It's been a funny old summer so far. It started wet, very wet, and rain in the Peak means climbing at Raven Tor. Maybe it was a blessing, as I went sport climbing way more than normal and actually got stronger. Brilliant, classic routes got ticked such as 'Obscene Gesture' (7c), 'Body Machine' (7c) and the not so classic 'The Green Alternative' (7c+). My first of the grade but, if you know it, I'm not sure it classes as a route - it's so short it would be a low ball boulder problem in Hueco! Either way this set me up well for trips to Wales, with ticks of more mega routes such as 'Hunger' (E5 6a), 'Rat Race' (E3 5c), 'Syringe' (E4 6a), 'True Grip' (E5 6a), 'Rimsky Korsakov' (E4/5 6a) and lots of other classics.
With confidence high we finally decided to get on the classic hard limestone of the Peak. Rediscovering from the dust 'The Golden Mile' (E5 6b) and the mighty 'Behemoth' (E5 6b) which, at the time of writing, has won the battle over Dave and I with some spectacular air time (it was wet, honest guv!). We will return to the fight soon.
The main aim of the summer was the Alps, dreams of the' Walker Spur' and other high peaks were completely destroyed by constant rain and snow during what turned out to be one of the worst seasons ever. It was, as Dad's always called it, "good beer drinking weather!". All that said, we went anyway. As Rich and I arrived in Chamonix the sun was blazing and it was HOT! Too hot, but this was all due to change the next afternoon. Thirty minutes in Cham and we had packed our kit and got the last Montenvers train heading for the Envers hut. The following day the forecast was good for the morning but as standard rain was due for the afternoon.
We woke early and headed straight for the classic crack climb 'Pedro Polar' (6b+). This proved to be amazing crack and slab climbing on perfect granite with a tricky crux pitch sporting only one bolt feeling somewhere near E3 5c. We finished the route off nice and early before midday and, with cloud building, we headed down.
Back in the Valley with rain falling we meet up with friends from home Adam Brown and Tom Le Fanu (Le Fan-what???). Beers were drunk and we decided to look at the well named 'Un-named 7B roof crack' the next day. We had hoped this may stay dry in the pouring rain that arrived, and it did. This crag is more famous for the awesome 8a+ offwidth of 'Thai Boxing' which Adam optimistically decided to have a go at, but came down saying "it will go with more big cams!". Hmmm? We will never know.
Both cracks are now trad as the bolts have been stripped and were just about dry in the rain. After a few attempts I managed to use some grit training, lank and lack of technique to gibber my way to the top of the 7b crack. Not a bad way to spend a wet day. More beer and bad weather forecasts meant more steep sheltered crags, this time we spent another wet day at the sport crag of Bionassy. Again, fun but we didn't drive to Chamonix for this!
That night we see hope in the forecast, a (semi) decent day was coming. We discussed, what dries quick and what do we really want to climb? 'État Du Choc', or as we named it 'Attack the Shark' was first on the list. This route is situated round on the Swiss side, reached from the Champex chair lift, and is on the most stunning Yosemite style granite I've seen in the Chamonix area, the spire of 'Petit Clocher du Portalet'. We caught the first chair up and walked up in brilliant sunshine and pitched our tent on a great spot high above the glacier. By the time we finally got to the route it was already the afternoon and cloud was rolling in. We made a couple of mistakes, the first being not bringing a topo as it looked like a straight crack system. The first couple of entry pitches where uninspiring but they led to the incredible cracks. Awesome hand and fist cracks led to a belay on a scary booming chockstone, above was the 7a offwidth which the route was famous for. I set off fully laden with cams, but soon my heart sank, it was wet! I tried to carry on and ended up fully in the back trying to squeeze up, after a struggle I realized i would never get out, so I slid down a little and found it was climbable in more classic arm bar and fighting way. I arrived exhausted and bloody at the belay, but without a topo I'd gone too far and some faff started. Rich finally fought his way up and led on up the next pitch.
