Thursday, November 20, 2008

White Magic part 2

So on day two we went new routing... Well that wasn't the plan. We actually went looking for a nice sounding grade V called Into the Groove but I think we probably walked over it as we made our way along the beach. This happens alot on chalk. Infact the only feature that didn't seem to have fallen down on the whole of the cliffs west of St Margarets was the finishing Tube of "The Real White Cliffs Experience". Which had a nice sounding direct start called "Better than the real thing". A great name but unless the first ascensionists couldn't grade for toffee their route also seems to have collapsed. But we started up any way. Chalk climbing is the best training on the planet for ice climbing. That is if you like iron hard black ice at minus 30c. Just getting a decent stick with your tool takes up to a dozen swings and getting the gear in is a herculean task. Traditionally warthogs are banged in with a lump hammer by clipping into your axes but I had the stupid idea that I wouldn't bother with that and I'd just hang on as I would ice climbing.
The result was the mother of all pumps, much groaning and lock tite cramps in both arms on pitch 2. Eventually I was forced to place the last few warthogs on the second pitch on aid before lowering down to climb it clean. Pretty mad pitch that one, it looked slabby but turned out to be overhanging the whole way.
Jon did a fine job following this and getting the gear out but I think the toll began to show when we topped out just as it got dark. All in all a fine day out for all the family.

White Magic

With proper winter conditions still seemingly a few days away Jon, Paul and I headed south with our winter climbing kit. For Jon and Paul it would be their first taste of chalk climbing. On the first day we headed to the extraordinary feature of the Tube (95m Grade IV), the relatively ammenable classic of the area.The initial wall as usual felt steeper than it looked but lucky the route is relatively well travelled so there are decent footholds. The tube itself is pretty steady with the crux provided by a large piece of metal plate that needs to be crossed halfway up. For anyone competent with their axes (solid at WI4 or Scottish V) the Tube is very highly recommended, we all agreed it would make the UK's all time esoterica top ten. The White Cliffs really are one of the most striking bits of adventure on offer to climbers in the UK. Some of the lines would compare with anything around, heres a pic of the grade VI Channel Holes, remember the whole cliff is close to 80m high so those caves (and roofs) on the top pitch must feel pretty airy. One for a future visit.
Oh, and we stayed down for a further day managing quite a little adventure. More of that tomorrow...!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Winter Tick List

OK with the rain washing away conditions here's some more psyche up for the winter conditions. This is my mini winter version of Jon Read's superb Grit List detailing all the routes (I can remember!) at grade IX and above in the UK. Elitest, of course it is, but hopefully inspiring. (Note the M grades are largely my guess)

Don't Die of Ignorance XI,11 Ben Nevis f.a Andy Cave, Simon Yates 1987. f.f.a Dave Macleod, Joe French 2008 repeats none.

Scotland's latest super route. 8 pitches in total but its really all about the first. A long overhanging well protected traverse culminating in desperate moves away from gear. The first free ascent took 6 attempts by Macleod who stuck to figuring out the sequences ground up despite a sizeable fall. In the region of M10. To get a real flavour of what's involved here's Macleod from his blog "The axe slid and jerked a centimetre. My heart missed a beat and the jolt nearly made me fall, my hand sliding down the upside down axe to the head and rolling onto three fingers. I dynamic match and kung fu allowed one foot to swing onto the wall to the right and up to the peg I got in on Friday. The vertical wall above was climbed in an utterly ‘go for broke’ style, axes ripping , dropping onto one hand and gasping with pump and shrieking for slack. All a bit full on."

The Hurting XI,11 Coire an T-Sneachda

f.a Dave Macleod 2005 repeats none
A summer E4 (supposedly very hard for the grade). Climbed in winter after abseil inspection, a scary fall from near the top on the first lead attempt, then further abseil inspection? before the successful lead. A very insecure vertical wall with rounded hooks and minimal gear leads to a flake and then a steeper finish with poor turf. The crucial gear is a rock zero. M9+/10 with possible ground fall and claimed as the worldest hardest winter trad route at the time. An onsight ascent would be a tour de force.

The Cathedral X,11 The Cobbler
f.a Dave Macleod 2004 repeats none
Scotland's steepest winter route, emerging from the cave left of Lobby Dosser. Multiple can opener moves and overhead heel toe jams seem to be the key to success, oh and a reasonable level of fitness. It's worth remembering that the first ascensionist was fresh from a repeat of the Swiss M12 Vertical Limit. One 30m pitch with good pro and perhaps M9/9+.

