Well, Spring is here... except it feels more like Summer! And we all know what Summer means. Long evenings, and after work climbing sessions, so obviously we chose to embrace the good weather with a quick hit of after work soloing at Stanage.
Arriving at the Popular carpark at 5.45 Stanage was already bathed in a golden glow. We only had maybe 45 minutes to an hour, so we ran up the hill and just started wherever it looked easy. All told between myself and James we probably climbed about a thirty or so routes including Crack and Corner, Mantlepiece Buttress Direct, Heather Wall, and Manchester Buttress.
There was also a bit of time for clowning around on the top of Chimp's Corner. Well it's all a bit of fun isn't it?
Drew works at Outside in HathersageTweet
Having climbed lots of steep ice in Europe we decided to make the pilgrimage to one of the great ice climbing centres of the world – Canmore in Canada and the Jasper-Banff highway.
We arrived just as the temperatures were dropping after an unseasonal warm, dry spell. This meant low avalanche risk which is critical to getting onto lots of routes. Great!
We stayed at the Alpine Club of Canada clubhouse/hostel in Canmore, 1 hours drive west from Calgary. This is a good base to get going as it is cheap, comfortable and welcoming and full of climbers who can bring you up-to-speed on local conditions.
Our first choice was Johnston Canyon. A short walk (2k) up a tourist walkway through the canyon leads to an icy headwall with plenty of interesting short, single pitch climbs of different steepness. Pete (an anchorite of 70 years!) led me up a beautiful little WI2 gulley above an icy plunge pool. A good intro to Canadian ice; essential for getting ‘into it’ and remembering all those mantras (keep your heels low, strike high and firmly etc) as well as sorting out the incredible tangle of gear that seems to characterise modern ice climbing.
While we were climbing another member of our group managed to slip on the approach to their climb and rupture his Achilles tendon. What a start to our holiday! Poor Bill definitely got the ‘short straw’ as his trip was over before he’d even started. The next 24 hours were spent getting him back to Canmore (he managed to hobble the 2k back to the trailhead with help, a really brave effort) and arranging through his BMC insurance to get him to Calgary and home. The BMC guys were really helpful and got him on a flight the next day: business class, so he could prop his poor ankle up safely.
So 24 hours later, and climbing as a 3, we headed off for the afternoon to another local mini-crag at the inappropriately named Junk Yard. Again, several easily accessible short routes were great for a bit of practise.
Then we were ready for something a bit more ‘coq-sportif!’ Our choice was Moonlight 100m WI4. A three pitch route, it has a 3.5k approach along a frozen river through the ubiquitous pine trees which gave a real feeling of being surrounded by a vast wilderness probably inhabited by cougars, elk and wolves! The route was hard! A long 50m WI3 pitch led up to a cosy cave and solid bolted belay. Nick led and Pete and I followed ‘arrow-head’ style. Canadian WI3 is actually pretty hard and it was cold! We were taken aback by how cold our hands got seconding (Pete was nearly in tears with the hot-aches when he got to the cave stance. Just a hint of what was to come!) The long 60m top pitch was steep! If this is WI4 then we were in trouble! The ice was hard with only some ‘hooking’ from previous ascents but the screws went in OK. These Canadian grades were definitely a step up from Europe! By the time I got up I knew that I had done a ‘proper’ route.
Our next stop was the most visible route in the area – Cascade 300m WI3 right above the Canmore/Banff road. This route is very prone to avalanche as it faces S and has a huge bowl of snow that occasionally vents right down the route. We hit the conditions just right – a cloudy day obscuring the sun and the previous mild spell had consolidated the meagre snow-pack. Perfect. The climb starts with about 180m of ice-scrambling up easy-ish angled ice (the most dangerous angle?) to bolts at the base of a definite steepening. 2 pitches of good steep-ish ice lead pleasantly to a short walking pitch before the final short wall at the top. A really pleasant route. We decided to take the walking descent, which made the whole day out really interesting as we swung down through trees and short, awkward rock walls back to the car.