This proved to be my favorite pitch of the trip, a steep jamming crack on the left and an offwidth on the right to shove my feet in. However, with my belay in the wrong place Rich had no idea where to belay and climbed into the wrong (very wet) groove. After some more faff he found the correct belay and I followed up, enjoying every metre. On the ledge thick mist and cloud surrounded us, with rain forecast we made the sensible yet gutting decision to head down as everyone else on the spire had bailed hours ago, it would not be a good place to be in a storm! A pitch and a half away from glory we descended but, frustratingly, it didn't rain until late into the night. Damn, we could have done it!
We had wondered if we could finish it off the next day, but the weather decided other wise. It was a long night in a tiny tent when you're both 6'4 and it pours with rain. We packed up in the morning between more showers. Down in the valley we found WiFi and food so we could decide what to do next. It was a very mixed forecast and was hard to commit to anything, then Rich got a bad case of UFO (Unjustified F*%#£%$ Optimism). He stated "Right lads, if we drive RIGHT NOW we can be in Andermatt by 6pm (3.5 hours away), then walk into the Salbit before night fall for the West Ridge the next day before the rain". This seemed unlikely, the West Ridge is 33 pitches, 1000m of granite long and it was raining today and due to storm the next afternoon. However, you can't say no to that level of psyche, so 45 mins after getting down we drove off to the incredible granite towers of The Salbit in Switzerland.
The drive took more like 4.5 hours, it rained a lot, but we carried on with plan A and made it to the bivi hut under a cloud covered and drizzly 'Westgrat' just before dark. We awoke at 4.30am and set off under a starry sky with a trad 6b (E2 5c?) pitch for breakfast by headtorch, yummy. We were off. Rich and I led off first and Adam and Tom followed. Even though they were stronger they described us as "fast, but simple!". The climbing was great and the first tower went well, just before the second tower we were overtaken by 2 fast Germans moving together. This reassured me, they must have seen a good forecast, so I asked them. One of them said "NO! the forecast is very bad, storms by 4pm, maybe 2!". They simply decided to go really fast to avoid the storms, this didn't settle my nerves especially as cloud was building. It wasn't until around pitch 20 that I relaxed a little as it cleared and didn't look like rain at all, we dropped the pace and started to enjoy it.
Pitch after pitch of pure class with climbing maybe up to E2, loads of great cracks and abseils off all the towers to start the next. On pitch 29 or 30 the huge bulk of granite of the West ridge turns to an arete sharper than 'Archangel'. You layback it with 500 metres of exposure either side and the bolt disappearing below, breath taking. We arrive at the spikey summit (only room for one at a time) at 4.30pm with the sun shining. Mega. All there was to do was to write the normal comment in the summit log book, "Good, but not as good as Stoney" and head to the hut for a well deserved pint!!
After the beer it was a long slog to the van and finally the rain arrived, later than forecast. Awesome, well done Rich for the optimism to risk it, and get the tick of the holiday!
We headed back to Chamonix as Tom had to head home, what a great way to end his trip. The forecast was poor again and with a big tick under our belt we did the obvious thing, get drunk! Us Northerners can't climb 8a, but we definitely out-drank the London team!
After a couple of days of hangovers and poor weather there was a slight break, and we headed to the Aiguille de Blaitière where Adam had teamed up with the unstoppable Ginger Ben. A lot of the routes were wet, and with a poor guide book we climbed the only line that looked dry. I still don't know what it was but it was great! As we abbed down in the mist we could see Adam and Ben heading up the last few pitches of the incredible 'L'Eau Rance D'Arabie' (6b+). When we reached the bottom it seemed the rest of the climbers in Chamonix had followed their path (as it was one of the only dry routes). We decided to get involved too and did the first 3 pitches, awesome climbing and another fun day.