Frozen Sorrow X,10 Lochnagar
f.a Alan Mullin, Steve Lynch 2002 repeats none
Unsurprisingly considering who did the first ascent this climb proved pretty controversial. There were rumours of summer pre practice with ice axes and of the climb not being properly wintery enough (latter disproved when photos were published) and finally the route wasn't included in the latest guidebook as the route finishes in the middle of the wall. Nevertheless it looks an amazing piece of climbing. Running paralell to Mort on the Tough Brown Face with a wild crux section of roof climbing followed by thin ice and mixed. Given E3 6a in summer. A full ascent linking into Rolling Thunder awaits.

The Steeple IX,9 Shelter Stone
f.a Alan Mullin, Steve Paget 2 aid points 1999. repeats 1 f.f.a and f.o Pete Benson and Guy Robertson 2006
Tour de force first ascent by Mullin and the under-rated Paget named "Dawn to Dusk" and climbed in a 24 hour single push (much of that at night). Mullin used 2 nuts for aid starting the Steeple corner. The summer line was largely followed except for a variation around pitch 4. The second ascent was made entirely onsight in 12 hours although the first pitches of Postern and then the Needle were used as this was felt to be the most logical winter line - one of the best winter performances in Scotland to date.

Pic n' Mix IX,9 Coire an Lochain
f.a Tim Emmett, Ian Parnell 2006 repeats none
Climbed late in the season but with the tower heavily hoared. Filmed for the DVD Hard XS. On the first attempt, Emmett tokk a fall on pitch 1, and Parnell hampered by lots of digging took two falls and failed to finish the crux. The pair returned the following day with Parnell cleanly clibing pitch 1 and Emmett fighting through rope drag and high winds just managed the second pitch. Pitch 1 is VII 8/9 with one thin tough section, whilst the second crux pitch involves steep laybacking to a very technical and bold exit (a 40 footer if you muff the top). Filmed for the DVD Hard XS. M8.

Happy Tyroleans IX,10 Coire an Lochain

f.a Schranz, Netzer, Heinz Zak 2001 repeats 2 Dave Macleod, Tim Emmett

Climbed during one of the international meets after Alan Mullin pointed out his project to the Tyroleans. A couple of days later it wasn't his project anymore. Initially graded VII,9 probably because the visitors weren't too familiar with Scottish grades. Upgraded by Macleod, who came close to an onsight (falling off one of the last moves of the first pitch) although he still needed several more visits before he could make the coveted second ascent. Emmett's ascent was made on his second go after a slip halfway up the first pitch, and he linked the two pitches together. He reckoned a similar grade overall to Pic n' Mix. Perhaps M8 or M8+? Amazingly, considering its position, that it is well protected and that it's in condition regularly, it still awaits an onsight.

Demon Direct IX,9 Coire an Lochain
f.a Alan Mullin, Steve Paget 2001 repeats 1 Dave Macleod (f.o)
Mullin returned shortly after the international meet of that year, where one of his projects had been nabbed to become Happy Tyroleans. This paralell line based on the summer E2 The Demon shares the same top pitch but with a bolder start that took Mullin several days of attempts. Macleod's onsight repeat came on a season where he climbed 3 grade IXs. The peg protecting the crux roof is rumoured to be in deteriorating condition. Prob M8.

Mort IX,9 Lochnagar
f.a Brian Davison, Dave McGimpsey, Andy Nisbet 2000 repeats none
A well known last great problem finally climbed by one of the UK's strongest and darkest horses. The history of attempts includes an extraordinary effort by Colin Maclean in 1985 who reached within 15m of easy ground. Attempts since had seen some monster falls Davison took a 20m fall on one attempt) and even one of Scotland's toughest campaigners reduced to tears in-extremis. Very run out, technical as well as strenuous Mort is felt to be the definitive grade IX. 2000 was an exceptionally icy season and conditions have never been close since, an onsight repeat remains probably the most coveted ascent in Scotland.

The Scent IX,8 Beinn a Bhuird
f.a Rich Cross, Guy Robertson 2007 repeats none

Two attempts were needed, the first retreating from nest of poor gear beneath a very thin ramp on pitch 2. Robertson "manned up" on the return describing the crux as "hard - very precarious, blind and rounded seams - and it didn't yield any pro at all for maybe 20ft....amongst the most committuing bits of climbing I've ever done." Gulp!

