Indian Himalaya, Miyar Valley Expedition

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Great advice!
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Temple blessings
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Lovely homestay
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Approach to base camp
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Cayak?
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Bouldering on the approach
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Hera AKA Hero the chef
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Mmmmm
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Fun, just none stop fun
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Canna stop Chetan smiling though
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Acclimatising in a pretty ace spot!

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Lungs burn approaching 6000m, but what a beautiful day
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2nd ascent of a 6000m peak. AD

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Camping on Kang La Pass 5500m, day 1 of prime objective
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Ugly Moraine on the approach, day 2
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Starry night across the glacier from Raja Peak
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Day 3: face watching
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North face looms ahead
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Alpine start, day 4
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Mind the seracs!
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Great steep ice
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The thin traverse
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The key wall in thin conditions
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Spindrift party!
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Snowfield expanse

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Time to find a way back left

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Fun climbing
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So good to feel the Sun!
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But the Sun doesn’t stop spindrift!
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End of day 4
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Our seat for the night
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Morning Dave
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Day 5
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On the higher ramp
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The mega Traverse Pitch
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Dave sending the Goulotte
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Approaching rope shenanigans

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Faffing
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Success!!
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Our bivvy on the descent. Day 6
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Rest day at advance base camp

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Reccying the start of Transcendence
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All 3 successful teams re-untited
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Left to right: Gajendra, Hera, Dave Sharpe, Martin Moran, me, Ian Dring
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Day break, Last Chance Salloon, James’ Peak
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Forced in to a long snow traverse by unexpected mixed walls
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Back on some ice

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Dave unsure about me shoving my greet in his armpits!
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Summit? Or is it that one?……..
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Starting the descent from James’ Peak first ascent, 5820m (approx)
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Unclimbed big walls
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Last Chance Sallon face, TD-, James’ Peak, 5820m (approx)
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Transcendence Topo

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Transcendence, Raja Peak

The monster roared and an earth-shaking rumble erupted from the darkness. That’s the way it is out here, everything’s alive and often trying to kill you! The glaciers we’d been living on for the last couple of weeks frequently groaned their warnings and we were but tiny ants in a ring made for a rhino.

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It was 3.45am and we’d just crossed the bergschrund on a 1200m North Wall of a virgin peak in this isolated corner of the Indian Himalaya. The map marked the summit as being 6295m, but this is the land time forgot and maps must be treated with extreme caution. I was relieved we’d made it in to the sanctuary of our couloir, before the huge serac in the darkness up to our right released its’ load. Above me, the reflections of Dave’s head torch flickered off the rock walls, illuminating snapshots of grandeur. I kept an eye on the rope that joined us, moving when beckoned and already savoring moments of inactivity, leaning in to the slope and easing the pull of the heavy sack on my shoulders. It had been four days since we left Advance Base Camp and despite consuming most of our food, enough kit to support us in this mountain environment was not light. The size of the pack became truly apparent as Dave reeled me in to the depths of a cave and it began to wedge me in place. I was relieved to swap for the lighter leader’s pack and even more pleased to discover the squeaky condition of the steep ice pulling out of the cave.

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A grey morning dawned as I got in to some kind of rhythm moving up the more unconsolidated snow in the upper couloir. I edged ever closer to the thin slither of white falling from the steep corners above. From a distance it’s impossible to tell what the white lines you’re using to join the dots consist of: icy neve with solid substance, or loose snow doing little more than getting in the way. The latter could easily shut us down and force us, with danger and uncertainty, toward the jaws of one of the guarding seracs. I scraped the pick of my axe down the back of the first corner, before swinging with all the hope I had.

“Thwock!” It stuck fast. I smiled and “thwock, thwock, thwock” danced up the groove to find a belay before the next steepening.

Once Dave arrived we set about getting our second rope ready, switching to pitching from moving together.

“Do you wanna carry on?” he said staring up. “You like the steep stuff right?”

I was tired enough to be indifferent, but far too psyched to think about turning it down.

“Sure,” I replied. “Hope it’s as awesome as it looks!”

A shout from Dave made me glance over, just in time to see his belay plate bounce off toward the couloir below.

“1000 meters of Italian hitches it is then!” I reasoned, knowing that retreat wasn’t really an option. Climbing a new face in a position like this requires a very high level of commitment, along with a healthy dose of optimism. To reach this North side of the mountain we’d walked for two and a half days, crossing a 5500m pass, wading through icy rivers and scrabbling around on some of the loosest moraine I’ve ever had the joy of encountering. Now the best way to go was up!

“Lower me down to the lip,” I said. I knew it was a very long shot, to hope the plate may be retrievable, but it had to be worth a shot! As I glanced over the edge I realized someone must have been looking over us: the plate lay precariously on top of the soft snow in the couloir. I crept my feet down the groove doing my best not to undo our stroke of luck.

“And you’re not religious!” I joked handing the plate back to Dave.