Again the running theme of rain continued and the next dry day was the day we had to start driving home in the afternoon, so we chose the brilliant and accessible Brévent. This turned out to be a sociable crag, climbing with Ben and Rich and meeting loads of others. We climbed the classic trad corner of 'Ex Libris' (6b) to start and then we moved onto the tricky but amazing corner/crack climb of 'Premier de Corvée' 7a?). This was the final route of the holiday and was one of my favorite, it is a semi bolted route that definately need some trad gear and feels around E4. The first pitch is an awesome finger crack/face climbing 7a pitch and then the next few are steep corner cracks at 6c+ with a final amazing crack up the obvious head wall. What a way to end the trip and as soon as we finished we began the hideous journey all the way back to Sheffield with traffic jams and exploding tyres!
Everyone in the UK had been telling us about the incredible weather while we had been away, but we bought the rain back with us, sorry everyone. It was a great trip but as normal very frustrating due to the weather and the big mountain ticks still keep me up at night!
But returning home to the peak is always great and got back to business by ticking the classic 'Tales of Yankee Power' (E5 6a) at High Tor, not quite the Walker Spur but not bad!
“The what Mountains of where?” was most people’s response to my informing them of where I was off to in July.
KE Adventure Travel, for whom I was leading a trek around the range crossing its high passes, describe it thus.
"The southern edge of the Central Asian republics is defined by the rocky barrier of the Pamirs which includes the little-visited Fann Mountains. This spectacular range has numerous snow-capped 5000 metre peaks and the potential for brilliant trekking, through rocky valleys and across high passes. Accessed through the Tajikistan capital, Dushanbe, the sensational 12-day trek makes a comprehensive tour of this rugged and picturesque landscape, where Tajik shepherds graze their flocks on remote upland pastures. Climbing to many high passes and viewpoints, including the dramatic Mazalat Pass (4133m) and enjoying a succession of superb lakeside camping places, this is a truly memorable trek. After the trek, we travel into neighbouring Uzbekistan, where we visit the stunning Silk Road cities of Samarkand and Tashkent. More than 2500 years old and known as the 'Gem of the East', Samarkand is one of the wonders of the world, with mosaic-clad monuments that are guaranteed to take your breath away. This is Central Asia at its best!"
Chimtarga (5489 m) is the highest peak in the Fann Mountains. It is located near the Mutnye Lakes, or as I called them due to glacial outflow and my poor Russian, Murky Lakes. We camped at the Murky Lakes towards the end of our circumnavigation and climbed the scree and snow Mazalat Pass above. It is the highest of the seven major passes on the route. Nearby Chimtarga on the other hand has no trek-up route to the summit. The ascent routes start either directly from the Lakes or by crossing over the even higher and more technical 4750 m high Chimtarga Pass, which lies between the peaks Energia (5120 m) and Chimtarga.
The established climbing routes on it vary from Russian grade 2 to 6 on both rock and ice. The known routes were all first climbed by Russians between 1936 and 1984. The potential for new lines both here and across the whole range is almost unlimited. We saw very few other people throughout the trip. There are two former Soviet Mountaineering Schools in the valleys and we met three or four small climbing groups in the Chimtarga area and one trekking group. On a distant and low rock ridge I saw a group on a multi pitch climb. It was definitely, ahem, peak season.
We had a friendly local guide, cook and an interpreter with us and the gear was carried on donkeys supervised by 7 donkeymen. The food was traditional Tajik including lots of fresh veg and strangely loads of melon. On behalf of the group I declined the customary bottle of vodka on the dinner table every night!
Access to and from the mountains was by four wheel drive vehicle, although at the end of the trek even they could not get up the newly “improved” road up the narrow Bodhona Ravine to reach our final campsite, so we had to walk out. This was probably a considerably less scary finish to an amazing trip.
I’m going to start with an apology, to anyone whose Friday night walk between Hathersage and Sheffield over the last two months has been interrupted by a bloke panting away pretending to be a fell runner. In case you hadn’t guessed that was me……Sorry!
To anyone who reads our blogs regularly, it may come as a surprise that I am yet again writing a blog about running. My Nine Edges blog back in November was an insight into my passion for avoiding running where possible.