Next we had to do a route we had actually heard of! The Professor Falls 210m WI4 is one of the ‘must-do’ routes in the area. Named after a professor who (nearly) fell off it racing for the 1st ascent, the route starts with a long 4.2k trudge down the private road to the Banff sewage works, before a further 2.5k along a riverside trail to a thrash up through the trees and the starting icefall. (The trick is to start walking at the time the employees from the sewage works are going to work in the morning. Pete and I got a lift immediately but Nick, who was 5 minutes behind us, had to walk most of it!) The route is a stately procession of fine steep pitches up a canyon-like watercourse, mainly WI3-4, with a 200m walk to reach the final steep 50m pitch. This was in great, aesthetic condition and led to a tree festooned with abseil slings. More abs and we were back on the trail out with only the road to hobble down. As luck would have it we hit the road just as a convoy of Ranger trucks loaded down with bits of elk from a day’s ‘culling’ pulled up to give us a lift back to the car. Brilliant!
A day off was called for as we were all fairly knackered. Next day Nick and I decided to go for a more mountainous setting. So we chose Kidd Falls 55m WI4, a short, steep, spectacular route set in the back country but only a 1.5k walk-in. What we didn’t pick up on was the 500m ascent in 1.5k! 2 hours after we left the car we heaved ourselves up to the bottom of the route after a knackering thrash through woods, rock bands and long snow plods. Could 2 pitches be worth all this? Yes! My first 30m WI4 pitch was steep and pumpy in a great exposed position, followed by Nick’s lead up a 20m pillar of sculptured ice to a belay far back. 3 abs later and it was all downhill back to the car.
Time to move our base again, from a hostel in Banff to Rampart Creek hostel, 150k north up the Jasper-Banff Parkway. We were psyched to step up a grade and do Polar Circus. This 800m WI5 route is the ‘do-able’ classic of the area. (The other classic is Sea of Vapours but this is WI5-7 and starts 600m up the mountainside – a bit out of our reach!) We had heard that it was in good nick and the potential avalanche danger was low, so now was as good a time to do it as we would ever get.
Rampart Creek is a great hostel stuck in the snow with freezing outside loos and no water for body washing! It is run by Ken Wood, a really enthusiastic warden, and only gets a few users in mid-week due to it being so remote. By now it was getting seriously cold! Minus 30C was the everyday temperature. With no wind it was just bearable but imparted a frisson of danger - make one mistake and it could get really serious.
We started our visit with the Weeping Wall RH 160m WI 5. The Weeping Wall is a massive sheet of ice draped over a vertical 160m band of limestone. Its southerly aspect gives it a sunny, friendly appearance but it’s steep and for us – cold! The 1st pitch (WI4) is long and elegant, up a right-leaning gangway to a nicely protected belay ledge complete with bolts. The 60m (WI5) second pitch was probably the most elegant pitch we did in our visit to Canada. Nick had the honour of leading this lovely sinuous groove of sculptured ice to belay at the rope’s end on screws. Pete and I got cold even in the sunshine which just reinforced how cold it was becoming. I was offered the final steep (WI5) pitch to the abseil tree and was half way up it when I realised that I had broken a front point on my new-ish Lynx crampons!* I quickly realised there was little point in worrying as there was nothing I could do about it anyway.
Weeping Wall was a great morale booster for our plans for Polar Circus 800m WI5. All I needed was another pair of crampons or new front points. In desperation I asked Ken at the hostel who’s instant and generous reply was, ‘Sure, I’ve got some BD rigids that will fit your boot size.’ 10 minutes later I had the necessary points fitted and ready to go.
Next morning we were up at 5am, dressed in ALL our warm clothes, out at 5.30 and walking by 6am. The car thermometer read -32C and the snow beneath our feet squeaked too loud for us to hear each other unless we stopped. It took us an hour to stomp up the deep-ish snow to the base of the route where Nick stepped up and volunteered to set off up the first (WI4) vertical pitch. The route follows a succession of slightly easier (WI3/4) pitches until a hanging ice boss that occasionally forms a dramatic pillar called the Pencil. Luckily for us it hadn’t formed that year so we followed the big rightwards traverse line diagonally up until an exposed snow slope led us back into the vertical heart of the route.
