FRIDAY, APRIL 19, 2013

Variety is the Spice of Life

Some of you avid blog readers may recall me moaning about the cold in the Alps last February. Everyone said "no one climbs in Feb anymore, spring is where it's at". Hence this year Rich, Aidan and I headed south in the van again but at the end of March to meet up with friends John Crook and bouncy Ginger Ben in Chamonix. The temperatures were much better, the days longer and the routes looked in good nick. The only downside was that it just would not stop snowing!

On day one we took a day's skiing to see what things looked like. There was a lot of snow everywhere and we decided we needed to do routes that we could get close to with skis. So the next day headed to the Petite Aiguille Verte and climbed the classic Frendo-Ravanel. Once on the real climbing the route was great with interesting steep ice runnels but the crux felt like the swimming through the snow to get up the first slopes. It also snowed all day and we got some serious spin drift but it was good to be climbing.

James on the Frendo-Ravanel ©Aidan

A couple of days later there was a day with a pretty decent forecast and it looked like it may be the only good day we would get. It was tricky to decide what to climb as there was still tons of fresh snow everywhere so we needed something that we didn't have to walk off (as you would sink!) and we could ski to, but it had to be awesome! It was awesome. We went for the Rébuffat-Terray (600m)on the Aiguille des Pélerins. Most people know it more as the Carrington-Rouse route as two legends of British climbing made the first winter ascent.

Amazing cloud inversion seen from the Plan hut ©Rich

Rich, Aidan and I set of early(ish) from the Plan hut but with all the fresh powder skinning up to the route was hard work as we had hardly ever skinned before, but we were geared up by 9am with clear blue skies, game on! After a tricky section of poor rock covered in powder the first slopes are easy angled which was hard work due to the snow but we moved well to get out of the serac danger from above. The next few hundred metres were great, runnels full of bomber neve probably around Scottish IV but we moved together and got to the steeper pitches soon enough.

Morning ski approach ©Aidan

James approaching Carrington-Rouse ©Aidan

Six or seven pitches remained to the Col, mainly steep thin ice/neve gulleys which were a joy to climb. There were a couple of spicy mixed pitches in there too which were amazing and hard! Aidan lead an over hanging short corner with very little for the feet. I was impressed. I thought near Scottish tech 7 but modest Aidan, as normal, said it was fine! We discovered many people avoid this choosing instead easier but bolder ice seams slightly right. Aiden chose harder but safer: too right.

Rich on the first main pitch ©James

A couple more pitches of squeaky neve lead to another mixed steep corner pitch high on the route. This had amazing climbing and I even pulled with my gloved hands a couple of times. All in all this was the route of the holiday and one of the best routes I've done with pitches of Scottish VI in amazing situations. We ab-ed of using the insitu ab points and even enjoyed a lovely powder ski back to the hut. After an amazing weather day it was frustrating to wake to another morning of wet snow pouring down.

Looking down the ice runnels with middle snowfield below ©Rich

James on the upper crux ©Aidan

We were talked into a days dry tooling down the valley to avoid the snow which turned out to be fun and a lot better than the crags in the UK but it certainly wasn't why we were here! It simply wouldn't stop snowing and we gambled the weather must be better in Italy and we headed to Cogne for a day on the ice. We were wrong, it snowed all day and we were just about the only people climbing. However a fun day was had and we climbed the classic Stella Artice (WI5) with a great free hanging pillar with no hooks, no steps and heavy spin drift, ace!

We arrived back in Cham in time to hit the town for Heidi's, Ben's girlfriend, birthday. The guys in Cham show us how to ski but we certainly showed them how Sheffield dance! This lead to a stinking hangover but an ok forecast for the day. After we thought we should head up the Midi, stay the night there and hopefully climb something just off the Vallée Blanche the next day. It had rained all morning down low but the afternoon brightened up so we got the last lift up.

As we got out of the lift my jaw dropped and heart sank. I've been skiing all my life but I had never seen this much snow. Climbing was off and we had to get down. There were only a few tracks down the Vallée Blanche and with the fresh snow above my waist, skis deep under the snow, small touring skis and a huge pack it was a bit of on epic. The hangover didn't help.