Once again the story starts with heavy doses of peer pressure, that and the ongoing quest for man points and banter. During a momentary lack of concentration I left my bank card with Phil (our web guy) and came back to find myself registered for the Coniston Trail Marathon…I’m still waiting to find out what else I have funded.
That was before Christmas when I had plenty of time to train mentally and physically, of course no one would waste that entire time running, would they? Training only really begins when you wake up in cold sweats having realised that there are only 8 weeks before the event.
I have no business being near the starting line of any race, yet that’s where I found myself. Surrounded by the kind of people who I assume wear short shorts and running Ts as their casual attire as well racing uniform, I was definitely feeling out of my depth as we set off. Straightaway I fell into the classic trap of trying to keep up with the guys in front at a totally unsustainable pace; needless to say I soon dropped back to a more natural position.
For the first half I was feeling strong. Claire, a friend who ran with me informed me that we had been doing 10 minute miles. I still have no idea whether this was fast or slow but it sounded good given that the first half was all uphill, broken up nicely with a lap and half round Tarn Hows. This stage did seem to cause issues for some who ended up doing two and a half laps! Miles 12-18 were mentally quite taxing as you follow rolling forestry tracks before finally making a long descent down to the bottom end of Coniston Water.
There followed a brief respite of a flat mile or two and a feed station; we then regained all the height previously lost as we climbed up to Beacon Tarn. This is where I hit the wall. Claire appeared to come into her own at this point (she had done the sensible thing and trained), and all I could do was try and tuck into her slipstream and hope she would pull me along.
We rounded the tarn to be told by a marshal there was only 10K left; this was a real boost for me as I had entered a few local fell races recently and knew I could make that distance in under an hour. I forgot to factor in that I had never run 20 miles before beginning a fell race. At least at this point I was too tired to calculate how long it would actually take.
Claire seemed to gain a second wind in the later stage of the race; she was still able to run uphill at least. I just had to rely on being stubborn rather than fit and not wanting to be left behind. Somehow I managed to just about keep up. In the back of my mind I could feel I was haemorrhaging man points but this just spurred me on as we were so close.
The last couple of miles were by far the hardest running I’ve ever done. I think real runners would call it technical terrain, but rooty, rocky broken ground meant that I needed to concentrate for every step. I thought I’d broken my toe on more than one occasion as I tripped and stumbled over it all - it’s a good job I couldn’t really feel my legs by this point!
I staggered across the line after 4hrs 50mins. For anyone who is thinking about entering a trail marathon I can thoroughly recommend Coniston. It is an incredibly scenic route for those moments you are not concentrating on your feet.
UD Body bottle 420ml – One of my favourite running accessories. When running with plastic sports bottles I start fearing for my sanity after a few miles listening to the sound of sloshing water. Body bottles shrink down as you drink, so no sloshing, less bulk and they promote drinking on the go as you don’t have to remove them from their pouches - just squeeze!
Scott Jurek Ultra pack – A great piece of kit with far less movement than you would experience when running with either a pack or bum bag. Having water on your front also acts as a good reminder that you need to drink. However, the large pockets at the back aren’t really accessible whilst moving so a bit of thought is needed before you set off otherwise you will need to stop. It also had the psychological advantage of making me feel like a real runner when surrounded by race vests (and real runners) at the starting line.
P.S. A further note for the chap who called into the shop the other week who referred to me as the mountain runner, whilst it made me feel like a champion, the rest of the staff have found this highly amusing ever since. Cheers!
John works for Outside in Hathersage
The 21st of June is a special time for climbers. The sun high in the sky, maximum daylight hours for climbing, dry mountain crags, surely the high point of a trad climber’s year. You can be one of those twisted individuals, hankering for snow and ice and winter climbing, longing for the hayfever to end, in which case the solstice is the turning point towards your own personal freezing idea of heaven, or you can revel in the moment, enjoy the magic that is about to occur. Climbing is like a religion for many of us, and this is the nearest we have to a ‘religious festival’, most of those seem to have hijacked pre-existing festivals coinciding with recurring astronomical events anyway, so why not reclaim our own?
