FRIDAY, MARCH 15, 2013

Skiing in Engelberg

Seeing as Steve, Mammut UK’s Sales Director, used to be a ski racer and still coaches racing, I knew I was going to have my work cut out skiing with him for 3 days, especially as it was my first days skiing for a year or so and it was Steve’s fifth week this season…

After a few warm up runs during which Steve proffered some coaching tips (mainly so that I could ski a bit faster and he wouldn't have to wait too long for me at the bottom of each run) we set of on our first off piste foray, hiking round from the top of the Jochstock at 2564m to access Steintal, a series of rolling pitches and gullies.

The second day dawned grey with lots of low cloud, but it did look as if a few centimetres of snow had freshened up the old base. As we travelled up the lifts the visibility worsened and things were looking poor until halfway up the Rotair (a gondola the revolves 360 degrees as it ascends!) when suddenly we popped out of the cloud into glorious sunshine and blue skies. This did mean that we were effectively limited to circuits of the very top areas, but with the fresh snow and lack of people this was fine by me.

Above the clouds on Titlis

Steve was keen to get to the top of Titlis, the highest peak in the area at 3238m (but luckily only a few hundred metres up from the top of the lift). Skis were strapped to bags, helmets removed and boots loosened for the 45 minute hike. As we climbed the cloud came in and covered us, but miraculously cleared just as we summited, so the summit book was signed and skis donned in time to do the descent in perfect light.

On the summit of Titlis

We had booked into a guided off piste group for the last day, and Tomas worked us pretty hard for a long seven hours. He had proudly proclaimed at the start of the day that he had never lost any clients, but did then sheepishly admit that it was his first season…

Sun on Titlis descent

He led us down the Kleine Sulz and Grosse Sulz, each with an 800m drop, and a couple more runs down various Steintal routes from the Jochstock. As is the way with guides he managed to find good untracked snow for us despite the popularity of the area for off piste skiers. We also did a couple of trips down the 1200m descent of the Steinberg Glacier, again with a good amount of nice snow albeit occasionally disguising some icy, leg wrecking bumps.

Hiking from Jochstock

Hike round to Steindal

The new Gore-Tex Pro (as opposed to Gore-Tex Pro Shell) Mammut Eiger Extreme Nordwand Jacket and Pants that I was using for the trip did seem to be very breathable, perhaps almost on a par with the Active Shell product that I have used. I deliberately kept that jacket on and zipped up most of the time, yet suffered very little in the way of condensation despite the relatively mild temperatures and the hard work that I was doing. However, I do think that a longer trip with more testing is definitely called for!

Steindal glacier descent

The final descent of the day was Laub, a popular, open descent from 2450m down to 1200m. The snow deteriorated as we descended from nice and fresh at the top to rock solid frozen thigh burning rubble at the bottom. A cruise down a blue into Engelberg and a beer completed the day.

Snow, sun, skiing and some beer, what more could you ask from a weekend away?

Tim works at Outside

FRIDAY, MARCH 15, 2013
By Tim Russon
Climbing & Clothing Buyer

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Tim Russon
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Winter So Far

What a winter it’s been so far! For me it started with a lap round the Ben Cruachan Horseshoe with Robert, then a very, very wet Lakes trip followed by a crisp and perfect Great End. Since then things have got better and better. Most of the season has been spent only having to travel to the Lakes and Wales which was a refreshing change from the 7 hour slog to Scotland. Classics were ticked in Wales such as El Mancho (VI, 7), The Screen (IV, 4), Arch Gully (V, 6) and many others. Brilliant climbing was had but as the ice built and high pressure stayed it was time to head north of the border for some Scottish adventures.

I headed up with Rich after work on a Sunday night and by 1.30am we were making our bed in the ‘Meggy’ car park. After not nearly enough sleep we headed into thick cloud only to appear above the cloud to a pink rising sun, solid névé and a spectacular cloud inversion. Game on!

