Mayhem on Mam Tor

With the BMC Winter Meet over and done with and loads of hard routes being done up over the border (including Greg Boswell's repeat of Don’t Die Of Ignorance XI 11), and across the water with Tim Emmett finally completing Spray On, four bold members of staff were inspired to risk life and limb on an ascent of the ground-breaking (sic) main gully of Mam Tor.

In keeping with the traditional preparations for a day of Scottish winter climbing, the alarm was set for 6am and we were in the car park for 7am. Less in keeping with a day on the Ben was that we had finished the 'route' by half 8! Climbing the slim line of old snow it was evident that we were not the first to make the dangerous approach. Upon reaching the summit it became clear why this esoteric line makes it one of the most climbed winter routes in the Peak. Then followed a treacherous decent down the frozen footpath to our awaiting chariots before starting work at half 9!

By John Bradley
Shop Manager

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John Bradley
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Turnbulls Attack Tower Ridge

Last week, during a family Sunday dinner, a plan was formed to have a day out on Tower Ridge with my Dad (Dick) and my brother James. We saw a window in the weather on the 27th Jan and decided to go for a day hit. We drove up on the Thursday evening ready for a 5am start on the Friday, when we woke up it was chucking it down with rain and overcast. Gloomily we got geared up and rethought our clothing systems with full waterproofs.

The Eastern Traverse, Tower Ridge

No sooner had we started up the path towards the Ben the skies cleared and the stars lit up a very white Ben Nevis. We arrived at the bottom of the route around 8:30 am and started up the Douglas gap. The crux of the route was actually the initial chimney out of the gap. A tricky mixed pitch which gets you established on the ridge. Conditions were ok but not great as 6-9 inches of snow had fallen overnight, the weather was cold and calm but the snow was powdery and loose making it hard to find good axe placements as you pulled straight through to the rock.

Out of The Douglas Gap, Tower Ridge

We moved together a lot of the way but pitched the trickier sections. After climbing up the mini tower you soon arrive at the Eastern Traverse. An exposed ledge (steeper than it has a right to be!) that takes you round the east face of the Great Tower. This then leads on to Fallen Block Chimney and up to Tower Gap. This was also a very tricky little move to lower yourself down into the gap followed by a difficult ice-less slab to get out the other side. After that the difficulties were nearly over then a short snow plod to the top which was unfortunately cloudy. Seeing that several people had descended down Number 4 Gully we slid our way back down to the CIC hut and were down at the car for 5pm.

Turnbulls (James, Dick and Robert)

It was a great day out but the route was trickier than I had expected taking six hours. It is given IV,3 but we all agreed it felt more like IV,4 on the day as mot of the rock was covered by loose snow. As the guide book says, not a route to be taken lightly.

Dick is the owner of Outside, Robert and James work at Outside Hathersage

By Dick Turnbull
Owner of Outside

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Dick Turnbull
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Epic Ben

The Ben and I have a love-hate relationship. I love climbing there, but the last two times it has tried crush me either physically or emotionally! This weekend was no exception...

As always with winter climbing trips we start with a late night drive up north rushing against the clock. The hostel we were staying in locks the doors at midnight and TomTom said we were due to arrive at 11:30, so we hadn’t been paying too much attention to the mileage until the fuel light came on in Crianlarich. At first we didn’t think this was a major issue until once again TomTom said we had more miles to go than we had petrol for. It soon came time to pull over and ask where the nearest petrol station was, to which we were told '70 miles to Inverness or 60 to Fort William'. We only has 50 miles of fuel left! Cue sensible economical driving to Fort William...

Top tip number 1 – Dumbarton has 24 hour petrol stations,
if in doubt fill up the tank!

As we coast down into Fort William (time approximately 11:30 and 0 miles of fuel left) we see our saviour and fill up the tank. A short drive round the corner brings us to the hostel at 11:55. Now this normally wouldn’t have been a problem but due to cutting it so close we had the age old debate: eat food and sleep in the car, or no evening meal and a bed for the night? Neither of these are brilliant but we chose the latter.

Top tip number 2 – An evening meal gives you a surprising
amount of energy the following day.

The following day the alarm goes off at 6am, but everybody is tired and it takes a little longer to sort out kit than normal. After a long walk in we arrive at the bottom of Green Gully (IV 3), the plan initially was to climb Glover's Chimney (III 4) but with four people waiting we re-assessed. Due to our optimistic assumption that Glover's Chimney would be free, we had only packed three ice screws and were now heading up an ice gully. (This proved especially problematic on the final pitch 60 metre pitch where we had used a screw for the belay.) Off I lead, on the sharp end with two screws on my harness and a Bulldog for psychological value.

Top tip number 3 – Three ice screws is enough for a ice
gully, four is better, five would be ideal.

55 metres later, two screws and Bulldog placed, I’m still 15 metres from the top, but conveniently somebody had built a bucket seat. I bury my axe, dig my heels in, shout 'Safe!' and wait for Ben to start climbing. We finally top out in the dark, the wind has picked up and my jacket has frozen stiff. Head torch, map and compass out, we are all fatigued and it is showing. We take a bearing and measure the distance: 200 metres (that's 128 paces for me). We set off walking when I point out to Alex we’re heading uphill, we should be going down. He asks how many paces I’ve counted. 'I’ve not been counting' I reply. It's only when he reaches back into his pocket for the map and compass that we all realise why we have been walking uphill.

Top tip number 4  - To walk on a bearing you need to have
your compass in your hand, not your pocket.

We eventually find the zig-zags coming off the back of The Ben and commence bum sliding. This is by far the quickest way down and it saves energy as you’re not walking. It’s around half past five when we catch up with a party of two in front of us, they were moving slow before we caught them up and have now stopped. One of the guys had sprained his ankle and was struggling. As anybody would have done in the same situation, we offered assistance.

So Alex helps to carry him, and the kit of the other carriers and the injured party is distributed between the other three. Thankfully my trusty Black Ice swallowed his rack and rope and then we all had another rucksack to carry. Luckily another team of three caught us up and offered a hand. This had turned into a epically long day, and on just six hours sleep and little food all of our bodies were feeling it. We eventually arrived back at the north face car park at half nine, over fifteen hours after waking up that morning. We were all broken with shoulders aching and painful feet from the extra weight, but everybody still in good spirits.

We could have called mountain rescue, that probably would have been the sensible thing to do. We could have left him there for the wolfs to eat. He would probably still be there waiting for them now, come to think of it the midges would have gotten him before anything else.

I suspect there is a moral to this story, 'what goes around comes around' springs to mind but that’s a different story altogether (one which involves a helicopter). Hopefully me and The Ben are friends again and next time it’ll let me climb without any incidents. Hopefully the injured party wasn’t too badly injured and is out climbing soon.

Stay safe

Paul works at Outside Hathersage

By Paul Firth

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Paul Firth
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