Monday, 27 February 2012

The Psyche, The Psyche.

After a weekend enjoying the glorious sunshine and limitless adventure croquet potential of Norfolk, the youth and I headed Roaches-wards. The forecast was a bit wetter than would be considered ideal, but careful interrogation of various sources of meteorological jiggery-pokery assured us that Staffordshire would be dry. We drove through a big something that looked a lot like rain on the way (it wasn't actually rain as I didn't have to turn the windscreen wipers on), and Ramshaw looked even greener and danker than usual, but we carried on regardless.

On walking up to the Lower Tier boulders there was enough dry rock to be getting on with, so we threw the mats down and warmed up on a few easy problems on Pine Tree Slab. Particular fun was had trying the slabby flake of Pine Marten one-handed. Subtle application of balance and other dark arts turned out to be the key, along with some one-handed mantling skillz. Funky stuff. So funky that the rain gods were displeased and decided to punish our madskillz with liberal application of rain.

"Help me, I can't see, I'm blinded by all of the dazzling win reflecting off these clean, dry rocks..."

Writing off the sunk costs of having already driven across the Peak, we tried Harborough, but it was wet, as was everywhere else. Arsebiscuits. We consoled ourselves with a few hours at The Works, although young James seemed to sabotage himself with a cup of tea which seemed to render him incapable of climbing anything. I was very sympathetic, and didn't spend the next hour laughing at his comedic failures. Oh no.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Slopey Cratcliffe Weirdness And Brrrrrrimham

It was a dry but windy day during half term, so Jaime and I sought shelter amongst the trees and boulders of Cratcliffe. We started off at the cliff-top boulders where we repeated a couple of amusing mantles and some slopey chip-eliminating smearfests on the pink slab. We also swiftly crushed a new problem or two before moving along to the Last Boulder. Here I failed miserably to repeat a big V4 mantel I'd done previously, but I did manage to negotiate the weirdness of Johnny's Groove, another V4. Oddly this problem involved making several moves whilst still standing on the ground with one foot. Hard to explain, but very amusing.

Jaime sloper-wranging at Cratcliffe

We then retreated into the trees and had a look at the Egg, home to some classic sloping bizarreness. After what felt like an almost infinite number of attempts at Left Egg, and some very, very subtle modifications to the approved technique I made it to the top. Quintessentially gritstone fun. The right-hand start to Eggy Scoops was our next challenge, which turned out to be slightly less horrendous once the correct sequence of appalling footholds had been established. Feeling a little buouyed by this I made some advances on the classic Egg Arete. I got totally spanked. My attempts ended either failing to stand up on a perfectly good foot-rail, or using a cunning outflanking tactic to get stood on this rail, only to wish that my feet were the other way round. Curses. I will return with some beta and maybe some more skills //shakes fist at sky in frustration//.

The foothold of failure

A couple of days later it was my Birthday (whoop), and we finished an excellent weekend with a visit to Brimham, which was sunny but utterly Baltic. We started at Acme Wall, where I cunningly chose a HS in the shade with a hard start as my first lead for 3 months. A few fun and games with icy hands and unfamiliar gear later (what are these cam-things?) and I was beaching myself delicately over the top of the crag and back into the sunshine. Suitably notified of the importance of climbing in the sunshine we headed over to the Cubic Block, where James eschewed the obvious seductive allure of Millsom's Minion (mwahahahahaha) and opted instead to set off up Rough Wall, which was very much in the shade.

James on Rough Wall...

... and his team of hecklers

In spite of the best attentions of a large group offering 'help and encouragement', young Oswald succumbed to frozen hands (surprise surprise) and beat a retreat. I politely declined to repeat the exercise on lead, so he spent about a month trying to find his way to the top of the block, and then rig the safest abseil in the history of climbing. I occupied myself demolishing the remnants of a Higginson's pie (kindly donated by team Gray).

Learning the lesson of previous failure I sensibly chose a route on the other shady side of the block. I did, however, have some sense, and the route was very easy, and with no gear to speak of to slow me down in placing. Once we'd slithered down the still terrifying descent I decided it was probably a wise time to beat a retreat to the car before Avril noticed how cold it was and turned into a grumpy icicle...

Monday, 13 February 2012

Sun, Snow and Anticylclonic Gloom

A sad combination of weather and revision for exams has kept me indoors for altogether too long, but a 5 day weekend after my exams were finished offered a window of opportunity which was not to be missed.

The fun began on Wednesday afternoon, when I joined the keen youth, Mr Oswald and friends at Burbage North. It was pretty cold, so I spent most of the time standing around in my down jacket and drinking tea, but I did have a few goes at Remergence which suggested I might manage it at some point in the not too distant future. I also tried to make Cleo's Edge rather harder than it had to be, but eventually listened to Oswald's heel-hook beta and made it to the top.

The keen youth making sexy faces on Nicotine Stain

The next day, after spending the evening wisely running around a football pitch like a headless chicken, I got up early and drove up to Northumberland, where there was snow and sunshine. I spent the day stomping around The Cheviot, ticking my first new Nuttalls in aaaaages and trying not to fall through the ice into the extensive frozen peat bogs.

The summit of The Cheviot

The next day was more glorious sunshine, so I thought I'd check out the delights of Ben Chonzie, allegedly "the dullest munro in the land". As it was I met a lovely retired couple in the car park and spent the day walking with them hearing tales of their mountainous adventures (they'd completed the munros 4 times over, and the corbetts twice, and the first time the guy had climbed Ben Chonzie, some 50 years earlier, he'd been diagnosed with TB the following day) and marvelling at their obsession with Paramo. The views were glorious too, with Ben More in the West and Schiehallion to the North and snow everywhere. Whoop.