The Duel IX,9 Stob Coire nan Lochan

f.a Rab Anderson, Dave Cuthbertson 1999 repeats 1 Dave Macleod, Alan Mullin (f.o)

Incredible perseverence by Anderson and Cuthbertson with over 7 attempts over several seasons before the successful ascent. Perhaps Scotland's first grade IX? A side runner was used on the initial bold section of the crux second pitch, although this was elminated on the onsight second ascent by Macleod. This pitch has also been onsighted by Es Tressider although the third pitch a grade 8 offwidth (big cams needed) wasn't climbed.

The Secret IX,9 Ben Nevis

f.a Andy Turner, Steve Ashworth, Viv Scott 2007 (f.o). repeats 2 Ian Parnell, Mark Garthwaite, Guy Robertson. and Blair Fyffe and Tony Stone.
This much eyed crack-line fell to a very psyched Turner in thick early season hoar with very sustained can opener moves needed on the second cux pitch. Initially given X,10 and claimed as the hardest onsight first ascent in Scottish winter climbing. The repeat just over a month later in easier conditions brought the grade down a notch but the first ascent effort still rates amongst the best around. Good protection but thin, technical and strenuous on the crux. Probably M7+.

Defenders of the Faith IX,9 Creag Coire an Dothaidh
f.a Dave Macleod, Fiona Murray 2006 (f.o) repeats none

The first grade IX to be established ground up with a clean onsight. The long crux pitch involves a bold start leading to a roof and overhanging headwall. Needs turf to be frozen, thought to be M8+. One of Macleod's most impressive winter efforts.

Slochd Wall IX,9 Beinn a Bhuird

f.a Pete Benson, Guy Robertson 2008 repeats none

Latest addition by this powerful team. Climbs a summer HVS with a particularly bold lead required on the second pitch. Benson initially rested to excavate a crucial runner before lowering and and reclimbing the pitch to make the big runout through the crux overhang.

Other Possibilities

Guerdon Grooves IX,8 Glen Coe

f.a Dave Cubby Cuthbertson, Arthur Paul 1984 repeats none

Initially attempted by Al Rouse, then Cuthbertson and Paul, the latter pair returned to make a gripping ascent of this summer HVS in icy conditions. Serious with long runouts. Initially graded VII after several terrifying attempted repeats the current grade is a modern guessed re-assessment. Time will tell if this really was the first grade IX in Scotland by 15 years!

The Tempest M9 (X,9/10?) Stob Coire nan Lochan
f.a Neil Gresham 2001 repeats 1 Innes Deans

Established using redpoint tactics - top roping followed by an ascent on pre placed gear. The top section relies on a thin layer of ice which obscures many of the protection placements which would likely make an onsight very tough indeed. Was repeated in the same season with Mark Garthwaite also coming very close.

Logical Progression M9 (X,10?) Loch Vorlich

f.a Mark Garthwaite 1999 repeats 1 Dave Macleod

The first Scottish route to "overtly" use red point tactics in winter. As a result no traditional grade was given. This gently overhanging crack was worked with Neil Gresham who fell off some of the final moves on his best attempt. The gear was placed on abseil on the first ascent although on Macleod's repeat he placed the gear on lead (I think?).

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Lleyn Adventures

When my job is good it's very good. Ive spent the last two days down on the Lleyn Peninsula photographing for an article in Climb Magazine. The first day was one of the most rewarding Ive had for a while. I woke up in some dodgy Travel Inn in Oswestry to torrential rain, this continued at Llangollen and I was on the verge of giving up and heading back to Sheffield. Luckily I couldn't get my partner for the day, Pat Littlejohn, on the phone so I kept driving and miracle of miracles the day turned into one of the best of recent months. Blue skies and sunshine meant that we ended up shooting 4 routes that day each on a different crag. Highlight of the day though was that I even went climbing, managing the rather fine 5 pitch MXS Hornblower at Paitsh. For more info Pat wrote a little piece on UK Climbing here pointing out the line of Hornblower up the yellow spur.
Pat on pitch 2 (By the way if anyone is bored of doing laps on Rhapsody and Walk of Life there is an E13 to do up to wall to the left)
Pitch 4 in rather lovely late evening light.
End of the day, another tough one at the office.