We were back in town to head for pizza and beer at Jon Griffith's birthday/leaving for Everest do. Here we bumped into young alpinist Will Sim and I was surprised when he suggested we all bail on the snowy Alps (more was due) and head sport climbing in Finale, northern Italy. It didn't take much to convince us as the mountains wouldn't be safe to climb for the rest of the trip with all that snow.

So the next day Will, John Crook, Aidan, Rich and I headed to Italy. I've never really been on a sport climbing trip before, I can see why people do it. Cheap wine, great ice cream, free campsites in amazing church grounds, incredible rock and amazing routes. It felt like a real holiday for the next 3 days with no early starts of suffering and we climbed some of the best sport routes I've ever done.

James in Finale ©Rich

On our first day there we bumped into friends from back home, as normal.  It was Neil Foster, Claire, Martin Boysen and Rab Carrington. It was great the see them and of course we told Rab we had done his route in Cham and how good it was. His response was great, "I suppose you took huge packs with bivy gear, topped out and walked off?" (as they had done on the first ascent). "No Rab, we ab-ed off the insitu gear and skied down". Rab simply said "You ****ing ****ers!". I think he was joking(?).

After 3 days of clearly too much fun we had to get back to Cham so Rich could catch a flight. When we got there the weather and snow showed no sign of improving so, after an afternoon on the sport crag of Bionnassay just down the valley, we headed home, via Fontainebleau for 2 days. Will came to join us but being on a so-called alpine trip we had skis, axes, stoves and no pad. Luck was on our side and we ran into the ever-friendly Chris Vanderhoven (rep of the year I believe!) from Rab. He was heading home and kindly lent us his pad. Chris I still have it!

So all in all a good time was had but it certainly didn't quench my thirst for alpine north faces. But we were safe and they are not going anywhere. With 3 winter routes, a day's dry tooling, 4 day's sport climbing, 2 day's bouldering, 2 day's skiing, a LOT of drinking and some friend making I certainly can't complain. Anyway they say variety is the spice of life (as long as it's climbing!).

James works at Outside Hathersage

ps Back in the Peak I made the most of the nice weather and redpointed Wall of Sound (E6, 6b)

FRIDAY, APRIL 19, 2013
By James Turnbull

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MONDAY, APRIL 15, 2013

Astral Highway

Conditions on the Ben this spring are as good as they can be! We tried to get on Astral Highway on the 20th March but, despite the reasonable forecast, the weather was actually appalling with zero visibility above Zero Gully, wild gusting east winds and driving spindrift. We walked up, poked our noses into various possibilities and eventually worked out it was beer drinking weather not climbing weather!

Two weeks later we were back again this time with a reliable forecast for light winds, freezing level at 800m and 80% chance of 'cloud free Munroes'!

Frank Connell on 1st pitch of Orion Face Direct (V, 5)

3 hours to bottom of the route (respectable for ancients) and, despite our efforts, 3 parties in front of us on the Orion Face. Luckily they were quick enough to get out of our way (apart from a continuous stream of ice from above) as we romped up the immaculate grooves of the first 4 pitches of the Orion Face. The others were backed up on the crux rightwards traverse on the Orion Face whilst we veered off to the left up the thinner ice-glazed slabs of Astral Highway.

Frank Connell on the crux groove of Astral Highway (VI, 5)

The conditions were as good as they get on the smooth walls, slabs and grooves that make up the confused area to the L of the Orion Face. The uniform coverage of 3"-4" of good stable snow/ice made for 80% of the placements being great first-timers and the other 20% being bounce-backs as you whacked straight through the thinner bits into the rock. Ice screws placements were solid but shallow - even the 15cm screws only going in half way - so a positive 'glass half full' approach paid dividends!

Heading up the top pitches to meet the ridge of NE Buttress (above the 40ft corner)

The crux 35m groove was immaculate. Brilliant climbing on wonderful snow/ice, steep but more awkward and constricted than plain hard, led to easier angled pitches that meandered up interlocking slabs to join the NE Buttress above the 40ft corner. 200ft up the ridge in spectacular position and we topped out into sunshine and views as far as Jura to the SW and the snow-encrusted Cuillin Ridge on Skye.