Hoar frost on the summit fence on Ben Chonzie

That evening I met up with Gwilym in Stirling and he drove us up to the Youth Hostel in Glenmore. We got up at an unreasonably early hour and walked into Sneachda, where everything was covered in wind, cloud and powdery snow. Oh so much powdery snow. The cloud made it difficult to see where any of the routes were, let alone if any of them were in condition, so once we'd identified the whereabouts of The Runnel we decided it was probably full of enough snow to be worthwhile. The initial few metres offered the promise of ice, but it was short lived, and there was much upwards swimming. This was improved when a party of 7 soloists appeared and buried me in a mountain of snowy debris. Oh yes. Whilst this was going on Gwilym was doing battle with a rather thin groove which was rather lacking in any ice to aid upwards progress. After some creative swearing he made it up and I had a bit of an adventure following him. There were knees and some strategic arse-wedging, and it all felt rather thin and exciting.

Upon reaching the belay I discovered that Gwilym had considerately stopped just below the cornice, which was rather fun looking. I'd never had any one-on-one time with a cornice before, so I was rather apprehensive, but this was soon forgotten as I battled with the powdery nightmare between me and it. Eventually I worked out that burying my arms in the snow was more effective than trying to excavate any axe placements and managed to wrestle my way through the cornice. I was treated to a glorious blast in the face with some epic winds whipping across the plateau, and once Gwilym had joined me we quickly decided that running away was a sensible plan.

After a pleasant evening drinking whisky and chatting to some very random folks, we got up stupidly early again and marched back into Sneachda. The forecast was much better and the winds and cloud had gone from the previous day. Our initial plan was to head up Fingers Ridge, but this was already crawling with people, so we set off up some appealing iced up slabs at the start of Spiral Gully, aiming to head off onto the buttress of Wavelength. I led the first pitch, which had some thin ice, but also some really excellent sold neve, which was a pleasant surprise after the previous day's powdery travails.

On the next pitch Gwilym decided against abandoning the pleasant gully for the rather bare looking buttress, and headed up a fun little chimney thing. A couple more pitches of excellent varied climbing lead to the top, which was pleasantly cornice-free, and much less windy than the day before. We contemplated another route, but there were already 17,000 people in the floor of the corrie and we didn't want an epically late finish, so we headed back down, past hundreds of skiers in Coire Cas, to the car.

The final pitch of Spiral Gully

I stayed at my Aunt's and headed South the next morning, but was persuaded by a promising sounding forecast to check out Sharp Edge on Blencathra. Things looked murky and grim in the car park, but after a few minutes I was out of the cloud and above a spectacular cloud inversion stretching all the way to the North Pennines. Sharp Edge was short lived but really good fun, with just enough ice left on it to require crampons, and the views from the top of Blencathra were stunning. I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around bagging the 4 nearby tops and generally feeling glad to be alive.

Knowe Crags fron Blencathra

Helvellyn shaped aceness

So all in all a pretty successful long weekend. My first winter routes of the year and plenty of those perfect days that make it all seem worthwhile. More of this please.

The following weekend I was heading back North to Aviemore with Andy. Being a lower class of human being than Gwilym he was all for dossing in a car park, and I'm not above that sort of thing, so we arrived at 1am on Saturday morning and slept for a whole 5 hours, before being woken by the glorious sounds of Aztec Camera. We had designs on Route Major on Carn Etchachan, but Andy persuaded me to walk in via Sneachda to see what the snow conditions were like. I was pretty sure there'd be snow everywhere like the previous weekend, but as the pre-dawn light filled the corrie I was proved wrong. There was no snow anywhere except the gullies. The buttresses were black and uninviting, so we recalibrated our expectations and decided to head over to Hell's Lum.

Dropping down the gully we were amazed how much ice the crag was holding, although the warming temperatures were making everything look a bit melty. There was evidence of avalanche debris on the other side of the crag, but it didn't look recent, and we decided to head up the impressive cleft of Hell's Lum itself. There was a remarkable amount of ice on the left wall, which was dripping ominously, but the snow and ice in the gully was perfectly climbable. Andy led the first pitch up a small ice step, and I set off up the second. There was a decent ice screw placement and a bonus peg, but after that the gear got a little bit non-existent and the sun had come out and the snow was soft and sugary. It seemed to take an eternity to tiptoe delicately/wade gracelessly up the well-ploughed groove through the cornice, but the feeling of sitting at the top in the sunshine was glorious.

We celebrated our success by promptly getting lost in the mist and wandering round in a huge circle for several hours. It turns out that our cunning failure to bring a compass wasn't actually that cunning, and the feeling of despair upon dropping out of the could and realising that we were further away from the car park then we'd started was pretty miserable. Eventually, after walking back to the base of the crag and retracing our approach steps we made it back to the car, and retired to Aviemore to plan. Here we learnt that the forecast was for even warmer weather and "anticyclonic gloom" on Sunday, so we decided that we didn't fancy climbing any more slush and drove home again. I can thoroughly recommend not spending 14 hours out of 40 driving when you've only spent 4 of them sleeping, but it was probably just about worth the trip for the route we did climb, which was pretty ace.

So, hopefully it will either cool down and snow a lot, or warm up and turn into Spring soon...