The pitch started promisingly, with good ice and rock gear. After a few meters, however, I had to leave the security of the gully and start moving left for a steep ice smear falling from the main corners above. The white became far closer to snow than ice and the best holds consisted of a few small fins of rock. I searched the area, hoping to find something solid I could clip the rope to, to make me feel safe. A small cam was all that presented itself. I carefully balanced up on to the first little fin and kicked the next one with my left foot. I hovered for a while, all too aware of how alone we were: the radios we’d bought to allow communication with base camp, didn’t work less than a days walk from there and we were now five days away! This was no place to rush. I teetered over to the ice as freezing spindrift poured down on top of me. Finally, a spot to place a screw. The security of solid axe placements eased my angst and I quested on up only to find the ice quickly deteriorate again: this was definitely not in the bag. More delicate climbing led me up to another junction in the road. I surveyed my options: the ice I was on flowed left over another steep bulge, appearing wafer thin and incomplete; to my right it looked like a couple of steps on to ledges would gain height more safely. It did but the final ledge landed you in a cramped position beneath an overhanging wall. Over on the left thin ice dribbled from above. In comparison to what I’d been hoping for it was pathetic! But easier ground looked tantalizingly close. I took time to arrange gear around a loose crack and crawled over. Attaining a standing position instantly forced you out from the bulging rock. I wrapped my hands round a wide crack at the back of the overhang and lay backed out, giving me a limited time to scratch around in the ice for something to use. Nothing, damn!………………There had to be a way.

Time spent to-ing and froing, made me think about how long I’d been on the

pitch. Come on! I have to do this! We can’t be shut down by something so short. Lean out, step up………….Grrrrrr! I couldn’t commit; not here; nothing felt close to certain, including the gear.

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I leant out and looked round the corner from the right end of the ledge, at what I expected to be a blank steep rock wall: “Yes!” A small foot ledge lead right to what appeared to be a short steep crack and another chance of success. I arranged good gear and made steep moves up the crack to reach the ledge. Unfortunately ledges don’t always give you sanctuary until you’re on them! A fact, which was highlighted as I scratched around through the loose snow finding nothing but sloping granite. By the time I finally made it up the rope drag was awful and our “large” alpine rack had all but dissolved in to the pitch. I lay-backed up the side of a huge flake and slotted the rope in behind it.

“Safe!” What a cheeky pitch!

As with baltic, spindrift-filled belays in Scotland, Dave had been wounded by the freezing cold inactivity. Seeing him arrive still shivering in a huge down jacket at the belay, I didn’t envy the icy cell he’d been lashed to. It was clear that more climbing was required before his cockles were even going to be tepid, so I passed him the rack and pushed him on through.

Eventually we emerged on to the large band of snow a third of the way up the face. So good to have the plum line in the bag for that section! Unfortunately the face became far more complex from here on out and route finding promised to be interesting. Dave led us right across the large expanse of snow, searching for the line of weakness we’d spied through our binoculars. Moving together across such a large open snowfield, with sparse protection, is where you really rely on the trust you have in your climbing partner to stay solid.

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Large rock walls looming down from above cued us to climb back up left. Which groove to enter or ice wall to climb was not always obvious, but keeping the faith and moving on up seemed to do the trick. It felt incredible to be all-alone, questing up such a huge face in the Himalayas! The climbing was really fun and the sunshine creeping round to hit me at the belay reflected a beaming smile from my face.

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A snow lip at the base of the central snow bowl presented our first obvious bivy site, but with a long way to go and daylight still remaining we decided to push on. Working my way up a ramp out to the right I began to regret this decision as each ledge I reached turned out to be sloping, small and unsatisfactory. Halted by a rock wall soon after sunset I asked what Dave thought of the ledge he was standing on (they always look better from above). He was hopeful we might be able to shape it in to a pretty reasonable bed for the night, so I fixed the rope to a nest of gear and rappelled down. When enlarging a ledge, the materials you have to work with dictate the difficulty of your sculpting: Snow is normally quite straight forward; ice is hard work, but possible; rock is game over. Excavating back to a line of rock spelled the end of our 5* slumber dreams! We’d both sat through nights before, though, often with far less warm clothes or sleeping bags, so we were happy enough.

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Sitting in our sleeping bags, legs dangling in space, staring out at the last of the light fading over the mountains as it unveiled a blanket of stars, didn’t feel like a bad back drop for dinner! The big thing with vertical homes is that nothing is 100% safe from escaping, unless it’s lashed to the face (including you). Remembering this as I looked for somewhere to carefully place our only source of water, the stove pan, I leant forward to place it in the snow to my side. What I forgot was that the stove clenched between my thighs was still purring and it’s true what they say: Pertex is highly flammable! Anyone would think a flock of molting ducks had been living on the face. The major factor with our sleep set up was that we were sharing a lightweight RAB mountain tent. This proved perfect for lie down bivvies, but when trying to sleep sitting down the tendency is to lean on your rucksack……..in opposite directions, meaning the first part of the night was spent in a tug of war for the tent. Despite feeling confident I could probably win this, in the end I decided snuggling over in Dave’s general direction was more reasonable.

Mornings are always slow to get going from mountain bivvies, but we both decided we’d had enough rest to rappel back down and move left to access a more direct line up the centre of the face. I was really enjoying my morning brew, until the spindrift started pouring down on top of us! This made organising and packing everything back into bags a whole lot harder to do without taking several kilos of snow along for the ride! Dave managed to escape first and climbed up to recover some of our gear, before heading back down to the other line. By the time I rappelled down to join him I was freezing cold and not impressed by my morning ice shower. So much in fact that I managed to miss the ramp I was descending to, giving myself an extra 30m to re-climb! I new the only cure, given the situation, was a healthy dose of climbing and was pleased to start up the first pitch. Two fun pitches brought us to a line of grooves to our left. We hoped these may allow access to the center of the upper part of the face, but joining Dave at the belay, it was clear to me that this line was not in condition. It was steep and filled with nothing but loose snow.