Nick led up the first 60m pitch (WI4) up a great tongue of ice cascading from a narrowing high above. He belayed on screws and our first ‘Abalakov’ ice thread whilst we came up arrowhead and I led on to the bolts beneath the final 3 pitches. I led the first pitch (WI4) up deceptively steep ice to a small bowl tucked beneath the final 100m vertical cascade pouring out from the huge snow bowl above. ‘Up and at it’ was my credo as the 50m pitch (WI5) seemed endlessly steep.
It was getting on in the day by now and the sun was on us but none of us felt the heat. Nick had checked his fingers earlier and had a real shock to see the tips white and lifeless. We panicked thinking the worst and I gave him my final spare set of heat pads** which seemed to save the day and his fingers! Once we were all assembled on the final belay ledge Nick set off up the shorter but still vertical pillar to finish. After 6-7m of cruddy ice complete with dripping water (how does that happen in -30C?) he faltered and discretion overcame his valour! We were all tired but these young chaps (Nick is 43) just don’t have the stamina these days!! I swung up to his high point, put my head down and battered my way to the top.
Elation! We had done it. All I had to do was get across the top icy platform and clip the final bolts and bring them both up. As I stepped across the ice broke under me and a gusher of freezing water spouted knee high up my leg and cascaded down the ice in a great wave. I stood appalled. It flowed over the top of the pitch and more importantly all over the ropes! We had heard that people had had some trouble with jammed ropes form the top belay and now I could see why. I immediately shouted to the others not to come up as we had to get down NOW before everything froze completely solid. I clipped the ropes in and started down. It’s lucky that I weigh a lot! The ropes were solid tubes of ice and I had to hammer them through my belay brake using my weight to shred the ice from the rigid ropes. I stripped all the screws and eventually reached the others and instantly we set about pulling the ropes down.
Nothing. No movement. Desperation burst through as the prospect of a forced bivi in less than -30C was something we couldn’t contemplate. I jumped and pulled using my weight again. Nick literally said ‘pull the other one!’ and set up a see-saw motion which magically seemed to free the ropes and gave us hope. Then it was free – after a fashion – and down it came. Never was there a more relieved team than us 3 on that belay. Laughter broke out, albeit only briefly, as time was flying and we had 800m to go.
By 6pm we were at the bottom. Climbing as a three is fairly efficient in ascent but adds a lot of time when abbing despite using bolts apart from our previously placed ‘Abalakov’. The last ab is always a breeze as you really don’t care about the ropes jamming as you know you’re down! There followed an hour floundering down the snow in the cold and dark and into the car by 7pm - 14 hours round trip. Not bad for a rope of 3 with a combined age of around 175!
We had earned a day off. Our drive south down the Parkway to the Lake Louise hostel started with our car thermometer registering -38C! This 150k drive is a ‘must-do’ trip in winter. I had done it in the summer but the pine fringed mountains without a covering of snow look more like giant rubble heaps. In winter they look magnificent and the drive becomes a fabulous journey through an archetypal mountain landscape with tantalising ice lines on every peak.
Pete decided to rest on his laurels after his efforts on Polar Circus. His right thumb was slightly frost nipped and he maintained that being 70 was a good enough excuse for anyone. Nick and I decided that we had one more route in us despite being a bit jaded after 2 weeks of steep ice. Our first aim was to do Carlsberg Column WI5 but I was back on my broken crampon again so we opted for the easier Guinness Gully 160m WI4 just outside the small village of Field.
After doing what the guidebook*** said you couldn’t do – getting lost in Field – we set off up the trench to the route with more of a sense of duty than desire. Nick led all the steeper pitches which now seemed fairly routine, especially as the route was well travelled (such were the ‘hooks’ and steps that I could have done the first WI3-4 pitch without any points on my crampon!) It was a good route but we had had enough. Home beckoned but we still had one thing to do.
Next day we travelled back to Canmore to see our friends, re-organise and pack for the flight home. The other ‘must-do’ was a trip to the Banff Hot Springs baths to swim in the hot springs outdoor pool! It was great – lying in 40C water with your hair freezing on your head in -20C air temp is a bizarre experience especially as you gaze up onto snow clad peaks surrounding the pool.
What a perfect way to end a fantastic trip.
