Saturday, January 30, 2010

Faith Healer

Iain starting pitch one of Faith Healer and discovering a hidden layer of ice on all the slabby bits out of shot.

This week I had a couple of days that illustrated how tenuous the chase for conditions in Scotland can be. I had spent the last few weeks reading about everyone elses adventures only for thaws to set in on my days off. I was beginning to feel I was training for nothing. Eventually after many many phone calls I lined up 2 sets of partners for a 2 day trip. Day 1 involved a ridiculously early start to walk in to the Northern Corries only to be met by completely black crags dripping with water. We were back out drinking lattes in Aviemore by 9.30am. Day 2 I joined up with Iain Small, someone I hadn't had the pleasure of climbing with and had wanted to hook up with for awhile. The big question was would we find any conditions to climb.

We opted for the banker of Ben Nevis, the mountain that just keeps on giving. And again it didn't disappoint. My heart initially sunk as from the hut you could see Coire na Ciste was pretty black. We headed up Observatory Gully jokingly hoping for a cold pocket hiding conditions. As we gained height we gradually ticked off option 1, 2 and 3 before being pleasantly surprised to find the wall above Echo Wall on the Upper East Flank of Tower Ridge have a light coating of whiteness. We opted for righthand of two prominent leftward slanting slabby groove lines (the lefthand one is the summer route Rolling Stones. Iain's initial pitch revealed a surprisingly and highly helpful coating of inch thick ice over all the ledges and slabs. The Ben was doing its magic once again.

Two highly enjoyable pitches, the first well protected, the second run out led steadily to a big snow ledge. From here we traversed left to a steep groove that had begged to be climbed from below. This proved to be significantly harder than anything below. It reminded me of an iced up Migrant Direct only steeper and bolder but luckily half the length. Never the less there was potential for a 40ft ledge fall from some hard insecure moves. The state of the ice will make a difference here but only whether the moves are 7 or 8. Committing to poor "pulling through snow ice" hooks less than an inch deep with my crampons on quarter inch verglas on the overhanging walls I remember thinking this wasn't a married mans pitch. I was also aware that my arms were luckily in good nick after all the recent training. A few screams were still needed to clear the final bulge. Excitedly I announced to Iain that this was my 9th new route on the Ben, he replied it was his 3rd this week! For me this route had been a real Faith Healer. What a mountain. The two Ians/Iains on the summit plateau The line of Faith Healer.
The crucial top groove marked

Faith Healer VIII,7 * 170m

An absorbing and delicate icy mixed climb based around the striking groove line just to the right of Rolling Stones. Culminating in a superb but savage sting in the tail. Ice on the ledges and slabs was found very useful on the first ascent, but the final corner will always be hard and serious. Avoiding this last pitch by taking easier alternatives to join Tower Ridge would give a worthwhile VI,7.
Follow the ledge of East Wall Route to a belay (insitu) below the start of the Echo Traverse Groove/Chimney.
1. 50m. Climb the groove/fault of Echo Traverse for a few metres before a delicate traverse left around a steep nose gains a prominent ramp which is followed leftwards for 30m. Move up to belay at a sideways pointing spike at the base of the big leftwards slanting corner.
2. 50m. Climb the corner to a large snow ledge.
3. 50m. Follow the snow ledge diagonally up left until below a steep corner on the left of a rock prow. Climb the first section of the corner for 10m on helpful turf to reach a ledge on the left. Follow this leftwards and step down a short corner to belay on insitu threads.
4. 20m. Step back right and climb the steep corner to reach the large snow ledge of The Eastern Traverse of Tower Ridge.
5. 150m+ Follow Tower Ridge to the summit.
First Ascent Iain Small, Ian Parnell 28 Jan 2010

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A few more winter work outs

I've been using the Fig Fours again, this time trying to climb the main comp wall at the Foundry. I'm still adjusting to what they can do but I really do think they are a great convenient training aid for winter climbers.
It can take a little while to find exactly how slopey a hold you can get away with using, and so particularly when you're onsighting a route it can feel quite realistic to the scatching around you have to do outdoors to fingd the best hook. There's no doubt the pump you get is very different to a traditional summer rock type ache and one much more akin to ice and mixed climbing. Alpkit are bringing out production models within a week or two. More info here

Talking of training I've been down the Foundry for another session on their dry tool routes. This time though I tried the routes with big mountain boots which definitely upped the training effort a fair bit. These dry tool routes have been open for a few days and there has been a fair bit of interest, often from quarters you wouldn't normally associate with winter climbing. I was amused to read Stu Littlefair's self deprecating blog about his session (For those who don't know Stu he's an astro physicist who climbed 8c and pretty much defines the word Beast!)

Note: you can tell Stu's an astro-physicist by the length of his links!

So why all this fuss about training. Well its mild and thawing and I can't get out. But more importantly I want to do routes like The Crack in Wales, perhaps the most fearsome inspiring single pitch route I've seen. This saw it's second ascent recently from Andy Turner, who is no stranger to the occasional lock off, read his account here

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A good coach

Finally the thaw came. Which is a necessary thing, if its quickly followed by the re-freeze then it'll be an excellent thing. Of course its just as likely to go the other way and get even warmer. The knife edge between an amazing and a typical 21st century season.

