28 March 2010

French Mixed

After a quick blast in Font I have been getting some reminders of a good winter.

Photos Lukasz

not such a good day out. Thanks for the photos Lukasz

 good work Manu

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26 March 2010

Les Conquistadores

Hitomu Moriura, Daisuke, Imasi and Sam Read

A Flickr Set on my blog

24 March 2010

Last Minute

Sunday 7pm....... What to do this week?? maybe a trip to the south coast to get back in to some trad?? one thing is certain I'm bored of sitting on the sofa. I knew Sam Read was about for some climbing so I gave him a call..... 6 hours later we were in France on the way to Font. Perfect.

20 March 2010

Russian ice climbing team. Blog Video

Alexey Dengin

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17 March 2010

Reward v Effort

During the last few days Malcolm, Lukasz (LWimages) and I have been on a tour of Scottish cafes and I have had a lot of time to sit and ponder the relative merits of different climbing locations. The plan had been to go and tick a few good routes but the shite Scottish conditions stopped that (or maybe the routes would have been too hard?). During the spare time I have developed an equation to calculate where the best climbing can be found but more of that later.

First up was The Hurting located high up on a buttress in Corie an t-Sneachda, not the most inspiring line sadly. When we arrived a coating of rime completely covered the top four fifths of the route. Despite the rime one of our team attempted an onsight but got stopped by conditions and a lack of the correct gear then down climbed. Taking the easy option I had a go at toproping the lower 6m of the route. The climbing was balancy and tenuous partly due to not being able to see rock or fully use poor snow ice in the shallow crack. I reached the high point and made another couple of moves but found no jugs or additional gear, not wanting to test the un-inspiring gear I down climbed to the ground.

Next day we tried a line that was in nick but due to the normal logistical irregularities when attempting a line for the first time we ran out of daylight. I onsighted pitch one then we abseiled off the first belay vowing to return and try and complete the route. The next day we took a rest, possibly this was a mistake but it felt necessary and the weather forecast was just about ok for the next few days.

When we returned everything seemed acceptable, there was ice at the parking but there was a problem with the air; it was moving really quickly unlike anywhere else I had climbed in the previous three months. Deterred we carried on, arriving at the route exactly as planned (despite me having to sprint uphill wearing crampons to harpoon a jacket dropped by someone I wont name). Lukasz had taken a few images during the short approach while the weather was ok but now the clouds engulfed the crag and it started to snow.  Despite falling snow the rock was blacker than 48 hours earlier so Malcolm and I had a discussion about ethics (partly to delay having to leave our gearing up shelter). A few moves in to in to pitch 1 it was clear what a waste of time the day had become, the rock was running with water from what was now sleet. Time to bugger off for more coffee, and the forecast? rain level somewhere above the summit of Ben Nevis.

So back to my equation to calculate the quality of a route, here it is:

Reward/Effort = Quality

To derive the Reward value (out of 10) consider factors such as:
- Quality of climbing
- Difficulty of climbing
- Difficulty of protection
- Aesthetics of the route
- Exposure

And for Effort (out of 10) the following should be taken in to account:
- Reliability of conditions
- Snow wetness coefficient (go to the cafe if balling plates are needed)
- Elbow wetness coefficient (running water or chimneys on the route??)
- Length of approach (gradient, path or uneven slush/ice)
- Probability of destroying picks/jacket/camera
- Reliability of conditions

Hmmmmm..... it's not looking good for Scotland as a mixed climbing venue!! The problem is during the tiny bit of climbing I have done there this year I loved sketching about on blobs of frozen moss and delaminated ice with protection that I found difficult to place and difficult to trust. I just hope good conditions return sometime and I'm about to enjoy them.

10 March 2010


Here are a couple of things that I've been near to this season that have caught my attention.

Carlos Buhler and Tato Esquirol de Arteaga have been working their way through Canada's finest mixed routes as too has Erik Schnack.  Carlos gave us some very useful beta while we were in Canmore and I hope is suitably stoked after this seasons climbing, sorry I couldn't climb Musashi to order Crista!!

Markus Stoffer and Bernd Rathmayr's 600+m route Scharf Mit Alles. Markus showed me this line when we climbed in the Gasterntal Valley and it looked unfeasibly big!! So good effort over several seasons to get this one ticked.

Hee Yong Park at the 2010 Saas Fee UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup finals. He was unlucky to come third. Slightly poor video footage but watch out for the moves across the horizontal ice. A real demonstration of how great ice climbing competitions can be.

Busteni looking very good with the new structure.

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9 March 2010

Scottish Mixed Taster

Central Buttress, Stob Coire nan Lochain

I just could not resist the temptation of trying some Scottish mixed when Scott said he was driving north for a weekend blast, I should be looking for a job but I hope I can delay that for a bit longer.  It was getting a bit embarrassing when people asked "have you climbed on Ben Nevis" no, I would explain that all the mixed I have done has been in the Alps or Rockies.  On top of this I was seriously interested in finding out what mixed climbing on gear was really about and when the conditions are 'in' the opportunity must be taken which is what Dave, Si and Pete had been doing in Wales by the sound of it.