*(Luckily I was using twin front points or I would have been in big trouble. I use twin points on steep ice as my experience of using mono-points on chandeliered ice is that you can’t always get your front points to reach into the grooves formed by the corrugations. For mixed ground, mono-points rule! Petzl have since upgraded the front points of the early Lynx crampons as they did have a small incidence of breakage.)
** Heat pads or hand warmers (Hothands) are potential finger savers in extreme conditions. I climbed most of Polar Circus with one in each glove and I still got cold fingers especially when seconding. One of the party who climbed the route on the next day got bad frostbite in his thumb – he didn’t have any heat pads!
*** The new selected climbs guidebook to the area – Icelines - is a welcome arrival as the old guide book is long out of print and reputedly worth 250 US$ on the internet!
You can often find Dick Turnbull in Outside in Hathersage, strutting around like he owns the place. I guess that's because he does!Tweet
Every month during the winter the Alpine Club hold lectures at the Outside Café. There are usually around 30 in the audience but I often wonder why there aren't more! The lectures are a mixture of really fascinating historical stories and gripping accounts of recent feats of alpinism from around the world.
You don't need to be an AC member and it's free to enter (although voluntary contributions are collected at the end to help pay for staging the event).
A great example is the recent talk by Hywel Lloyd (Chairman of the AC Library Council) who gave an illustrated summary of the British Everest expeditions between 1921 and 1953. He also brought props: an ice axe from the 1930s and a boot used by Dr Raymond Greene (brother of novelist Graham Greene) on Everest in 1933. If you are thinking that the boot held by Hywel looks huge, then you are right because Raymond Greene was 6’4” tall.
Standing next to Hywel is the sartorially elegant ex-BMC President, Bob Pettigrew. Bob is wearing a replica Harris Tweed jacket as worn by the leader of the 1924 Everest expedition, Edward Norton.
The March lecture is by Paul Ramsden. His forays into the high Himalaya, particularly with Mick Fowler have become legend. Last year Paul and Mick pulled off an ascent of the previously virgin Kishtwar Kailash via the difficult southwest face. Forming the last major peak at the eastern end of the Kishtwar Himalaya, Kishtwar Kailash (6,451m) had never previously seen a serious attempt.
"We climbed the southwest face of the mountain in a seven-day round trip from base camp. The 1,500m ascent, ED and Scottish VI, featured spectacular situations and varied climbing, but was very different from expected, with many features and near vertical monolithic rock walls."
On Wednesday 12th March you can hear Paul tell his story - come to the Outside Cafe in Hathersage for a 19.30 start.
Mark Radtke and John Sheard will be launching their collected biography of Pete Livesey (1943-1998), one of the UK's leading climbers in the 1970s. He was also a top fell-runner, athlete, caver, canoeist and orienteer.
With contributions from Geoff Birtles, Martin Berzins, John Cleare, Jean Claude Droyer, Jim Eyre, Peter Gomersall, Dennis Gray, Ron Fawcett, Peter Livesey, John Long, Nicho Mailande and many more, there will be no shortage of stories to tell!
This event is ticketed (£5 each inc. glass of wine and buffet). You can buy your tickets directly from the shop in Hathersage or online.
Joe was a pioneer in the Golden Age of Yosemite climbing during the late 50s and 60s. In 1960 he made the second of The Nose on El Capitan. This is a rare opportunity to hear from a visiting American who climbed with the likes of Royal Robbins, Tom Frost, Chuck Pratt and Yvon Chouinard.
Tickets @ £5 will be available soon.
Mountaineer, businessman, father, ex-Royal Marines Officer, Jerry Gore was diagnosed a Type 1 insulin dependent diabetic in 2000.
This is the story of how Jerry overcame his condition, testing his blood sugar levels and injecting insulin up to 8 times a day, and his recent attempt aged 52, to climb the largest unclimbed wall in South America, in one of the most inhospitable regions on the planet, to raise money to help save the lives of 7 young diabetics in war-torn Ecuador.
In November 2013, together with two of Britain’s best mountaineers - Twid Turner, and Calum Muskett – Jerry made the first ascent of the S.E. Wall of The South Tower of Paine in Patagonia.
Tickets @ £7.50 will be available next week. (60% of all monies raised will go Jerry’s “Ecuador Project”.)