While its been a rubbish week for climbing for me its been a good one for training.

First The Foundry Centre put up their dry tooling routes (see my previous blog). Theres a couple of films here which whilst not the most riveting clips they do give a better idea of what in store.

Secondly I received a pair of the Alpkit Figfours, the "rubber-bandy-dry-tool-training-axes". I'll post more when I've had more of a chance to train with them.

Thirdly Ive been getting back properly into my running. My friend Matt has been dragging me out (for an hour fifty today!). I think running may well do my climbing more good than any climbing training as it works away at my biggest weakness - my belly!

Finally I tried out a new variation on the 30 minute pull-up challenge. The inspiration came from a chat with Neil Gresham. Neil has that ability that properly good coaches have of being able see through to the heart of an issue without being deflected by seductive options which don't do the job fully. The key thing that Neil pointed out is that you don't fall off winter routes by failing to do a pull up. You almost always lob off because you can't hold onto your axes anymore.
So the new variation for the 30 minute workout which I tried tonight involves much longer sets. Instead of the 10 seconds of pullups and then 50 second rest, I tried 3 minutes on 3 minutes off. During that 3 minutes I concentrated on getting a big pump on but still holding on to my axes. To do this I have to use alot of assistance - all very high-tech - a chair to prop my foot on. Trying to avoid another of the pitfalls of the original pull-up regime with its pure repetition which risks over-use injuries, I put in a variety of exercises. For instance 10 seconds of free hanging pullups, then 20 seconds of alternating one handed deadhangs (foot on chair), then pull up and lock off followed by leg raises, then followed by more pullups but assisted (foot on chair). At the end of three minutes of this routine I was very grateful for my three minute break.

Of course stronger folk than me would need less assistance, and could hang on for longer stints, the key thing is by the end of your 30minutes you should be barely able to hang on anymore. I'm sure others do similar types of training but I think in honour of my perseptive coach I'm going to call this the Gresham!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sheffield winter training facility

This afternoon I managed to check out the new "dry-tooling" routes that have been set at the Foundry Climbing Wall. At the moment there are five routes with many variations possible. While that doesn't sound like a lot it was enough to get hefty pump pretty quickly. The three in the Furnace area have a more "Scottish" feel to them as they are only just overhanging, with grades perhaps ranging from M4 to M6+. Then there are two through the roofs at the side of the comp wall. Here's some pics of me on one which felt M7/M7+

The plan is for these routes to be available Friday to Monday (you have to book in advance at specific times) with the cost £10 for a session. Considering its almost £7 for normal climbing and the Foundry is including all gear hire in the price, it seems pretty reasonable to me. It's certainly felt about time that climbing walls began to cater for us winter climbers. Great to see the Foundry taking the bit between their teeth on this I'd recommend anyone in the area wanting to get their winter guns tuned up to go check it out. Depending on the up take there are plans for more routes, including one up the 15m prow of the main comp wall, now that would be spectacular. More info here http//

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Bowfell visit 9th Jan

Headed up to the Lakes today. In the back of my mind I had a vain little plan to try to climb an VIII in Wales, Scotland and England within a month. Ben and I headed up to Bowfell North Buttress home to a couple of short intense routes that might fit the bill. Unfortunately in hindsight we probably made the wrong venue choice, as these routes were bare of snow, whereas there were rumours that Scafell and Gable were plastered. But I guess that's part of the learning process of getting to know an area and its winter ways. This would be my first proper winter route in the Lakes so I'm sure I have lots more mistakes to make and learn from.

Luckily a recent addition called Fight or Flight VII,7 was wintery and so we salvaged the day with a fine route.Walking up the Band with Langdale behind.Ben checking out the classic Bowfell Buttress which saw several ascents during the dayThe North Buttress of Bowfell with the line of Flight or Flight marked. The VIIIs take the prominent grooves on the right of the photo.
Ben on the first grade 6 pitch
Me about to step off the starting pinnacle on the final pitch and commit to the crack.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

More Magic

Heres a couple more pics from Pete Macpherson of our ascent of Hung Drawn and Quartered on Skye.Me leading pitch 2

...and 2 more seconding the third pitch.

Pete is definitely someone to watch at the moment, having had a great start to the season with Martin Moran ticking several grade VIIIs and numerous hard VIIs. He has some good pics of his climbing here on the website of the family outdoor shop he runs in Inverness

Monday, January 4, 2010

Skye's the limit

Just got back from a weekend in Scotland. After driving through the night I arrived in Sheffield just before 7am and managed a full 10 minutes in bed before my daughter woke up. I could of course have sampled more of the excellent conditions in North Wales or the Lakes and had a full nights sleep, so was it worth all the hard work and suffering... Hell Yes!

After a fine day out on Saturday with Dave Macleod in Glen Coe I joined up with Pete Macpherson in search of the very elusive Skye winter conditions. A 2.30am alarm call was rewarded with this dawn over Bhastier Tooth. We set about attempting the second ascent of Nick Carter and Martin Moran's masterpiece Hung Drawn and Quartered (VIII,8) Pitch one warm up through the 20ft cave roof!Man of the moment - winter climbing machine Pete Macpherson
The art of extreme chimneying. The final of three grade 8 pitches. All in all an extraordinary route and an incredible day of pure Scottish winter magic.