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I set out traversing right to find us an alternative way to the top of the face. This next pitch was situated in an outrageously exposed position; reminiscent of Traverse of the God’s on the Eiger. Some steep moves brought me on to the ice field above, and a great viewing platform. With the day marching on we started moving together again and I continued up right seeking out a way back to the center of the face. As I scraped away at the ice, trying to excavate a worthwhile screw placement I wished I hadn’t agreed to hang on to the seconds pack; it really felt to be gaining weight! The quality of the ice would tempt you on with squeaky neve allowing fast secure progress, before throwing cruddier and all together tenuous terrain our way. Dave was out of sight for long periods, leaving me alone in my own tired world to find the way. Three times I dug for solid ice to protect us from a slip, only to fail and move on.

“I need to take a couple of minutes to have something to eat and drink,” Dave exclaimed when he joined me.

“Isn’t that what belays are for?” I replied, loathe to waste precious time. Nightfall wasn’t far away and we really needed to summit today, I wasn’t interested in another cold night in this vertical world. The way I’ve been used to climbing a majority of Alpine routes is in a single push, fast and light. It feels great to get in to a flow and eat up huge faces in a single day, but to achieve this requires an inherent constant pressure to keep moving efficiently. I quite easily slot in to the position of Mr. Motivator at times such as these, trying to emit positive energy and crack the whip a bit! This situation was a little different though and Dave was right, our aching bodies and frazzled minds would benefit from a quick timeout.

Up right a wide gully led to a shoulder above, likely providing an easy escape to more straightforward slopes to the summit. Even in our state of exhaustion we both agreed this was not the route for us! We were still having too much fun and wanted to savour our adventure; drawing the proudest line we could up this incredible mountain. Soon Dave was motoring up an eye catching ice goulotte between steep rock, before disappearing in to a chimney. In all the years we’ve climbed together I’ve never known Dave to look anything but solid, however long we’ve been on the go for. It was really enjoyable climbing, even with cramp threatening my aching muscles.

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Dave had belayed below a bulging ice corner and confirmed that cramp had reached his weary body too. I accepted the pitch with far less gusto than usual, hoping that easier ground lay just round the corner. I bridged up in to the corner, placing a couple of cams out left. Yarding up with all my might, I swung at the bulge… Bomber! Continuing in this diagonal line I had to make a couple of very balancey bounces, before taking a belay below delicate steep ground. Surveying our options and how unprotected, one move in particular, would be for Dave, I suggested him making a lower traverse line and an arc around me to gain the ice field up and left. As soon as untying was required to flick round some bulging rock, I realized this may not have been the ultimate tactics! Ah well, shouldn’t be far to go now I thought.

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I had hoped to sit staring out at a perfect sunset, framing the best mountain view of my life, riding the crest of an incredible wave of elation and relief on the summit our new mountain. When it became apparent that this wasn’t going to be the case I grabbed a couple of brief moments to enjoy the still beautiful picture as another day came to a close, while we faffed about on the ice. In all my years of life and climbing, adventure is what I’ve always strived for searching for the most memorable experiences I can find the opportunity to make. Provided with an old distant photo taken years earlier, by Moran, and trekking all this way in to the Himalayan wilderness to find a line up such an amazing unclimbed mountain is the meaning of adventure! Before too long I was pulling myself on to the snowy ridge. It swept down from the darkness up to my left. Somewhere up there was the summit and I didn’t want to stop till I was there, so I continued, 50m of rope slicing the shadows between us. When the ground finally stopped rising I threw my arms in the air and let out the loudest whoop I could muster.

It was 8.02pm on the 2nd October and we’d made it.

Now what next!

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Transcendence Topo

Transcendence ED2 1200m, Raja Peak 6267m

Raja means King in Hindi

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Thanks to: Dave for for putting up with me in this amazing year; Martin Moran for inviting us to climb such an awesome mountain; Chetan for none stop smiles and support; Gajendra and Hera for incredible food and support; everyone else I know for making life so amazing!! Also huge thanks to RAB and Lowe Alpine for keeping us looking good and feeling warm, as well as MEF for helping expeditions like this to happen. 

Gothic Edge 31/01/2015

A short night taking in the luxuries of the very plush CIC hut was followed by an equally short approach to see what had acquired a winter coat high on the Ben. Our planned objective, Sioux Wall was close, but I guess you’d have described it’s winter attire as more of a fleece than a “coat”. Rocio Siemens and Owen Samuels had started up a …….. and this was definitely the whitest buttress, with no question as to whether it was in acceptable winter condition – it was going to look great in the pictures!

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Good morning Scotland, worse places to be at New Year!
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Rocio
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Not a bad morning!
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Rocio cruising

The Guidebook didn’t seem to provide many options so we put it away and decided to follow our noses up the best looking winter route we could see. The direct start to Gargoyle Wall looked like fun and with only a thin veneer of ice it was not going to be without interest. Pete put in a solid performance on what turned out to be a real calf burner with technical bridging and good hooks, continuing up the crack above to reach a ledge.

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Pete pumping the Calves on the Gothic Edge P1 (also Gargoyle direct start)

From here I traversed across to the top of the Gargoyle to get a look at what lay ahead. pete was hopeful there may be a possible line to the left of the arete, but all I could see was a couple of discontinuous wide cracks on the edge of nowhere, leading through a network of roofs. It looked unlikely!