Chris Harle is Outside's book buyer.Tweet
Every year winter comes, some climbers go to the wall, boulder and moan about the weather, while others get excited for snow, check weather forecasts and moan just as much. I personally get nervous as winter approaches.
"I have to climb that scary stuff now"
"What if I fall off?"
"Will I miss all the good conditions and climb nothing this season?"
This is the main fear for me, I check conditions and weather for Scotland every few hours during winter, with the fear that either it will be "in nick" on my days off (crap, a long drive is coming) or fear that it won’t be (phew! but I do want to climb it). This makes the first winter hit of the season very important for me, just knowing I have one under my belt means I can relax. Usually I will do something in December just to feed the rat, but no joy this year and with the end of January, approaching I was getting nervous.
Luckily Simon had booked days off and committed to going so I couldn’t let him down, even though the forecast was not looking exactly "Mint"!
We headed straight for Coire an t-Sneachda in the Northern Cairngorms as it seemed to have the best conditions. After the normal late arrival and sleep in the van we head in early, in fact it only just gets light as we reach the Coire itself. We both voice ideas of climbing hard, but thankfully Si says to me "shall we do a grade IV for the first route of the season?" Phew, we are on the same wave length. We romped up Patey’s Route (IV, 5) which was nearly in too good a condition, totally banked out with snow with only a few tricky bulges. Still it was fun and a classic first tick.
It had already clouded over and started gently snowing as we traversed across to Pygmy Ridge (IV, 5) which was a brilliant little route with exciting high winds on the final pitch blowing the ropes sideways!
We headed down a nicely full Aladdin’s Couloir only to run into friends Will Sim and Mike Thomas. After some lunch and banter we decided conditions are good and time to up the ante, Mike joins us as Will and his girlfriend grab another route. We head for the great looking corner of Damnation (VI, 6). On arriving at the main pitch I was told to lead on, I explained I would have a look but if there is no gear I won’t like it! I headed up, looked up the main corner to see a lovely snow patch right up the corner, looks like easy climbing, but with absolutely no gear. I like climbing with Mike because he is as modest as he is talented. "Mike, this looks like your lead!” I pass Mike the sharp end and he says "Don’t see why I’ll do any better than you?” Five minutes later Mike shouts safe and belays me and Si up a brilliant pitch. It was in very easy nick but he must have faced a 12-15 metre run out. I should have lead it, but was far from disheartened, just pysched! Awesome route with awesome mates!
Back down at the bags people packed up to head home but as we went to follow suit someone said "must be time for one more?” We exchanged glances and 2 extended pitches later and Doctors Choice (IV, 4) finished the day off nicely with plenty of day light left for the walk down.
Of course the evening was spent in the pub having one too many and hearing about Will’s recent hard routes, talk about modesty! The next morning we arrive from the van a little later and rather more sluggishly as it rains constantly. The walk in was a damp one but, as predicted, it turned to snow as height was gained. We stood in the bottom of the very windy, snowy Coire, unsure of what to do or even where the buttresses were hiding. The game ‘Simon Says’ seems to be apparent on this trip and with "Stirling Bomber- your lead" I do as I’m told. Stirling Bomber (V, 7) turns out to be the route of the trip.
The huge amount of powder on the ledges make it hard to even leave the ground, but after some huffing, puffing and digging I make it to the main event, the back and foot chimney. This ends up being amazing climbing, with good hooks and gear on the left and a (very) tall person’s back and foot. As I work myself higher, inch by inch, all of a sudden I have to release myself from the relative comfort of the chimney and make hard moves right, out of the chimney and into a sort of groove. I imagine this to be full of nice turf or névé sometimes, but after pushing my sideways torqued Nomic right down I commit to topping out through near-vertical powder. Mega! Si follows grinning from ear to ear! AMAZING!!
Then it was Simon’s lead and so we headed back over to Aladdin’s Buttress to climb a great looking route, The Lamp (V, 6). The snow eases, winds drop and Simon leads a cracking main pitch which is steep with good hooks and (generally) good gear. One slight moment of fear kicks in as, once again, bomber turf is buried in soft powder, all the gear hidden with it. He kept it together well and cautiously moved along the strange rock ramp to the belay. I lead on up another easier but still brilliant pitch to finish the day and my trip. Awesome!!