Actually I have tried to climb in Scotland in winter once before but things conspired against me that weekend. This trip got off to a shaky start when we arrived at 4 am saturday morning and had to pitch the tent on snow before getting some sleep (my suggestion of walking in to the crag then was ignored).  Once all morning pre-climb logistics had been completed and Scott and I were stood at the base of the chosen route in Stob Coire nan Lochain it was afternoon.  A quick check of pitch one by Scott confirmed that we didn't have enough time so we started wading through snow towards plan B: Twisting Gully RH.

 Twisting Gully RH looking a bit steeper than reality
(Scott Swalling) 

This route turned out to be quite good fun, the climbing style was pretty much as I imagined but I encountered conditions that I have not seen on other mixed routes.  First was this stuff (called neve apparently) half way between snow and ice with a consistency like fresh waterlogged ice that was great to bury a pick in (and at hiding rocks).  I guess you just have to accept blunt picks if you want to climb that stuff as there is no way I'm going to keep sharpening my 70 pound pair of picks.  Second new experience was steep soft wet snow.  Luckily a climber appeared ahead of me from the gully on my left and proceeded up towards the cornice.  I placed a wire and followed his footsteps up past a hopeful screw he had pushed in to the snow (I only had a 120mm screw so didn't even bother) as the snow steepened I started to feel a little apprehensive, insecure even.  How had he climbed up the snow and on to the plateau?  As I stood there with both arms horizontal, buried up to my elbows and tried to drive axes in to something solid my short mono-point crampons with melon sized balls of snow attached slipped through the crumbling snow steps.  hmmmm? interesting!!  Eying the chaps anti-balling plates I inquired how he had got to safety?  After groveling over the top I couldn't find the stake or bolts so copied the sitting belay thingy and wondered how much friction was produced as the rope ran over the snow edge.

Daniel, Nik and Giles

Sunday:  an early start got us to the foot of Central Grooves (VII 7) with a full day ahead of us.  Scott began climbing pitch 1 and I huddled in to belay duty.  After a time Scott was stopped by a difficult section and decided that it was my turn.  While Scott had been climbing I was kept entertained by events in the gully to my left.  First I was concerned to see a leader rocketing down the icy funnel past his belayer, ricochet off a boulder then stop several meters below the belay.  As he untangled himself he laughed the incident off and the trio continued with their day.  Then there was the husband and wife team who had developed a system of climbing photography calls...... "photo" then "climb on" I heard.   As I turned to see what was happening now the leader arranged himself in an action pose and again called "photo" after his belayer had taken a photo through the gloom she called "climb on".  These events were almost enough to make me forget the snow that fell and immediately melted soaking our kit.

 Scott nearing the crux and his high point on Pitch 1

After Scott was back on the ground I tied in to the pulled ropes and started up the groove which soon got tricky.  Some of the holds weren't very convincing, and it was another new experience finding cracks choked with ice.  The temperature was surprisingly warm and the rock surface was wet even though it felt freezing,   A lot of the horizontal edges were heaped with poorly adhered snow ice that would barely support a pick but was difficult to clean off if I wanted to hold the rock with my hands.  After some excellent climbing I reached a belay that consisted of a large gravestone size flake that appeared to be held in its recess by a rusty peg on either side.

The second pitch was quite hard work for me as I used every form of encouragement I knew to try and persuade Scott to carry on leading up the route that I had chosen.  When I seconded this pitch I found what had been causing the trouble, it was hard!!.  An awesome lead from Scott despite the slight rest, his ascent of this route was more of an achievement than mine.

We agreed that I would then push for easy ground by running pitch 3 and 4 together, it seemed to me that the climbing got easier but protection got worse as height was gained.  The culmination of this was a good bit of Elvis leg at the top of a hanging slab.  I found this section really focussed my attention as the slab was covered in a layer of crap ice that was not stuck to rock so could not be used for axes or crampons.  I couldn't see any gear that was going to be easy to place and the moves were off balance.  Interesting how different this could be in different conditions.

As I stood belaying at the end of pitch 4 light from a red sunset slowly faded off hilltops across the valley, the temperature had dropped like a stone, the rock had dried, lightened and looked much better from a completed route.

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2 March 2010

Game Over (let the work begin)

So the trip to Canada was very good and the routes we climbed were full on commitments, many had long approaches, a few we started and finished in the dark and others strayed towards unknown limits. It seems that many of the big mixed lines need lots of other skills apart from just climbing with ice tools. A huge respect to all of the guys who went out there years ago and created all of those great routes. People who made sure that they were in the right place at the right time as climbing standards rose and Canmore started to reinvent itself after closure of the mines. Now all that is needed is another wave of development as there are lots of plumb lines waiting to be ticked, not many near the road! but some great BIG fat adventures for sure.

My favorite lines were:
The real big drip M7+
Good solid leads from Ramon and I even if it wasn't all climbed onsight. A great line.
Oo la la M8
Going for it (I would have pulled Suffer Machine apart if I'd have climbed like I did on Oo)
Fire Roasted JC’s Rig M10
For some reason I was pissed that I never climbed this route 2 years ago when Malcolm Kent and I were at Haffner Creek.
Still not climbed by me in one go! I had two days at the Cineplex this trip and got near to the finish of Musashi on my first attempt that I didn't fall off (ok, my second go!). But for some reason I had no real motivation to have another attempt at finishing this route, I guess I had proved I could climb the route to myself (again) but I wish I stuck with it and actually got up it. Never going on that route again.

Photo Kristoffer Szilas

Photo Ramon Marin

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