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Gothic Edge P2

I moved back towards the belay, before trending up some grooves to reach the large ledge below the Gargoyle Cracks. Pete was optimistic enough I would find a way, that I took the gear back and naively started to move upwards. Nice foot lips allowed progress to the first roof. I created a small nest of gear, before stepping high and pulling up scratching around on the smooth wall above. I cleared the rime from every piece of rock I thought provided any hope. I found a couple of tenuous hooks, but could not see any gear or bomber placements to tempt me forward. I dropped back down and justified my dithering to Pete, unsure whether I could find a way. I moved back up and this time committed to the high hooks. I scratched around to the left………A tiny seam, no wider than a knife, but my pick slotted right in, bomber! I moved up and across, stepping up and teetering on my front points.

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Me questing in to the unknown on Gothic Edge P3

Now I just needed to find some gear. I cleared around the roof and every possible seam, but nothing was to be seen. “Remember you’ve got the Peckers” suggested Pete. Of course a little bird like beak might just jam in to the same seam. I hooked higher and pushed one in. It pushed hard up against the side wall, but thankfully my hammer could still get to it. I banged it as deep as it would go, knowing this was likely to be my one life line. Phew!

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No more than 3 meters higher I could make out a thin ledge. I can do this! I hooked upwards and searched around with my picks. A tiny turfy seam gave enough purchase to make a step, but nothing else felt great. I took the best of a bad bunch and gently moved up, with one OK axe and one poor. All of a sudden the better one ripped!……… Breathe…….I stepped back down and balanced enough that I could bang my axe in with the other. A few more hooks and I was at the ledge.

The ledge was no more than a foot or two wide and the wall above smooth and plum vertical. The pecker below was but a distant memory. The only thing that would make me feel any better about this mantel shelf was a bulldog. I hammered it in to the best turf I could find and tried to ignore the wobbling. Locked a picked in a seam far right and pushed down with my left……….On the ledge!

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Gothic Edge, the pitch!

I shuffled to the arete on the right and balanced upwards. What a pitch!

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Pete pulling out of the steepness on the Gothic Edge

Pete took the most logical finish and continued straight in to the darkness up the steep righthand crack. The Hard Rock Finish to Gremlins.

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Pete climbing in to the darkness on the Rock Finish, used as P4 of Gothic Edge

All in all a brilliant and direct collection of pitches up Gargoyle Wall, highly recommended, just don’t forget your pecker!!

Gothic Edge VII7 (although it does feel a grade harder than Babylon?)

P1 VI7 P2 IV4 P3 VII7 P4 VI7

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Pete on the Gargoyle Cracks Babylon P2

Back at the CIC hut everyone managed to achieve staying up for New Year with plenty of whisky and even a little fireworks display!

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Rocio on Gargoyle Cracks, what a position

The next two days were not crap either!!

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Me on an epic final pitch of Babylon

Babylon VII7

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Good traditional squirming at the top of Babylon
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Pete emerging from the final pitch of Babylon
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Just in time for a late lunch!

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Sioux Wall ??

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Loving an atmospheric P1 Sioux Wall

Winter clung on through the drizzle

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The sting in the tail on P1 Sioux Wall
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Pete on Sioux Wall P2
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Sioux Wall P2

With the direct finish we can see how this gets VIII8. It’s very sustained and a good grade harder than Babylon or Darth Vader?

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Me on P3 of Sioux Wall, pretty goey!

What an incredible route

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And relax………

 

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Sioux Wall P3 (mind the ginormous wobbly block!)

On the 3rd rain to the summit removed any winter coats and we walked out. Back in the Cairngorms today however the Northern Corries are more wintery than they’ve been with a thick layer of rime ice. Let’s be having you!!

Gothic Edge VII7

 

 

 

 

Alps Summer Hit 2015 (Pics say 1000 words)

I managed to grab a quick couple of weeks in the Alps at the end of July this summer. It’s surprisingly long since I’ve enjoyed summer alpine bivis where you don’t feel like you’re about to die, so we really made an effort to pack them in.

The last couple of months had been one continuous heatwave, meaning things in the Alps were falling down at double the rate of knotts they normally do at this time of year! While we were there the Grand Couloir on the Goutier Normal route of Mont Blanc claimed a couple of victims, before being closed. The Three Monts route was also on the way out with the Everest style ladder we had to use in the descent from the Tacul being swallowed by it’s crevasse soon after.

Despite all this Matt Pigden and myself ended up having an incredible couple of weeks, climbing some mega classic routes I’ve always wanted to do, and even working some strong Italian holiday vibes in to the mix!

Back below the Grand Capucin
Back below the Grand Capucin

 

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Low on the Bonatti Route ED2 7aA1

"The shot" just past the 1st 6c pitch
“The shot” just past the 1st 6c pitch
The Peuteray smiling at me
The Peuteray smiling at me

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Ex.......... po......... sure...............
Ex……….
po………
sure……………
Little did I know what it had in store!
Little did I know what it had in store!
More incredible Granite
More incredible Granite
Gareth and Will with not far to go now
Gareth and Will with not far to go now
Heading for Pointe Adolphe Rey the next day
Heading for Pointe Adolphe Rey the next day
The hardest 6B pitch ever!! (7a) Bettembourg
The hardest 6B pitch ever!! (7a) Bettembourg
Incredible cracks
Incredible cracks