I tried to sow the seed of a dawn-til-dusk, multi-crag enchainment, but this was quickly vetoed by Will and Claire, two fellow sun-worshippers, albeit ones that liked their sleep a bit much. No one likes an evangelist, and I was hijacking their trip anyway, so I resigned myself to just go with the flow. If every crag could be considered a place of devotion, today we need a cathedral and the foreboding gothic architectural might of Clogwyn D’ur Arddu is a worthy venue.
Cloggy is in shadow for most of the day, and the breeze is chill. Duncan has walked up in shorts and is soon suffering for his lack of legwear. Claire just so happens to have a shiny blue unitard in her bag, and Duncan just so happens to have the figure and attitude to style it with aplomb.
We head for The Sheaf, not the outstanding ale-and-whisky pub in Sheffield, the seven-pitch HVS that weaves its way through the overlaps of the West Buttress, but there’s a party on it already, and another waiting. In fact, nearly every route in the Ground-Up North Wales Rock Selective guidebook is occupied. Apart from one, White Slab.
This 6 pitch E2 starts with a long, intricate and unprotected traverse, and an alternative version of Rock Paper Scissors awards the lead to Will. The first section is, without a doubt, the psychological crux of the whole route, with delicate, balancey moves and the prospect of a hard pendulum into the ground should you fluff it. We all take our sweet time, not wanting to impact our pride or worse. As I pull on to the first belay ledge, completely out of the blue, a rock the size of a pomelo is dislodged from high on the cliff and smashes onto the ledge, just brushing the skin of my thumb. No clattering sound, no warning shout, no nothing. Two inches to the left and I’d have lost a hand for sure, two inches to the right and I’d be writing a review on how impact absorbent these new polyurethane helmets, but as it is, it’s a lucky escape. Enough drama, the rest of the route is delightfully delicate slab climbing, nicely exposed and a total gift at the grade.
Down below, in the sunshine, a couple strip off and dive into the tarn, while Claire and I shiver on the next belay. To keep warm we break into the belay dance, a foolproof, tried and tested method of heat generation. For someone who’s studied ballet and contempary dance, her moves are pretty wack, so I teach her how to douggie, and do the willie bounce, and we’re toasty warm in no time. On the face of it, choosing a crag that faces due north, with a stiff northerly breeze blowing straight onto it might seem like an odd choice, but at certain times of day, namely early morning and late evening, the buttresses and faces become illuminated, with the shadows shifting and colours deepening as we spin towards the sunset. On the longest day of the year, you get more time in the sun. It’s that simple.
Inexplicably the crag empties, just as the whole of the East Buttress is bathed in a warm orange glow. While Claire goes for a swim, Will and I romp up the plumb line of November. E3 5c it certainly ain’t, more like steep 5a all the way with a bit of 5b here and there, but we’re not complaining. Well, Will’s guts are, a bit, and he trumps his way triumphantly up the big pitch.
There are just two real certainties in life: farts will always amuse and sunsets will always enthral, so we linger a while to watch the sun slide beneath the horizon before stumbling off down the hill.
The day’s not over yet though… it seems like every climber in North Wales is in the mood to celebrate summer, so we head to Anglesey for an all-night techno party! You could draw parallels with the state of the universe, total chaos initially bound within the strict mathematical forms of pumping techno music, eventually entropy prevailing. Only the bravest manage to climb the next day.
Simon Kimber is the Web Editor for Outside.co.uk
So it’s an otherwise normal day at work, emails to write, postage quotes to work out. Then something weird happens. When the shop manager says “come on Phil, do the Grindleford Fell Race tonight”, rather than responding appropriately with a barrage of verbal abuse and reasons why not, I find myself saying “go on then”.
As it turns out, being lazy and not running very much is an exceedingly poor way to prepare for your first ever fell race. Who knew?