As I proceeded to take the long drive home alone and spill coffee all over my van, Simon stays for the weekend to meet Rich. By the sounds of it I got off lightly as Saturday was gale force winds, no visibility and very wet but they managed to climb The Seam (IV, 5) and Invernookie (III, 4). Sunday was raining so hard and +5˚C in the car park with little change forecast with height, an early bath was called for, that’s the way it is sometimes in Scotland.
This trip really fed the rat and has relaxed my nerves of missing conditions, for now at least! Being retailers it was a brilliant gear testing trip for both of us geeky climbers, reviews to follow but the highlights were the amazingly breathable Rab Strata and Patagonia Nano-Air Hoodies, both great as a versatile midlayer or on their own on approaches, a Haglofs Roc Jacket, the soon to be released Patagonia Ascentionist Rucksack, and a couple of old faithfuls such as my beloved Scarpa Phantom Guides and Sterling Photon ropes, the only thing to need no drying! This has got to be the best reason for getting a new pair of ropes, the dry treatment actually works!
Enough geeky talk, cracking start to the winter. Let’s hope we all keep the rat well fed!!
James Turnbull works in Outside in Hathersage. He's quite upset that he'll miss the rest of the Scottish Winter season as he's on honeymoon in New Zealand. Boo-Hoo.Tweet
While Britain was being battered by strong winds and coastal storm surges early in January, I was enjoying some winter sun on the Costa Blanca. Pretty good timing by me.
We flew out on Monday morning, leaving Manchester airport on a typically grey, overcast day. The cloud blanketed the land most of the way South. It wasn't until we started descending into Alicante that the cloud disappeared completely. I thought this was a pretty good sign.
After spending a bit more on the insurance for the hire car than expected, we headed off to find our friends in their villa in Calpe. For those who don't know the area, it's basically the next major destination North from Benidorm. It seems like a lot of the crowds from Benidorm have discovered the slightly less touristy spot, and made it almost as bad. However if you go up the hill slightly, and get away from the high rise buildings, then it's peaceful, calm, and with great views and sunsets. From our villa you could look out over El Peñón de Ifach (also known as Calpe Rock). It's a great place for a normal holiday, but we obviously went for the climbing on offer.
That evening we enjoyed some fine local cuisine... actually we went to an all you can eat Chinese restaurant. We were extremely well fed by the end, but it did feel a bit wrong. We were hoping to find some cute little Spanish restaurant serving tapas, and paella, but it turns out that's extremely difficult.
Our first day wasn't as nice as we were hoping, with fairly strong winds, lots of cloud cover, and the odd spot of rain, but we were here to climb, so we headed over to Sierra de Toix, and went to the single pitch venue of Toix Far Oeste (Far West) on the recommendation of our host Mark. It was a lovely spot, sat above an estate of holiday homes, looking out to sea, but the weather definitely dampened the spirits. After climbing a few 3s and 4s, we bailed from halfway up a 5, when the rain started to come down quite heavily.
The next day we joined Mark again at Olta, this time in beautiful sunshine. Apparently the previous day's weather had been atypical, and our lack of sun cream was actually a bad idea. We managed to find some trees to shade under, and climbed a bunch of 4s and 5s, which were longer but more ledgey than the routes from the previous day. The crag itself was virtually empty, and the setting was stunning, looking out over Calpe and the Peñón. As with many of the crags here you can pretty much start at one end, and climb route after route, until you reach the other end. If you're looking for a venue for mileage, there's plenty to keep you going on the Costa Blanca.
That evening we watched the sun set from a little jetty in the middle of the bay. It really is a beautiful part of the world.
For our third day we decided to try a route on the Peñón. It's such an obvious challenge, sitting in the bay, sticking up about a thousand feet almost straight out of the sea.
