Wednesday 20 February 2013

Euro Ice Climbing

Its been a while since I have had (made) time to update the blog, so with no work today (!) and still feeling sore from a training session and sufferfest (turbotrainer group suffering) yesterday, excuses are running low.

Having quit my job in January to persue a few months of climbing and skiing, it seems to have been quite productive so far..... trips to the NW and west coast to do routes and visit places I have longed to experience came to fruition.... Beinn Bhan, Beinn Eighe, Tilt, Shanghigh, Postern, Blood Sweat and Frozen Tears (maybe the best scottish winter route I have done). All brilliant, memorable days out in great company!

Since then 3 weeks of dotting round europe to Cogne, Chamonix, Kandersteg and Monaco (what you've never heard of the awesome ice climbing on the cote d'azur!) have maintained a feeling of transition and shifting objectives. The initial focus of trying to remember how to climb ice efficiently quickly drifting away to be replaced by the steeper, harder mindset..... well except for Monaco sport climbing which proved somewhat of a reminder that polished limestone and no finger strength is a horrible combination for me!!!

Anyway, with a crap camera that detests the cold, and an affinity for shaky pictures, I managed a couple of ok shots, so rather than another 2,000 words, here's a few pictures from the last few weeks with Ally Fulton, Ally Swinton and Alastair Robertson....

Lillaz Gully (Cogne) and the village of Lillaz

Alastair on Lau Bij (Cogne)

 Sogno di Gnomo (Cogne), the right facing corner line that might have been slightly out of condition...! Avalanche stopped play after (on) the 3rd pitch!

  Tradimento Direct (Cogne) - No pictures of the crux pillar although in more sporting conditions:

Flash Estivo (Colonne Centrale)

Foehn wind loading up the slopes above (and firing the temp up!)

Repentence Super (brilliant route!) on the left and Flash Estivo on the right

Stella Artice (not a bad fall back route for the day) - Cogne
Ally abseil into the classic Nuit Blanche (Argentiere)

Rattenpissoir (Kandersteg) - Polish and French teams creating a proper mess..... nice to see the euros can do it as well as the brits! ;-) Properly wet first pitch resulted in 4 hours of drying kit in the van in the afternoon.

Ally with Rattenpissoir in the background (the pillar)

Ally taking a shower on Grimm/Haizahne, backed off and did it the next day instead after doing another 4 pitch WI5+ which made for some tired arms!

All that remains now is to finalise a few things then get on a plane to the Rockies! Hello Canmore!

Having spent years flicking through Sean Isaac's book Mixed Climbs in the Canadian Rockies, its so exciting being able to get on a plane and go experience a few of the classic venues! Few other places have such inspiring/terrifying/intriguing route names..... nemesis, terminator, nightmare on wolfe street, sea of vapours, riptide, the list is endless. Should be a blast!

Sunday 10 February 2013

Before and After

The Shelter Stone in winter is a beautiful, intimidating and fickle venue. After a few days of whispered plans and obsessive weather-watching, Jim and I found ourselves once again crossing the Cairngorm plateau in the dark, in the clag, on a bearing for this magical place. Approaching the top of Pinnacle Gully as dawn came, we dropped below the cloud and were greeted with exactly the sight we'd hoped for - gleaming white rime on the steep upper cliffs of the Shelter Stone and Carn Etchachan. It's in nick! We geared up excitedly and descended to the base of the crag ready to start up one of our dream routes - the Needle.

There was, however, one minor problem. It was warm.  For the moment, we ignored this fact. The lower turfy grooves were well frozen and had plenty snow cover, the upper section was plastered with rime and the middle section held more than enough whiteness to justify an ascent. Why should a little thing like temperature get in the way? Anyway, were were probably just warm from the walk-in - it'll be fine once we get a bit higher.

Jim on the Terrace, approaching our high point

At the start of the fourth summer pitch, we couldn't fool ourselves any longer. We were racing a major thaw up the crag, and the thaw was winning. We were both soaked and the crag's winter plumage was visibly receeding. The next pitch would have been close to dry-tooling (well, wet-tooling) and neither of us could justify going any further, particularly on such a classic route that meant so much to us both.

It was time to go down, but we'll be back...

... and after

Sunday 3 February 2013

Scottish Winter Climbing Meet & Avenging Angel Direct

Jim and I had a great weekend at the Scottish Winter Climbing meet in Fort William, organised by Richard Bentley ( It was an excellent opportunity to meet a load of other keen winter climbers, exchange stories & plans and (on Saturday at least) get some routes in in perfect weather.

Jim & I headed out together for a long-standing objective of Jim's - Avenging Angel Direct on Creag Coire na Ciste. This is a combination of two existing routes - the lower two pitches of Iain Small and Tony Stone's route Angels with Dirty Faces, and the upper two pitches of Nick Bullock's Avenging Angel. This combination makes for a great straight-up line, as Simon Richardson pointed out in his write-up of Iain and Tony's route (, but as far as we know, it hadn't been done this way before.

With so little prior knowledge of either route, we knew we were in for an adventure! But the weather was kind, with blue skies and hardly any wind. Coire na Ciste was well rimed but not utterly blootered, so we had no excuses.

The route takes the big central corner  just left of the pillar in the lower section of the buttress, then steps left up the steep corners above. Jim won the toss for pitch one, which turned out to be really quite bold and technical. There was no obvious sign of panic from Jim when he was on lead, so it was a shock when seconding to find out how hard this pitch really was!

The second pitch took another steep corner, this time with an offwidth-cum-chimney in it. I grunted and scrabbled by way up this to the point where the right wall steepened and I found I could no longer just wedge myself in the crag and hope for the best! Committing out onto hooks and turf was strenuous and off-balance, but the climbing soon eased, leading across to the next steep corner which marked the junction with the original line of Avenging Angels.

Jim got this next pitch, which culminated in an unlikely-looking capping roof which fortunately held good hooks and gear (including some fixed gear from the first ascent). This led to a belay below the final short corner. The corner itself turned out to be completely blind, so I made a thin traverse left and went up cracks on the steep wall. I'm not very good at committing to steep moves above gear so this involved a lot of strenuous procrastination, over and above the handing around required to find & clear out the hooks & gear placements. Eventually, after much huffing and puffing, I managed to pull over. The cornice above was an unexpected bonus which I could have done without, but it only took a few minutes of digging to demolish a path through it, so I suppose I got off lightly.

This direct line gives four pitches of excellent climbing so is highly recommended for anyone looking for something challenging that's not on the standard tick-list of Ben Nevis mixed classics.

The day was topped off with continuing festivities of the Scottish Winter Climbing meet at the Ben Nevis Inn in Achintee. Stovies were served, pints were drunk and stories from the day were exchanged. Simon Richardson gave an excellent talk on some of his Scottish winter climbing experiences, and took great interest in what we'd all been up to too.

Simon Frost and I hatched an ambitious plan to get out again today, but after seeing the updated weather forecast he later texted me to call off. I supposed I should have been disappointed, but it was a relief to be able to switch the alarm off and go back to sleep to rest aching muscles. With wind, rain and warm temperatures today, I don't think we missed anything!

The meet seemed to be a great success, and I hope it continues to run in future years. Thanks to Richard for organising it, and thanks to everyone I met there for the good company and inspiration.