Fast forward a few hours and I’m lining up at the start with 300-odd other idiots, feeling really quite nervous. The vast majority of my running has been done on my own or with at most a couple of other people, so being surrounded by a huge crowd of fit-looking folk who clearly run a lot is both intimidating and weirdly claustrophobic.
Start-line banter seems to mainly revolve around how much deeper the river crossing looks this year. Excuse me? River crossing? Um... I didn’t sign up for THAT. Except of course, I did, and apparently pulling out before the race has started is something of a running faux-pas. Ah well, it’s only four and a half miles, how hard can it be?
Oh right, really quite hard then. A lap of the playing fields later and I’m puffing and blowing like... well I would say like an old man but there’s quite a few of those way ahead of me and sprinting rapidly into the distance. Damn it. We leave the playing fields and a few hundred yards later the route enters a narrow tree-lined path and heads rapidly uphill. Progress slows to a single-file walk and I join in the general grumbling about how annoying this is and how much faster we’d be going if there weren’t all these people in the way, whilst secretly being incredibly grateful for a chance to breathe.
Reaching what I sincerely hope is the end of the uphill bit, my calves complaining bitterly, we’re greeted by a nice open field. Unfortunately this turns out to hide a huge bog and we’re soon all splashing through calf- to knee-deep squishy stuff. Lovely. Some clown is lurking behind a nearby tree with a camera shouting “Smile!” and snaps a quick pic whilst I glare through sweat-filled eyes and try to figure out who he is. Oh, it’s one of Outside’s buyers – I consider stopping to smash the camera but I can hear the pounding of feet behind and I really don’t want to lose any places so I make a mental note to steal it later on.
Downhill through Padley Gorge it’s all about the rock hopping. Throwing caution to the winds I hurtle down the boulder-strewn path, making up a few places as I pass people who have elected to go at a much more sensible non-potential-ankle-breaking pace. At the bottom of the gorge the path flattens out (flat ground feels so hard after running downhill!) and I spy Paul from Rab up ahead. Paul’s an ex-Outside staff member and experienced fell runner with legs approximately the length of a giraffe’s, so I’m chuffed to bits to be anywhere near him. I pick the pace up a bit, run him down, and am then somewhat chastened to realise that he’s twisted BOTH ankles on the downhill and is basically barely hobbling along. He looks to be in quite a lot of pain, and I do feel quite sorry for him, but hey, we’re racing so I push him into a nettle bush and run past.
More downhill cowpat- and bog-dodging and I’m starting to feel quite sick. Perhaps eating a full meal an hour before the race wasn’t such a good idea? I’m musing on the likelihood of seeing chicken kiev again and trying to rub mud off my fancy GPS watch to see how much more of this torture there’s likely to be, when I notice that all the runners ahead of me are disappearing. Ah right, the river.
Trotting down the bank, I see that people seem to be adopting a cautious wading technique. Seeing this as the last opportunity to make up a couple of places, I break into a sprint and splash my way across, soaking both the other runners and the awaiting ranks of photographers and cheering spectators alike. I decide not to hang about to see how annoyed they all are, make a final stagger across the playing fields and then I’m over the finish line and making a beeline for an enticing table full of cups of much-needed water.
It’s now less than twenty-four hours since the race, I’ve no idea what place I made, my calves are tighter than a first-gear hairpin and I can quite confidently say without a shadow of a doubt that I will never put myself through that again. However I can also very confidently say without even a smidgen of a shadow of a doubt that in about a day I will have forgotten the pain, sweat, tears and midges and only remember the fact that it was awesome. What’s that? The Outside Challenge? Hope Wakes fell race on the 2nd July? Oh, go on then. How hard can it be?
P.S. If you’re out running this summer, get yourself a pair of MTR 141 shorts. If you should happen to run through a river and soak yourself completely from the waist down, they dry really very quickly!
Phil works in the Web Sales department.
Click here for more photos of the Grindleford Fell Race on the Outside Shop Facebook page.
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