After an early start, waking at sunrise, we approached the route we had chosen, Diedre UBSA, and the seriousness dawned on us. Once we reached the end of the paved path and started to walk under the imposing cliffs, we decided that it would be prudent to wear our helmets while walking up to the base of the route. There was a lot of broken rock on the ground, which wasn't very well settled. It looked like the rock was continually falling from the cliff, meaning that footpaths didn't have chance to develop. I hadn't banked on this level of looseness, but we racked up, and started up the first "scramble" pitch. This pitch was exceptionally loose, polished, and devoid of any gear (almost certainly the reason it is described as a scramble). Fortunately the belay was a double bolt belay in good rock, on a large ledge with a bit of protection overhead.
After bringing Stacey up to join me, I set off on the second pitch, which I have since described as the lead of my life. An awkward traverse, with very little gear, polished footholds, but a few chalky holds led the way into the groove. After placing some dodgy cams on flexing flakes I pulled through some steep bulges and got into the groove proper, fortunately finding a few bolts to ease my concerns. I carried on up the groove, finding easy climbing on large holds, but worrying all the while that many of them wobbled and could easily come off. At times I had hold of two wobbly jugs, and was standing on two crumbling footholds. This was totally alien to me. Having climbed mostly on gritstone for the past 5 years, not having to deal with loose rock, I was out of my comfort zone. We were unprepared and felt like we had bitten off more than we could chew. Arriving at the belay after the second pitch I was relieved to find another double bolt belay, and was pretty much resigned to the fact that we were going to bail. Once Stacey had joined me I voiced my concerns and she agreed we should go back down.
Having only brought a single rope we had to abseil each pitch on its own. A few weeks ago I had been a guinea pig for a friend, who wanted a quick refresh before his MIA assessment. Stacked abseils was one of the topics which I hadn't really covered before, but it was now proving to be hugely useful for us to descend safely and efficiently. Once back on terra firma we decided to have a chilled out afternoon on the beach skimming stones, eating lunch, and splashing about in the freezing cold water. We also went for a quick (and I mean super quick) dip in the villa's swimming pool to escape from the heat of the midday sun.
That evening we spent about 2 hours searching for a proper Spanish restaurant. We were keen to have paella for dinner and after much googling and wandering around the streets we found one (El Andaluz) which was offering paella de mariscos on its menu board outside. We were in like a shot. We ordered the food, and a couple of beers, and while we waited the barmaid gave us a small tapas-like snack, and some bread with aioli (I love this stuff). We devoured everything which was presented to us, including a couple of free drinks which were brought out to us (probably a way of finishing a bottle of something they can't sell), which was nice, if a little strong.
For our last full day we headed back to the Far Oeste sector of Sierra de Toix, and started at the far right hand end of the crag. We ticked off most of the routes, up to about 6a, and finished off the routes which we hadn't quite managed on the previous visit. It was a far more pleasant environment climbing in the sun.
That evening we headed round to Moraira to visit a friend of Stacey's, and enjoy a less touristy town. Residents Alex and Lisa showed us a nice bar for a quick drink, before heading to a local restaurant for amazing tapas and wine. It would be an even better place to have a holiday than Calpe, but the climbing is a slightly further drive.
For our last day in Spain we had chosen a late flight so that we could find somewhere to go climbing on the way back to the airport. Echo Valley was an obvious choice. It wasn't too far from the motorway and the walk in was impressively short. Also as the car was full of all our kit, being able to see it was advantageous. After climbing one fairly unpleasant 4, we decided just to climb a whole bunch of 3s as quickly and efficiently as possible. I think in the half hour we had left we managed to both lead three of the four. It was a fun way to end the holiday.
I would like to thank a few suppliers for their generosity, without which this holiday would have been far less enjoyable. Most of all thanks to DMM who supplied me with a sample of an amazing new rucksack (a review of which will be coming soon) whose lightweight gear helped to keep our luggage under the weight threshold, and whose harness I wore in sublime comfort. Secondly to Lyon equipment who loaned us a few items of Petzl equipment: one of their new Tikka RXP head torches (light and bright enough to take with us at all times "just in case"), their new Sirocco helmet (so light and comfortable, we both wore them even when doing short sport routes!), and the newish Grigri 2. Thanks also to Cordee for finding a copy of the guidebook, and getting it to us in time, and finally to Rab for being extremely helpful in our purchase of a down jacket. Despite the temperature reaching 18 degrees C in the daytime, the night temperatures were cold enough to justify packing them.
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