Thursday, 30 January 2014

January Trip (or trying to climb things in shite weather)

So one dark, wet, mid January evening me and my mate Staples began the long drive up to Scotland to climb...something...somewhere...probably. At some point around the eternal smog cloud of despair that is Birmingham we decided that the Cairngorms were the best option. It was Staples' first ever winter trip, so the accessible and relatively small crags of the Northern Corries seemed ideal. We arrived in Aviemore after a sleepless night of driving, grabbed a few bits of gear, and began hiking into Coire an t'Sneachda to check out the conditions. There was a lot of snow about but a local guide told us the more popular routes were pretty well dug out, and in decent nick. Alrighty-then.

The next day we climbed a route called Hidden Chimney. The first couple of pitches were piss easy snow plodding, which led us to the chimney itself. It was well named - the fucking thing was pretty much completely hidden by a huge amount of unconsolidated powdery toss. Apparently it was normally full of useful things like chokestones, axe placements, and gear; well not today. I swam up steepening ground, got one or two decent hexes in, then flailed my way into the chimney itself.

The climbing was easy but felt constantly insecure on the crap snow. I bridged and wedged and shuffled my way higher, looking for gear placements I knew deep down I would never find. There was a sort of bulging step towards the top that I suppose was the crux, before the angle eased off again, and I burrowed my way through a gap in the cornice to reach the plateau. Staples did a good job following the pitch, and we slunk back to the car feeling tired but reasonably satisfied.

The weekend came with horrendous weather so we went out on the piss instead. We got drinking at the Glenmore Lodge bar with a couple of guys who were keen to hit Aviemore ('Saturday night boys, be loads ay ski fanny oot the toon'), and we went along with them and got lashed, which was great fun. On monday we headed back into the corrie. There was avalanche debris all over the place, some of the blocks were the size of fridges. We dug a few pits to test the snowpack and found a very thin frozen crust over poorly bonded mushy shite. Fantastic. I didn't fancy risking the loaded slopes that led up to the crags, so instead we ambled up a steep, icy boulderfield on the other side of the corrie and pissed about on the Fiacaill Ridge. This was a bit of a laugh and a nice oppourtunity for Staples to get a bit of short-roping experience. It was very windy so we didn't bother topping out on the plateau, instead descending the ridge back down again.

The forecast remained terrible, and with continuing strong winds and precipitation, the windslab accumulation was only going to get worse. So we cut our losses and drove down to the Peak to get on some grit. This turned out to be soaking wet but we managed to knock off a few easy routes on Stanage and Burbage North. I was a bit out of practice on rock and was appalled by just how hard VDiff jamming cracks can be. We both minced about a lot, climbing in awful style, lost some skin, but it was all a bit of a jolly compared to the blizzards and avalanches of the Cairngorms. Maybe the weather will settle a bit in February, we'll see...

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Pinnacle Ridge

On the icy summit of St Sunday Crag

My last route of 2013 was a scramble called Pinnacle Ridge, up St Sunday Crag in the Lake District. I climbed it 'alpine style' with my Dad, moving together on a short rope, lassoing various spikes and blocks for running belays. It was great fun. We tackled all the tricky sections head on; including the soaking wet crux corner, which succumbed to some good old fashioned hand and boot jamming. I hadn't done a route with Dad for ages and it was great getting back out into the hills with him again.

The ridge ended all too soon, and we kicked our way up a slope of hard neve snow, glad that we decided to bring ice axes along. The summit plateau was very icy, so we put on crampons to complete the short hike to the top. We had amazing views across the entire Helvellyn range. It was a fantastic day out.

Here's to 2014...