'For Adventures of a lifetime'

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Two day route set

As if my body wasn't suffering enough...The last two days have been spent route setting at a local school wall and the muscles that weren't aching are very much so now!  Richy Reed and myself had taken on the task of stripping and resetting nine lines.  Each line was to have 3 easy routes up to a grade of 6a.  As well as this we wanted to make an impact by moving the large molded volumes which had not been moved since the wall was built 5 years ago.  The idea being to make the nine lines into an area for beginners and for teaching.

Working through lunch today we managed to get most of the routes set and the lines that were left with only two routes done were down to the colour of the holds available to us and not our lack of commitment.

Turning one of the large volumes into a diagonal position reviled  a strange image of what looks like an ancient Bishop and one which looks like a human lung...See what you think in the photos below but we have now named the routes The Bishops Head and The Lung lol.

Thanks to Richy for the hard graft as usual...I appreciate it mate :-)

The wall after the strip but before the volumes have been moved

 Like candy in a sweetie shop
The Bishop

The head grafter
Hard at it

The completed lines

Monday, 8 April 2013

Orion Direct 400m V,5 **** - Ben Nevis

Three days ago I was climbing on Ben Nevis ....Today I'm still buzzing from the adventure and the climbing experienced had that day.

The Orion Face with our route taking the line straight up the middle
I was invited to go and climb by Ashley Preston, a friend I had made 3 years ago while climbing the classic Raven Crag Gully in the Lake District. During our discussions on the numerous belays while waiting for others to climb it turns out that him and his brother (also climbing that day) were the cousins of a very good friend of mine and that they were actually from Billingham (where I live).

Now Ash and me have never climbed together and to climb a serious route like Orion Direct took a certain amount of trust in each others abilities. I must admit I nearly didn't go as the 7+ hours journey time for a one day hit was not appealing. However, the conditions being reported on Blogs and on Facebook, and the forecast of settled weather for a few days ahead, made me feel I really didn't have a choice....When am I ever going to have another opportunity.

Full on exposure - Photo taken by some guys on Zero Gully

At this stage its worth giving a little background to the route. It’s a route held in high regard by most winter mountaineers and a very committing route, as once on, it’s very difficult to escape as the belays are not really brilliant for abseiling, saying that there are a couple which would be fine but would need to be linked to others. The other things to consider are the weather and route conditions.  It’s certainly the last place I would want to be if a storm hit. There are limited places to hide from the wind and from spin drift avalanches. The ice/snow conditions, particularly around the crux traverse are the make and break of the route but there are other parts where you want good axe placements. The route never gets technically difficult but all the above add to the apprehension of even starting the route in the first place.

Walking in very early

We decided we were going to be first on the route so we set off from the North Face Car Park at 0510hrs and steadily plodded up the Allt a Mhuilinn towards the CIC hut. While walking your mind drifts from positive thoughts to very negative thoughts...."Do I really want to go through with this?” “of course I do!!!" "Is Ash up to this?" "Am I up to this?" "What if a storm hit, what if people are ahead of us?" Arriving at the CIC hut we were a little disappointed to see there was someone ahead of us heading up into the area where our route started...surely they weren't going to be doing our route. I reassured Ash that even if he did do our route he was soloing (no ropes brave man!) so he would be well above us once we were organised enough to start. The problem having someone ahead of you is they inevitably kick down ice on you and it can hurt if you look up at the wrong time. It turns out that the soloist was no other than another friend Harry Holmes.   ( who came second in the Dry Tooling competition last February at Sunderland Wall.

As we slowly made progress towards the foot of the route it’s very difficult to take in the sheer size of the Orion Face and where the route actually goes. A lot of classics are like this and its only once you engage on the route everything falls into place...this route was no exception.
I took the first lead up a steep icy wall which leads to the foot of an icy groove around 35 meters. Ash lead off up the groove and looked confident...a few reassuring screws helped and after around 45 meters he made a belay. I ran up the groove with a big smile on my face...this is where I wanted to be!!! A few alternate leads saw me belayed at the crux traverse. It was at this point a fellow North Easterner joined us. Adele Pennington (Everest ascencionist) ( has been ticking off the classic winter routes this winter and we had been friends on Facebook for quite some time but never actually met each other in person. Adele and her partner Dave Barker were very patient with me and Ash and we kept them amused with a bit of friendly banter. We hadn't really given much thought as to who was going to lead this crux section and I was easy either way. Ash was happy to hand the reins to me and as it happened it was exactly the type of climbing I revel in, totally absorbing. The crux is a series of icy/rocky ledges with very little protection available and only once you sink your axe into the neve (snow ice) above do you feel the confidence returning to the rightful place.
The first steep ice pitch

Ash on the 2nd pitch in the icy groove
A team climbing Zero Gully

Ash on the 2nd pitch in the icy groove
Ash embarking on the 'Long than we thought' pitch

A couple more alternate leads saw us at the foot of the icy chimney which we knew led to the top. Ash took the lead on this one and what a pitch it turned out to be. Better described as a hanging icy chimney the line swings across the voids and even has a very exposed traverse and pull up a hanging wall but done on perfectly placed axes it was a real pleasure. The smiles were on both mine and Ash's face as we came together at the belay...we knew it was just one more pitch to the top. I got the glory pitch up a steep snow slope with a couple of little rock bulges to deal with. As I approached the top I couldn't wait to feel the warmth of the sun on my face and take in the views I knew were waiting for me there...however, I should have known it was going too easy. Literally three steps from the top the rope went tight...only one reason for this, I had ran all the rope out. This had happened on an earlier pitch and we had to 'simu' climb (climbing at the same time) to get a safe belay. This time around I knew Ash was on relatively safe ground so wasn't too worried. Ten minutes later Ash and me were sharing a 'man hug' and congratulating each other on a job very well done. Adele and Dave joined us and we were soon joined by an Italian pair and a couple of guys who had just climbed Astral Highway.