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The approach to the base of the Peuteray Integrale (ED1? Is that all? 5C if you go the right way 4500m) gets the blood pumping
The approach to the base of the Peuteray Integrale (ED1? Is that all?) 5C if you go the right way 4500m) gets the blood pumping

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Not the 5C way!
Not the 5C way!
Great 1200m of Granite to reach the top of the Noire to warm up
Great 1200m of Granite to reach the top of the Noire to warm up

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Really fun Alpine terrain
Really fun Alpine terrain
Matt nap
Matt nap
So happy to find a running spring high on the Noire
So happy to find a running spring high on the Noire

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One of the 5C pitches late on day 1
One of the 5C pitches late on day 1
Matt's pen
Matt’s pen
Not a bad 1st bivi
Not a bad 1st bivi

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Still a way to go
Still a way to go
Another summit down
Another summit down

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She loves it really
She loves it really
The Virgin's kingdom
The Virgin’s kingdom
The first fun rappel coming off the Noire
The first fun rappel coming off the Noire
This is where the abseils really got interesting mainly because of the stones coming down the gully, but also because Matt is about to have to jump over to my side to reach my my free hanging stance
This is where the abseils really got interesting mainly because of the stones coming down the gully, but also because Matt is about to have to jump over to my side to reach my my free hanging stance
Slow going at the fill station
Slow going at the fill station
And so the mega choss begins!
And so the mega choss begins!
Our little tin sanctuary! So good to make it to the Canzino after Les Dames Anglaises
Our little tin sanctuary! So good to make it to the Canzino after Les Dames Anglaises
The giant emerges!
The giant emerges!
Another nice morning
Another nice morning
The line of the raps can be seen just to the right of the sunlit face. We crossed the top of the central pinnacle and the side of the nearest. Perhaps unsurprisingly a team soon after heard a large portion of one of these pillars falling down!
The line of the raps can be seen just to the right of the sunlit face. We crossed the top of the central pinnacle and the side of the nearest. Perhaps unsurprisingly a team soon after heard a large portion of one of these pillars falling down!
Still choss
Still choss
Nearing the top of the Aiguille Blanc de Peauteray
Nearing the top of the Aiguille Blanc de Peauteray

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The summit of the Blanche with more chose to pass behind
The summit of the Blanche with more choss to pass behind
Nice spot for a brew
Nice spot for a brew
Errr, we won't take the snow gully then! Best get a move on.
Errr, we won’t take the snow gully then! Best get a move on.
Not the King vivi we dreamed of!......At least I wasn't too cold though
Not the King bivi we dreamed of!……At least I wasn’t too cold though
Bon nuit
Bon nuit
My slide for the night can be seen in the bottom of the picture. Pork scratchings saw me through the night!
My slide for the night can be seen in the bottom of the picture. Pork scratchings saw me through the night!
Top of the Grand Piller d'Angle
Top of the Grand Piller d’Angle
Making it to the final snow arete
Making it to the final snow arete

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A great way to get high!
A great way to get high!
Over 4000m of climbing behind, 5000m to the rd!
Over 4000m of climbing behind, 5000m to the rd!
Spot the climber at the Chandelle, Central Pillar of Freney. Interesting memories of a pretty cold night spent here many years ago on my first route to the top of Mont Blanc!
Spot the climber at the Chandelle, Central Pillar of Freney. Interesting memories of a pretty cold night spent here many years ago on my first route to the top of Mont Blanc!
Just one final active melt line to pass!
Just one final active melt line to pass!
Great feeling on the summit!
Great feeling on the summit!
Good scenes above Mont Blanc
Good scenes above Mont Blanc

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Himalayan style mountaineering on the three Monts
Himalayan style mountaineering descending the three Monts
Sunrise approaching the Cassin, Piz Badile
Sunrise approaching the Cassin, Piz Badile
Sweet granite low down on the Cassin
Sweet granite low down on the Cassin
Some really fun 5c pitches
Some really fun 5c pitches

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Some good old traditional grunting near the top
Some good old traditional grunting near the top

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The North Ridge.........well before the lightening started
The North Ridge………well before the lightening started
Back in the Swiss meadow
Back in the Swiss meadow
Feeling hot hot hot in Val Di Mello
Feeling hot hot hot in Val Di Mello
Epic slab features
Epic slab features

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Final Italien lunch. Happy days
Final Italien lunch. Happy days

Thanks to Matt, Will, Gareth and the Lake Como newly weds for more great memories.

 

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Pabbadise holiday snaps

When the weathers good this place has to be the best rock climbing destination in the UK!!…. And the weather was perfect. Highlights included the steepest E1, E3 and E4 of my life; swimming off the pristine white sand beach; not been thrown up on by any birds; explaining a 3:1 hauling system to Mick Fowler; making new friends and getting a pizza and cuppa handed to me by Donald on his boat.

