigation.  We had a beautiful evening to once again be out on the hills and all the candidates did really well in an activity the majority had limited experience in.

Day three is all about dealing with hazards and campcrafty type stuff as well as the all important individual debriefs.

An excellent course!

If you would like more information relating to the WGL or any of Roxcool courses just drop me a line or give me a call.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Vanishing is Vanishing

Sorry for the shortage of specific climbing photos in this blog...the wet killed my camera today...


Getting soaked to the skin was definitely not on my list of things to do today but the deteriorating conditions experienced this morning up on the Ben certainly tested both me and my kit.  More of that later...


After the ‘rest day’ yesterday (basically we were knackered!) Dean and myself woke this morning raring to go and get a quick fix back up on the Ben before the six and half hour drive back home.  We walked with very little talking allowing the rolling mountainside to ease away our aches from the first day.  A quick drink at the CIC water pipe and we headed up towards our objective for the day – Vanishing Gulley Grade V 5 ***.


The gulley leads up onto Tower Ridge where you can enjoy a big day out if you decide to continue up the ridge to finish. However, we wanted to do the two long technical pitches then abseil off and make a quick exit of the hill.


I led up the first pitch soon realising that there was a shortage of decent anchors mainly due to the ‘chewy ice’ which was taking first time placements with the axes but was a little ‘mushy’ to place screws.  This inevitably meant long run-outs but the climbing was good and absorbing.  Nearing the belay, I suddenly realised that the deteriorating condition (warm), meant that the waterfall that was now coming over the steep section of the next pitch was landing right where I needed to stand.  For some reason today I wore hardshell (waterproofs) for the first time in probably 10 years and how happy I was.  I stood under the spurt of water trying to belay Dean up and feeling rather sorry for myself.  If I had worn my softshell as I normally do today we would have had to abseil straight off back down the gulley.


After Dean arrived at the belay we were joined shortly after by Donald King a local MIC out working with a client Chris.  Donald works for Abacus Mountaineering (  I was at first reassured that Donald had chosen the same route as us but as he approached the belay I asked him if the spurt (large waterfall :-)) was normal...his response of “OOOOOOOOOH!” didn’t fill me with confidence as he looked on with a slight glint in his eye as the Sassenach in front of him was being p***** on by the Scottish mountain.


Surprisingly, even though I was wet through in my gloves and a little damp everywhere else I wasn’t too cold.  Donald and I exchanged pleasantries and I helped to build his belay as I was on a small ledge having to hang out from the dodgy looking tat and he managed to position himself below me (protected from the water)...clever man!


Dean as confident as ever stacked two screws in the steep ice wall that rose in front of him...and he was off.  This was Dean’s first Grade V route and after seconding his pitch I think he deserves praise for the confident manner in which he sent it having at one point at least an eight metre run-out.



At the top we quickly (sort of) abseiled down and were soon walking the trail down to Fort William.


A really pleasant few days with a lad that is progressively becoming a star in the making...Good lad!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Glorious weather to enjoy the fruits of Ben Nevis

Almost the perfect day!

Our route Minus 3 Gulley followed by NE Buttress
Dean and I started walking in from the North Face car park at around 6.30am...Surprisingly the weather was totally different from that forecast on MWIS.  The skies were clear and the views spectacular!

We wanted to wait and see what routes other people were on before deciding our plans for the day but we had in mind the classics, Point 5 and Zero gulleys.  Unfortunately there were 3 parties on each route.  So we etched a plan to do Minus 3 Gulley and then possibly rap off and get another route in. 

My lead...First pitch caused no problems but the belay was dripping with water and I tried desperately to avoid getting everything wet.  Dean arrived at the stance and I pointed up at the ‘none icicle’ that normally forms the start of pitch 2.  However, Dean was keen to give it a go and sent it without kicking any of the delicate ice remaining in fine style.  Definitely not grade IV and with heavy rucksacks felt a lot harder.


The route is fairly sustained and has some very interesting climbing up ramps and corners amongst the gulley walls.

At the joining of Minus 3 with The North East Buttress we had to make a choice...descend or continue up the buttress. North East Buttress is described as one of the best mountaineering days out in Britain...We opted for the latter! We weren’t disappointed either....Pitch after pitch of glorious climbing, sustained throughout until we were faced with the ‘Man Trap’. A steep (possibly slightly overhanging) rock wall. Many people climb this by pulling on gear and making life easy for themselves but Dean and me managed it completely free....If you can say that when you’re pulling on ice axes.



Arriving at the summit the sun was still shining and not a soul was around...Fantastic.  The views in every direction were phenomenal!  Following a few photos, a quick descent to the Number 4 Gulley and along abseil into the gulley we were on our way down. 

The long long descent nearly broke both me and Dean...but following a bath and food were feeling better...I should say I am...Dean is fast asleep!

Good bits: The climbing, the weather, the company, mint tea and honey.

The bad bits: Sore body!!!