Frank Connell on top looking eastwards

Our tired but easy walk down the Red Burn route was only marred by the antics of desperately floundering ill-equipped walkers trying to descend without any of the right gear (axes, crampons etc)! I am used to seeing fool-hardy people on the hill but this took the biscuit! I let them know my feelings!

A wonderful route on a wonderful day.

Dick is the owner of Outside

MONDAY, APRIL 15, 2013
By Dick Turnbull
Owner of Outside

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So I may have only just blogged about my trip to Fontainebleau, but I couldn't help but write a few words about one of my best days on grit.

First things first, in case you didn't already know, there is a lot of snow in the Peak District at the moment. It has drifted under some of the South-West facing crags i.e. Stanage and Burbage North. People have been out and have levelled some of these drifts so that one may "snowball" otherwise dangerous routes. Personally I went out a week ago and spent some time trying to build up, and flatten off the drift which was built up under Three Blind Mice at Burbage North. I climbed this route three years ago in a similar condition, and thought that my small effort might go someway towards redressing my karma for having done no work last time.

Three Blind Mice (E7 6c), Burbage North

Anyway, that being said, I had been in work for a week, so was psyched to go back up yesterday to see how the platforms were looking. I'd been keeping up to date with the routes which had been made safe on the ukbouldering forum, as most of the activists seemed to be telling the world what was in condition.

The Sheep (6C+), Burbage South

I'd already tried Black Car Burning after work on Sunday as the extra hour of light allowed me to have a play safely, and many thanks to Ben Bransby for building the platform there. Unfortunately it was still a bit too high for comfort for me, and the move was pretty hard too.

John McCune on Three Blind Mice (E7 6c), Burbage North

So back to yesterday. After walking into Burbage North, was a quick warm up on Right Fin, followed by a few goes on Three Blind Mice (E7 6c). Whether I was using bad beta (it worked last time), or I just didn't want to commit to the scary top moves I wasn't keen to go for it, although a friend who I bumped into at the crag walked up it easily on a line slightly further right of where I'd been trying.

Drew on Ai No Corrida (E5 6b), Burbage North ©John McCune

Next up was Ai No Corrida (E5 6b), which felt actually quite easy. I might even be tempted to go back without a snow platform and give it a go. Admittedly I was climbing it as a prow rather than the original method of laybacking the arete, but it felt more secure that way (and it was above more of the snow platform).

We wandered back via Life in a Radioactive Dustbin (6C), which was a more pleasant experience than normal as the landing only needed a couple of pads to feel pretty safe.

We decided to check out the platforms that had been built at Stanage Plantation, as I had heard that they were even better than at Burbage North. We headed up, and after catching our breath climbed Breadline, then a sort of variation of Beneath the Breadline, into Deadline, back into Breadline (7A maybe?). It was a nice problem either way.

Adam Jennings on Archangel (E3 5b) ©Jake Haddock

There were a few guys trying Big Air (E6 6b), so I added my pad to the pile, and after a few attempts, caught the jug but couldn't commit to the top move. After watching one of the other guys getting rocked up, and going right-hand to the top, I realised my attempts at getting my toe in the pocket were futile. I did it next go with the better beta.

As the sun started setting I realised that there was enough time for a few quick routes, so jumped on Don (E4 5c), Archangel (E3 5b), and White Wand (E5 6a). The snow was so high on these that I only actually climbed the top half of them all, but it made me think... maybe I could do these without the snowy platform. I then realised that was never going to happen! I should just enjoy it while it lasts. Hmmm... think I might head back to Black Car Burning tonight.

Drew works at Outside Hathersage

By Drew Withey
Footwear Sales

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Fun in Font

If you read this blog regularly you may be forgiven for thinking that we've all taken leave of our senses and jumped with both cramponed feet fully into the winter climbing scene. From James' Scottish and Lakeland adventures, to John's Clogwyn Du ballad, and Dick getting on the steep ice in the Ecrins it seems like everyone has given up on real rock, in favour of the scary white stuff. Fear not, there is at least one of us still plugging away wrestling pebbles.