There was also a pretty exciting rescue from Banded Walls. I’ll give more info on that soon. For now here’s some pics from an epic few days in an amazing place

No signs of the 20m waves in Castle Bay then!
No signs of the 20m waves in Castle Bay then!
Team psyche
Team psyche
Needs a little work
Needs a little work
Which way?!
Which way?!
Home for the week
Home for the week
The best ab ever in to Grey wall recess, 90m free hanging from the start
The best ab ever in to Grey wall recess, 90m free hanging right from the start
Pretty wet crux on the E2 warm up
Pretty wet crux on the “U-Ei” E2 warm up
You are being watched! Interesting belaying required to avoid the ropes being covered in puke!
You are being watched! Interesting belaying required to avoid the ropes being covered in puke!
The 5a pitch
The 5a pitch!
The view to Mingulay
The view to Mingulay

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Prophecy of Drowning P2
Prophecy of Drowning P2
Prophecy P3
Prophecy P3
The Great Arch
The Great Arch

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Prophecy P4
Prophecy P4
Spot the adventurers - Reeve and Lindy
Spot the adventurers – Reeve and Lindy
Rich DWS with a rack and rope on the way to the steepest E1 in the world,
Rich DWS with a rack and rope on the way to the steepest E1
He's spotted it
He’s spotted it
It's spotted him and it don't like it!
It’s spotted him and it don’t like him!
Lindy seconding Reeve on Ship of fools, E5 and Bob on the E6 to the left, Banded Walls
Lindy seconding Reeve on Ship of fools, E5 and Bob on the E6 to the left, Banded Walls
Lindy contemplating the crux over the roof
Lindy contemplating the crux over the roof
Guy soloing the steepest E1 in the world!
Guy soloing the steepest E1 in the world!
Crux
Crux
Soph chasing close behind
Soph chasing close behind
Endolphin Rush, an incredible E3
Endolphin Rush, an incredible E3
May make you a little crazy out here!
May make you a little crazy out here!
Rich on Endolphin Rush P2
Rich on Endolphin Rush P2
You can almost hear the music....
You can almost here the music….
Reeve dropping back in to Grey Wall Recess
Andy dropping back in to Grey Wall Recess
Nearing the end of Elysium, E4
Nearing the end of Elysium, E4
That''s the s***!
That’s the s***!
The steepest E4 pitch ever on Spit in Paradise - 5m overhanging ground in 20m! Doesn't get much better
The steepest E4 pitch ever on Spit in Paradise – 5m overhanging ground in 20m! Doesn’t get much better
Look mum, no hands! Bob taking it to the knee bar on the Bonxie
Look mum, no hands! Bob taking it to the knee bar on the Bonxie

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Back in the Bar again
Back in the Bar again
Fulmars looking "not bovered" after a crash landing
Fulmars looking “not bovered” after a crash landing
Reeve grappling with the description of "not more puffin", E6
Reeve grappling with the description of “not more puffin”, E6
Reeve going for a wet and gritty hard direct finish on "Not More Puffin"
Reeve going for a wet and gritty hard direct finish on “Not More Puffin”
Rich sending the Uber Classic,
Rich sending the Uber Classic, Sugar Cane Country, E4

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Spot the Climbers!...Annelies and Simon on Prophecy
Spot the Climbers!…Annelies and Simon on Prophecy
Rich looking pretty horrified by my feet at the top of "Corncrakes for Breakfast"
Rich looking pretty horrified by my feet at the top of “Corncrakes for Breakfast”
Real life excitement on Banded Walls
Real life excitement on Banded Walls
One of the new choppers from Stornoway
One of the new choppers from Stornoway

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Time to leave the beach
Time to leave the beach
Leaving the rest of the team on Mingulay
Leaving the rest of the team on Mingulay
Lets hope they don't get eaten!......
Lets hope they don’t get eaten!……
DWS potential (/fun catering) on Barra
DWS potential (/fun coasteering) on Barra
My lift outa this place
My lift outa this place

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South Avellano Tower Expedition Part 1

Enter at your peril!
Enter at your peril!

In December 2014 Andy Reeve, Will Harris, Dave Brown and myself were set on course for our expedition to the Avellano Valley, Chilean Patagonia. For Dave and myself it was to be our 2nd attempt on the huge granite monolith of the South Avellano Tower. My last post left off with team minus Dave, waiting out the delivery of our vital missing bag. It’s a month now since we returned and high time I gave you the low down on what happened in the down there.

Typical Patagonian Wilderness
Typical Patagonian Wilderness

Well our bag did eventually arrive the next day, our planned route to cart big walling gear to the base of the cliff worked and it was still there standing proud in one of the most beautiful and isolated valley’s I’ve ever been in. Instead of dragging you through all the details I can remember I’ll break the month down in to a few experiences that really stand out.

The Approach

The approach was always going to be interesting and there was still a plethora of unknowns with our

The South Avellano Tower!
The South Avellano Tower!

desired route before we left the UK. The previous route Dave and myself were taken on with Jim Donini back in February 2014 was real character building stuff! It was undoubtedly the shortest route, coming from Bara Mhurta and only involving about 16km to the base of the wall. The problem was that more than half of this involved wading through raging rivers and vertical jungle bashing, before steep granite slabs, moraine and boulder hopping brought you up to the top of a col, with only steep snow slopes to slide down on the far side. Given our spindly frames and the amount of gear and food we were arming ourselves with, this didn’t feel too attractive!

Leaving the Lake behind
Leaving the Lake behind
Avellano bound
Avellano bound

Instead we used Google maps to inspect the Avellano valley itself, hoping and praying that we would be able to recruit some local farmers to carry our monster loads for us, much nicer! The biggest issue was accessing this valley, with no road access and the 2nd biggest lake in S America in the way. In the end all roads lead to our Chilean friend, Pascual. Always full of smiles and armed with a little beret, he was to be our pied piper, making all the magic happen.