Me starting the Crux traverse

Relaxing after reaching safer ground

Ash above the belay following the traverse

Ash moving towards the Icy hanging chimney

Ash looking rather happy

Peace to the world - Rather happy myself
The view from the top

We said our goodbyes to everyone and started the long plod off the hill. The views and weather all around us could not have been better and we felt like two kids who were enjoying Christmas morning with all their toys. We descended via the Red Burn a steep but quick way off the hill. The Burn takes you almost to the edge of the Half Way Lochin. Another hour saw us back at the van in the Car Park with a can of cider to celebrate...Just what the doctor ordered!  What a totally great experience the whole day had been...
The parties at the top
Starting the walk down

To get this feeling of satisfaction requires commitment, confidence, organisation and a certain amount of skill and we had certainly given it everything.  The drive back home to Teesside via Carlisle was a long one and unusually for me required a nap along the way, but definitely worth every minute behind the wheel.

Fantastic weather from the start of the day to the very end

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Great End in Great Nick!

With the weather being the way it is currently, I always feel I will miss out if I don't get out there and enjoy it, so yesterday I decided there were a few routes on Great End (Lake District) that I hadn't done.  


My partner yesterday was a real blast from the past and I last saw him (David Hetherington) in 1992 at a 10 year school reunion...not that I remember him being there as I was distracted by one of my ex-girlfriends who was also in attendance ;-) and looking rather striking. 


Facebook seems to be great for this type of thing and I have others from school who I chat with as if it hasn't been 30+ years since leaving school.   Following David (Hez) on Facebook I was aware that post school he got into the outdoors a little more than he use to.  He is now one of those crazy people who do ultra marathons and likes his hill walking.  We nearly met up a couple of years ago to winter climb in Scotland but it fell through so when I give him the opportunity of joining me yesterday he went out of his way to make it happen, this included rearranging his work shift and informing the kids that the family taxi driver was not available.  As we arrived at the car park at Seathwaite the car in front opened its door only for another friend to climb out.  Simon Gee runs his own film production company ( and has had a few films shown at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival.  We climbed a few hard routes together a few years ago including a second ascent of a route called G - Force up in Coire Fee Southern Cairngorms.


Walking up Grains Ghyl (Grrrrrrr!) in the cold early morning air, Great End slowly came into view and how magnificent she looked bathed in sunshine and snow.  We geared up at the bottom smiling and looking at the fun we were about to embark on.  Simon and his mate (Andy) joined us as we were about to set off.  They had heavier rucksacks due to the fact they were planning to snow hole and Simon brought along all his Mountain Rescue toys.  The usual ritual of a brew of mint tea and honey while we kitted up and we were soon heading up towards the start of our first route, South East Gully (SEG) grade III.  


I had come up a few years ago to do SEG but on that occasion the route (snow and ice) was falling down around us so we had made a decision to move onto an adjoining buttress.  No problems this time around the cold temperatures everyone is whinging about are helping to hold onto some fantastic conditions, in the gullies at least.  A pretty straight forward first pitch leads to the first real ice section.  This steepening can be a little intimidating for the in experienced/novice and I wondered how Hez would handle it.  I should have had no fears as he came over the top of the steepening with a huge smile (or was it wind?) on his face.  A couple of more straight forward pitches with the occasional rock overlap to deal with and we were at the top.

We descended down Custs gully (Grade I climb) which is rammed with snow at the moment so that we could get in the vicinity of Window Gully Grade III, our next objective.  We traversed in above the initial snow plod to arrive at the foot of the first major pitch.
 We had a quick bite to eat and then set off.  This pitch climbs the gully over a couple of ice bulges to arrive at the foot of a 12 foot wall of ice and the belay.  Hez came up after been bombarded from the ice being sent down from the couple climbing ahead of us.  It was obvious he was enjoying the climbing, the situation and I'm sure his old pals company :-).  The wall of ice was good value and this took us to the 'Window' from where the climb gets its name and to the steep right hand finish up another wall of ice opposite the window.  The pitch was dispatched with no problem and I ran out a full ropes length to near the top.  Hez joined me at the stance (actually seat) and we turned around and admired the whole of the Lake District still in its winter clothing.

The walk down Grains Ghyl (which I absolutely hate and despise) was made a tad easier by the snow cover making the bone jarring cobbles less of a problem, this along with the chatter of a couple of other climbers (Matt and Nigel) we had met on SEG earlier in the day.



A great day once again this winter made even better by the company and the reminiscing through the whole day ....Oh and well done Hez, not bad for your first ever 'real' winter routes.