Monday, 8 April 2013

Standing On The Edge Of Winter

After a month of unproductive cold I was pretty psyched for some kind of climby adventures at Easter, so I hired a car, filled it with enough kit to cover all eventualities, and set off for Andy's parents house in the South Lakes for to meet Julie and Andy for some kind of fun times. Julie is in training for the Fred Whitton  next month, so Good Friday saw the three of us poncing around Coniston in lycra failing to find any hills to cycle up (they were all covered in snow, sad times). We still managed 50 miles, and other than being utterly baltic, it was all quite pleasant.

The next day Andy, Oli and I got up unreasonably early and drove round to Borrowdale, to climb Raven Crag Gully, a classic grade III/IV above Combe Ghyll. There were already 2 parties there before us, but they were out of our way before we'd faffed about at the bottom. We soloed the easy approach pitch, then Andy led up a few nicely technical little steps to a belay, whence it was my lead (Oli was excused leading anything hard as he was in walking crampons). I've not done much winter leading, but it looked ok, and after spending quite a while fannying about trying to work out what to do I managed to get up a couple more tricky steps, to another very accommodating stance. Another interesting icy pitch, then a snowy wander led us to the foot of the much vaunted top pitch. The guidebook made claim that it's the most beautiful in all of the Lakes, which seemed a bit hyperbolic, but it did offer about 30 metres of excellent pure fat ice. Mmm.
The top pitch of Raven Crag Gully
After another day of cycling over Honister, Newlands and Whinlatter (oof) Andy had contracted some kind of faceaids and could barely be coaxed out the house. Eventually we ended up wandering up to see if Low Water Beck was frozen (unsurprisingly it wasn't) before sulking back to the house (via Booths for some consolation food). Eventually the sunshine persuaded us that sitting inside wasn't the best use of our day and we went to explore the bouldering on offer at Dunnerholme. It turned out to be something like Cumbria's answer to Craig y Longridge, only made of limestone and not in a holiday park. The very pleasant setting almost made up for the fact that all of the problem were overhanging, crimpy and had rather frightening top outs (a point emphasised when Andy kicked a head-sized block at my head - sadly for him he missed). My fingers are clearly still weak, but I dragged myself up a few problems and it was nice to be out.
 Another day of cycling, this time a lap of Helvellyn, was followed by a day soloing 3 easy gullies on Tarn Crag, wandering along to the top of Helvellyn, down Swirral Edge and back up Striding Edge in glorious sunshine. Not technically hard at all, but a glorious day out and with some spiffing views.

Looking East along Striding Edge towards St Sunday Crag and High Street
The following day Oli and I managed to find a few hours to sneak off to another local bouldering mecca - Woodwell near Trowbarrow. It was a bit more highball than I was expecting for a bouldering crag, so we stuck to English 5a and below problems, but it was a fun way to give the arms a bit of a work out (as well as the head on some of the top outs) as well as collecting another new crag point.

Oli trying to psyche himself up for another tussle with the overhang on The Teaser at Woodwell

I'd made plans to meet up with Simon and Claire on Friday night at Helyg in Ogwen, but had no plans for the day time until some last-minute logistic chicanery resulted in me meeting up with Mr Ripley and his friend Mr Burrows at Skelwith Bridge, followed by several hours of driving around fruitlessly searching for a crag that wasn't a) covered in snow b) made of slate (we went to Hodge Close just to check, but it's still made of slate) c) bird banned (Stonestar looked great otherwise) d) utterly cack (see Troutal Gorge) or e) unfeasibly far away (see Hare Crags in Eskdale). We did manage a few minutes of amusement at Seathwaite Buttress in the Duddon Valley, where we soloed a nice little (ticklist) Severe, and Ollie led the Profit of Doom-esque groove of Seathwaite Buttress Direct, before deciding that the South crag of Castle Rock was the place for us. By the time we arrived it was nearly sunset, so I soloed a few easier routes whilst the others had fun with cold hands on some bold E1s.

Ollie soloing Crackle at Seathwaite Buttress whilst Tom climbs a tree for some reason...
After an unreasonably long wait for the wrong pizza in Penrith, I hared it down to North Wales, then spent some time staggering around in the dark at midnight trying to find the CC hut. Turns out it's on the other side of the road... We had a little bit of unwelcome excitement the next morning when one of the other occupants of the hut came down with some kind of mysterious inner ear infection that caused him to throw up copiously. I'd love to say that in a triumph of the human spirit over adversity, all the other hut occupants pulled together to look after him, but no, the other bastards all pissed off, leaving us to try and persuade him he wasn't about to die, and get some medical help for him. What fun.

Anyway, we eventually reached Tremadog, where the sun was out and everything was warm and pleasant. I soloed a HS while Claire led Borneo, a one star VS that was reclaimed from the vegetation a few years ago. Both were very pleasant. Si then led an unstarred, but also very nice VS with an unpronounceable Welsh name. I know it isn't very cool, but I love Tremadog. The rock is lovely, there are loads of hidden jugs and generally good gear. It's easy to do a load of multi-pitch routes in one day and there's loads of good stuff to go at. I've done 35 different route on Bwlch y Moch alone, and I can't think of a bad one among them. As if to illustrate how great the place is we finished the day up Kestrel Cracks, an old VS sandbag now upgraded to HVS. Claire led the 4c first pitch, which was brilliant. Funky 3-dimensional climbing up a corner with loads of weird palming moves and daft contortions. Brilliant. The top, 5a, pitch was only hard for a short section, but it needed giving some beans to get past a singularly unhelpfully polished nubbin. A great finish to a really cracking day. It was difficult to believe that there was anything approaching winter conditions to be had anywhere given how warm it was.

Claire on the top pitch of Kestrel Cracks
Back at the hut we were joined by an ever so slightly sunburnt Becky, who'd been out wandering around the Glyderau in the snow. We were plotting a return visit to Tremadog when some of the other folks from the hut started telling us about their great day out winter climbing on Llech Ddu. I had a look in the guide and found a sexy picture of a grade III gully (imaginatively named 'The Gully') in nearby Cwmglas Bach which promised to be "Chock full of fat ice". After a super early start (well, 6am) we stomped in over the frozen bog (which wasn't so frozen on the walk out) and up to the base of the route, which looked exactly as described. Bo. Some of the ice was a bit brittle, but there was so much of it that it hardly mattered. I even got one of Si's mega ice screws all the way in at one point. Whoop. After lounging around in the sun waiting for Si and Claire to join us we had a slightly hairy descent back to the bags, then a long walk back out through the bog with broken feet all round. Another great day out and difficult to believe that we had been climbing in the sunshine only the day before. What a strange place the world is.

Fat ice ftw