The Avellano Towers
The Avellano Towers

Once Pascual’s van had been fixed up in the garage we started the 5 hour drive down from Coyhaique to Porto Guadal nestled on the shore of Lago General Carrera. It felt great to finally be moving through some awe inspiring Patagonian scenery; an utter wilderness of wide open valleys, colossal rivers and lakes, surrounded by numerous jagged peaks, many still to see a person on their summit. The journey started painfully slow, but thankfully Pascual’s driving velocity doubled as the road surface changed from tarmac to dirt!

We maintained communication as well as possible, but often found ourselves going with the flow, hoping Pascual knew what was required. We had been warned of the Patagonian saying: “if you rush you lose time”, so were relieved to be told we should only have one day to kill before our planned voyage.

Bon Voyage!
Bon Voyage!
Gripped
Gripped
Good to be back on dry land
Good to be back on dry land

The Boat

Reeve couldn’t believe his eyes as the dust trail from Pascual’s van traced up the drive at only 5.05 am, no more than 5 minutes late! Before we knew it we were madly trying to bail out our ship. The sides were low and it couldn’t really be described as more than a glorified and very well used dinghy! With our bags we were already set to weigh the weight of 10 men and if we were going to stand a chance of hitting the far shore extra ballast was not acceptable. Fresh from it’s recent spasm I kept my back as straight as possible.

Next, we weren’t going anywhere until we’d punted the boat out of the stream it was moored in. Pascual shouted various commands we didn’t understand as we swung our logs around and pushed with all our might. Eventually we were floating free. Now, time to get that engine purring…….or not. Pascual began to look flustered as we bobbed around at the mercy of the currents. I noted the lack of any oars and the size of the gigantic lake behind us. The adventure had definitely begun!

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Once the engine finally started, it would cut out just as quickly. In the end I remembered the important saying I had learnt in boy scouts: “if you can’t duck it..” and with that we were on our way, with 40hp of petrol power behind us. As we moved out in to the open water we started to realize just how big this lake was, winds blew from the West and waves started to break over the side of the boat. Before long we were all sitting like soaked rats in a pirate’s hold and hoping the journey would end before we all got frostbite, scurvy or both.

40Km we travelled on that little boat. Periodically Pascual would point at the jerry cans sliding around the deck and indicate that he did indeed want us to pour fuel in to the tank to keep us chugging. I think about a 50% hit was the record. At another point Pascual started to shout and frantically grabbed the engine. Will dived in to help and together they re-attached our power, narrowly averting disaster.

Kristian thinking what he wanted to say
Kristian thinking what he wanted to say

The Farmers

It was great to land on dry land to a golden welcome from our farmer’s, Louis and Kristian. Young Kristian’s enthusiasm was inspiring and we had some great fun miming conversations to each other. Unfortunately the horses weren’t too happy with the size of our bags and decided to smash the two cartons of wine we’d brought, Louis quickly demolished any remains (good thing their was rum he didn’t know about). The trails up the valley were easy-going and even easier with our empty packs.

Pasty legs arrive at the farm
Pasty legs arrive at the farm

That night we stayed on the most idyllic farm I’ve ever been to.

Alive and happy goats.
Alive and happy goats.
Dead goat! Cat hopeful for lickings
Dead goat! Cat hopeful for lickings
Tasty goat!
Tasty goat!

We arrived in the sunshine and were promptly asked what meat we might like for dinner: sheep or goat? We chose goat and 30 seconds later a Billy goat was being slaughtered at the side of the field. Now that’s good customer service! I sat and watched Kristian skinning the goat, as it’s brothers and sisters pranced around gleefully. The cats and dogs waited patiently for their lickings, while a mother hen lead her line of chick’s past. At most the 40km long valley houses 5 people at any one time, their only vague tie with the outside world being through a radio connected to a car battery. Quite a place and the best Chiva I’ve ever tasted!

Louis' house
Louis’ house
Spot the odd one out
Spot the odd one out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mid afternoon the next day and Louis led his horses across one final river, before stopping in some woods. He jumped off his horse, turned around and with a big smile declared “El Campo”.

Day 2 of the approach. Wall looking mighty fine in the background.
Day 2 of the approach. Wall looking mighty fine in the background.
Louis trying his best in the forest
Louis trying his best in the forest

It was a shame to crush someone that looked so pleased with themself, but our planned camp was still another 6km. After pleading with Louis we made our way through the woods, trying to force a way through the maze of dead wood and undergrowth. Anything to stop us from becoming mules any sooner than absolutely necessary! We gained about 100m, before saying our farewells and setting about carrying the three huge loads we would each be required to ferry.

The extra level of effort was quickly rewarded with some really spectacular views of the objective we came for. Approaching along the flat riverbed (with numerous icy river crossings), the South Avellano Tower rears straight up in front of you, like some gigantic gothic pillar.

In da jungle
In da jungle
Nearly there
Nearly there
Bog Stomping
Bog Stomping

Adrenaline surged through my veins and a huge smile forced on to my face. I’d only seen the face from this angle in one photo, American Dave Anderson had taken years ago and it was a really spectacular sight.

Best of all it was bone dry and the sun was shining. We had been concerned that December might be too early, but it was in perfect condition, sitting ready for us to climb!

 

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Loads with fading light near bc

Splitter conditions at Base Camp
Splitter conditions at Base Camp

Winter Conditions Report – Peak District, Snowdonia 7/02/2015

So it’s a week since I returned to our frozen Isle from a month in the Alps and it seems only right to bosh out a quick report about the awesome conditions available in England and Wales.