I had planned a fairly short trip to Fontainebleau staying at The House in Tousson for 4 nights, and seeing whether I could get in a few good days bouldering with the one who is known as "my mate John". Unfortunately for John he hurt his shoulder halfway through the trip, but this meant that he could get his camera out and as such the pictures are pretty much all from the second half of the trip.

Having been burnt off by "my mate John" on previous trips to the forest, I decided to spend a bit of time trying to improve before making the journey. This mostly involved cutting back on booze massively, and spending a bit of time running. I think this must've helped as I had my best ever week on grit the week before, ticking Left-Hand Man (7B+) at Secret Garden, The Art Of White Hat Wearing (7B) at Curbar, and Famous Grouse (sitting start) (7c) at Burbage West. I went into this holiday feeling stronger and better prepared than ever. That doesn't necessarily mean that you're guaranteed a good trip in Font though.

When we arrived the weather hadn't been too good, so we spent a while searching for dry rock, and found it at Buthiers. We were pretty tired from the drive so after climbing Nemesis (7A) we called it a day, and headed back to the gîte to have a proper rest (and a little bit of red wine).

Day two was a bit wetter so we spent most of the day driving to venues we'd not been to before including J.A. Martin, where we found one of the best lines I'd ever seen. L'Étrave is a 7B+ arete which is just asking to be climbed. We came back to it a few days later, and whilst the climbing was great fun, there was a nasty sharp crimp which felt like it was going to eat my fingertips, so I left it for another trip.

Day three dawned and the weather was better, but it seemed like it might take a bit of time to dry out, so we went looking for some faster drying bits of rock. We found a few bits at Bas Cuvier so after climbing La Marie-Rose a few times in multiple different ways I had a go at La Rhume Folle, but realising that I could pull hard enough on the crimp, I decided to just climb the (nicer) gauche variation (6C). It seemed like a more logical and less eliminate way up, and nicer moves, on nicer holds.

Later on that day we headed to the Cul de Chien to see if the roof was dry. After establishing that it was, we got rewarmed up and had a few goes. After a while the mono was feeling better, our fingers were feeling warmer, so I fully commited to latching the pocket on the lip, and held it. The top wasn't as easy as I was hoping it could be, but I wasn't going to drop it from there. I was a little bit scared to say the least! Unfortunately my mate John then pulled on and as he was holding the swing he managed to tear something in his shoulder. That meant his trip was over, but at least he could console himself with being photographer!

Drew on Deux Faux Plis en Plats Reels (7C), Franchard Hautes Plaines ©John Alexander

Day four started at J.A. Martin where I failed on L'Étrave, but a really nice guy called Danny from Boulder was staying at The House, so we invited him out with us, and he absolutely crushed it. We moved onto Franchard Isatis, and Hautes-Plaines that afternoon, and after Danny crushed Deux Faux Plis en Plats Reels (7C), and I realised that my awesome week on grit hadn't translated into an awesome week in Font, we both made fairly short work of Le Mur Lombard (7A+), and I made some progress on my uber-project in the forest, Sur-Prises (7B+).

Drew on Sur-Prises (7B+), Franchard Isatis ©John Alexander

We decided that evening to dine in luxury as it was our last night, so we cooked up a tin of confit de poulet. I can thoroughly recommend everyone buys a tin and heats it up, as the French have once again proven their abilities in the cookery department! Even making the humble ready-meal luxurious.

Drew on Lady Big Claque (7A+), Buthiers Piscine ©John Alexander

Day 5 was the best day of the trip, and was unfortunately our last day. After packing and tidying we headed back to Buthiers as I really wanted to get back on Lady Big Claque (7A+) after getting quite high 2 or 3 years ago. We bumped into Chris Schulte, Danny's housemate, and he'd just done The Big Island as his first 8C, and he was over the moon. He was handing out strawberries, and little lemon cakes, and feeding off his psyche I managed to get up it even after taking a slightly scary tumble towards the nearby rocks.

Drew on Lady Big Claque (7A+), Buthiers Piscine ©John Alexander

So all in all a good trip, some accounts closed, more accounts opened, and some progress made on some long term projects. The weather may not have been perfect, but it was a fun trip with plenty of wine, beer, good food, good company, and loads and loads of card games! What more could you want?

Drew works at Outside Hathersage

By Drew Withey
Footwear Sales

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