Morning Meggy (Creag Meagaidh)

The main climb was Smith’s Gully (VI, 5) so we headed straight for it. The climbing was great with just a couple of cruddy bits of snow to keep us on our toes and before midday we were dancing on the summit – so what next? We headed back down Raeburn’s Gulley to set off up Ritchie's Gulley (IV, 4) and before we knew it we were back on the summit. The weather was perfect and with time on our hands we strolled round to the Inner Corrie and went for the 300m classic, The Pumpkin (V, 4). By 3pm again we were back on the top discussing how we had done harder grade IIIs but we were definitely not complaining. What a great day! We headed down and cooked sausages in the car park as it was such an amazing evening, before heading over to the Ben and a beer.

The next day was more of the same; no wind, solid névé and a clear blue sky. Things were looking good! It was busy even though it was mid week with around 8-10 teams on Orion Direct but "one of the best gully climbs on the Ben", Minus Two Gully (V, 5), was empty. The next few hundred metres were incredible, steep bulges, tricky mixed sections, a thin ice traverse and a steep ice pitch.

James on Minus Two Gully (V, 5)

Heading up North East Buttress to finish makes one of the best routes I have ever climbed, and summiting around 1.30pm gave us time to enjoy the views, stroll back to the van and even be back in Sheffield at a decent hour. Awesome.

Rich high on Minus Two Gully (V, 5)

What a day!

5 days later and we are heading back north again! This time Robert, Mike, Aiden and I had 3 days, but since it had been a little warmer, all were spent on the Ben where the ice was still holding well.

I don’t think Robert had even led grade IV let alone grade V but his psyche for Point Five Gully (V, 5), possibly the most famous ice route in the world, was too great and we all made a bee line straight for it. It went without trouble and with fat ice and well hooked sections it proved very easy for the grade but as incredible as ever. We were climbing above the cloud line which was a great sight from the summit.  Aiden and I topped out first with plenty of time so we nipped back down Tower Gully to tick another classic, Indicator Wall (V, 4).

Aidan on pitch 2 of Point Five Gully (V, 5)

After enjoying Minus Two Gully so much a week earlier I was keen to have a peek at its harder sister route, Minus One Gully (VI, 6) although I’ll admit I was nervous about it.  As we rounded the corner I was disappointed and relieved at the same time to see a party just starting on it. This made our minds up easily, especially as a very fat looking Zero Gully (V, 4) was completely free.

Robert looking down at Mike in Point Five Gully (V, 5)

We raced up the route, which I think was steeper than normal but better protected due to the thick ice. 11.45am top out and another classic in the bag. We realised it had taken us 4.5 hours from the car park to summit and we were pretty pleased, defo time for more. We went round and down Number Four Gully and climbing the brilliant Vanishing Gully (V, 5).

Climber (we assume Mike) topping out on Point Five

Robert and Mike were having an equally good time racing up Green Gully (IV, 3) and Central Gully Right Hand (IV, 4) in great time and we were all back at the car with daylight to spare.

Ben Nevis summit hut

On the final day we walked in to face much wilder conditions, strong winds and clouds. This did little to spoil morale with more classics to tick. Aiden and I started up Orion Direct (V, 5) hoping to leave this route and join Astral Highway after the basin. The cloud thickened and visibility was awful and I had no idea where the route went so we followed the footsteps of previous crowds and finished off Orion. Most of the route was fat but the crux traverse had become thin after a lot of ascents. We arrived on the summit just before 2pm and the compass and map was out for the first time. We headed back down Number 4 Gully and tried to call Robert to see if we had time for another route, but as soon as a friendly face offered us a brew in the CIC hut, down we went.

Aidan in the mist on the crux of Orion Direct (V, 5)

We didn’t have to wait long and we were not complaining with a tea by the fire. Robert and Mike soon joined us after climbing Comb Gully (IV, 4) and Central Gully (III, 4) and we headed to the car for the final time. As we paused in the guides’ car park the ever grinning face of Tim Neil from Plas Y Brenin showed up and offered us a lift down in their van - a great way to end the trip.

It’s not long now till Aiden, Rich and I head to the Alps with bigger things in mind so this has been great training. Thanks to all involved and all the great and friendly people we met on the mountain. What a brilliant couple of Scottish trips!

James (and Robert) work at Outside Hathersage

By James Turnbull

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James Turnbull
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