There really has been a deep freeze throughout the UK, with many rare to form ice routes seeing ascents, “The Shield” on the Ben has undoubtedly caused me the greatest pain and I can only hope that it will be in condition later this month.

Winter climbing in The Peak District has been in full swing this last week, with numerous ascents of Mam Tor Gully, Back Tor and Kinder Downfall.

I believe that the main face routes on Mam Tor never hit prime condition. This is usually due to the turf just being too dry, before the freeze sets in and can make the face both terrifying and dangerous to climb. Mam Tor gully has also seen several ski descents. Driving past on Friday (7th February) the tufty South face is now stripped of snow, although the N face and gully may well still be skiable.

Friday 7th February

Skinning up from Edale
Skinning up from Edale
Skinning up Kinder, with Jacob's ladder on the horizon
Skinning up Kinder, with Jacob’s ladder on the horizon
Grit ski mountaineering
Grit ski mountaineering
James moving in to the wilderness of the plateau
James moving in to the wilderness of the plateau
Man Down
Man Down

Over on Kinder, it was amazing to have a brilliant days ski mountaineering on Friday. James Turnball, Josh Fawcett and myself skinned up from Edale, and across the great plateau to arrive at the Downfall. We found one other skinning track around the rim and it was really cool to be sliding along the great wilderness of Kinder Scout, with breath taking views on all sides. The Downfall climb and Downfall Right Hand both had great ice on them on Friday. The Direct was a long way off and the direct finish to Right hand was probably climbable (although I did see a large chunk of ice dislodged on abseil). I was also amazed by the other ice climbing potential here, with some smaller steeper icefalls up to the left (none quite safely climbable) and a great icefall out to the right. We climbed the initial section of downfall climb, before traversing out right to have a look. Unfortunately sun crept round the corner (about 12pm) and with the steep chandelles looking ominous near it’s top, we decided to give it a careful top rope instead. It turned out to be an awesome little icefall (about vi 6), which in hindsight would have been OK without the sun. The ski descent down slopes to skier’s right of Jacobs Ladder left something to be desired, back in the shade at 3pm, providing it with an icy crust. All in all though, a wicked day. If only you could go ski touring in the Peak District every week.

Approaching wilderness

Ninja Josh
Ninja Josh
Skiers nearing the Downfall
Skiers nearing the Downfall
Three great little icefalls to the left of the downfall
Three great little icefalls to the left of the downfall

View out through ice top

A great overhang problem
A great overhang problem
Ice forming up to the left
Ice forming up to the left
The Downfall in all it's glory
The Downfall in all it’s glory
We top roped the icefall directly above James's head
We top roped the downfall directly above James’s head

Downfall climb 1

James moving right off the Downfall
James moving right off the Downfall
The view back home to Hayfield
The view back home to Hayfield
Refreshment
Refreshment
A fun corner to finish above the Downfall
A fun corner to finish above the Downfall
The great steeper icefall
The great steeper icefall
Skiing down from Edale Cross Rocks
Skiing down from Edale Cross Rocks

4th and 5th February

North Wales has also provided a couple of great days climbing this week. I’ve never seen a cliff so hoared up and icy in England or Wales as Clogwyn Du was on Wednesday. Thanks for Phil Hargreaves patience on the ultra classic El Mancho, one of the best mixed routes I’ve climbed for a long time! We then took advantage of the great ice on Left Hand Branch. Thursday saw another early start with James Turnball, heading to Crib Goch for a change. Unfortunately some rain and warm temperatures on the approach, scared us off and sent us running for the most reliable (and busy) destination. That said we never had to queue for any routes and after recovering from our 50 minute approach we climbed Pillar Chimney. This has a brilliant icefall up the mouth of the chimney pitch at the minute, really fun Vi 6 climbing. We finished off on Cleft Gully, which also has great ice on the first pitch right now.

Morning light in Idwal
Morning light in Idwal
Phil Hargreaves on the 2nd pitch of El Mancho
Phil Hargreaves on the 2nd pitch of El Mancho

View from 2nd belay, Mancho

P2 Mancho

P2 Mancho approaching belay

Phil on the top pitch of El Mancho
Phil on the top pitch of El Mancho
Almost turning round time on the way up to Crib Goch, James Turnball
Almost turning round time on the way up to Crib Goch, James Turnball
E Face of Tryfan
E Face of Tryfan
Will Harris starting the final moody pitch of El Mancho
Will Harris starting the final moody pitch of El Mancho
James Turnball on Pillar Chimney Icefall
James Turnball on Pillar Chimney Icefall

Chimney icefall

James approaching the crux bulge of Pillar Chimney icefall
James approaching the crux bulge of Pillar Chimney icefall
Will Harris contemplating the belly flop
Will Harris contemplating the belly flop
Pitch 2 and 3 of El Mancho
Pitch 2 and 3 of El Mancho
Going in
Going in
Fully Flopped!
Fully Flopped!
James on the icy first pitch of Cleft Gully
James on the icy first pitch of Cleft Gully
Top Belay of Cleft Gully
Top Belay of Cleft Gully
James riding the hoar
James riding the hoar

News from the Lake District is that high North facing crags, such as Scafell are staying hoared and frozen, while crags like Bowfell buttress have been thawing out. Hopefully more on this soon.

It looks like we’re beginning to see the start of a thaw right now and nothing this good lasts forever, so get out there amongst it in this winter wonderland.