9 June 2011

3 June 2011

BMC International Meet

So this is the driest spring on record! There has been sunny weather for months. Then when I commit to try a bit of climbing………. it rained. (actually the other time I tried to climb in the UK in 2011 it also rained which, on that occasion, precipitated prussiking out of the Ruckle! Twice! in one evening)

But this is my story of the international meet……. Sunday: as I drove West along that flat straight section of the A5 the sun was setting behind moody cloud shrouded Snowdonian peaks reminding me of a scene from Lord of the rings and giving a premonition of the apocalyptic weather waiting in the mountains.

True to form it was a wet Monday morning so my Finnish guest, Perttu, and I headed to the North coast on Calum’s advice, thanks, you saved us the soaking most of the other climbing teams got. Sport climbing from the beach of LPT was good and we got a couple of routes ticked before the tide chased us back up to Marine Drive where I dug deep and enjoyed a 6c retro-flash.

Perttu at LPT

Tremadog. I had never climbed there before so when we arrived I, as usual, didn’t have a clue what to climb so finding a route called Helsinki Wall in the guide was obviously a good omen. Strolling to the top of the crag to start climbing was unusual and more walking than I would have preferred but I finally located the descent gully and some extremely unappealing looking rock that must have been Helsinki wall. Brilliant! Perttu had travelled all the way to North Wales for me to show him some sport routes and a chossy looking gully wall. Worse was to follow……. as we were now at the foot of the crag I instigated plan b and tried to locate the second pitch of Stromboli, to my embarrassment this actually resulted with me climbing a tree, slinging a branch for protection as I ascended loose rock and brambles to reach the grass. Cool. Later on Perttu made short work of the good E2 Plastic Nerve but that’s not so surprising considering he has climbed Fr8a on gear (~E8).

Alex on the Ramp

On Wednesday all the climbing teams swapped round and I was with a different guest. Alex had led a handful of routes on gear before the meet but had been happy on an E1 he had strayed on to! so I pointed out Gauntlet on the upper tier at Gogarth and he was psyched for the lead. No dramas with this line or The Ramp so we had a go at Central Park, as Gogarth cracks don’t exist in Serbia to practice on Alex had been training on a campus board. Maybe this is why he had a bit of a moment as he quickly learnt about rapid down-climbing for a shake out. From my hanging belay below I was trying to explain about my aversion of shock loading any gear when Alex stepped back up and finished the awkward crack in good style.

Alex on Central Park

I had a good week, I hope the guests did too!

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Bad Landing

As I was driving I saw a strange thing:
From the trees blew a leaf that bounced off the radiator grille and landed in the middle of the bonnet with a thud that was slightly too loud to be the noise of a leaf landing on a bonnet?
Still driving, I squinted through the windscreen at the leaf caught motionless in that eddy caused by the sleek Landrover streamlining, once stopped I cautiously prodded the bat hoping it was not bleeding (or would make me bleed in revenge for driving in to it then poking it).  Happily nothing other happened than the furry matchbox shuffled its wings back in to order.  Studying it by the light of a torch beam I could see a delicate transparent membrane poking from below its nose, the membrane was part of the bats precise ultrasonic echo location, I guessed. Incorrectly. As the bat came to its senses it finished chewing the insect it had been chasing and ate the wing that was hanging from its mouth.
Unblinking, it fixed me with tiny black crystal eyes then maybe because I had just blinded the nocturnal creature it started off on a circuit of the bonnet moving with a surprisingly efficient shouldery crawl on its elbows (wrists? or some other anatomical adaption).  After I picked up the bat its hooked ‘feet’ helped make rapid and determined progress up my arm until I couldn’t hold my nerve any longer and scooped it off my shoulder.  I’m not sure what passing drivers thought about the figure standing in the dark with one arm raised like a Nazi salute but the bat hung upside down from my finger for a while then flapped off back in to the trees.

29 April 2011

Normandy House

10 days away in France and I didn't even see a cloud! The trip started fiery hot when Graeme persuaded me to try some chili sauce, Dragons blood or something. Extreme, and that was just a trace of a taste, luckily the dangerous Naga chemicals were forgotten back in the car and didn't have to be explained to any customs officials looking for chemical weapons. Waking up the morning after the drive south it felt good to be back in springtime Font and I was sort of keen to try some problems, when I did find a suitably easy problem to attempt it was, as I expected, hard work. Several months away from climbing was bound to lead to a drop in performance so to try and get back to climbing at somewhere near my previous level I left Font and headed to the Normandy coast.

While I was away Pete and Graeme set about some good problems and projects, Graeme getting fingers that are more used to plastic a bit thrashed on his projects while Pete went for mileage on his 7a quest. When I returned everyone was happy with the problems they had climbed but I'm sure their wafer thin skin was deeply happy that the chili sauce never made it over the channel.

My west coast training consisted of large streak barbecue's, beer, sitting around and, although I'm usually not a fan of sea food, very tasty scallops. It was cool to see my family and afterwards, luckily, there was enough time to get back to Font and give my fingers some exercise. The weekend I arived back in Font was a bank holiday and lots of UK boulderers had descended on Isatis, Sabot, Cuvier etc, car parks were full with GB, D, B and E plated vehicles but few French! Lots of chalk had been slapped over the usual problems and not brushed off, I hope this level of use is sustainable. Luckily we could still find some quieter problems to try and I enjoyed hauling myself up a 6c.

(for hi-res slideshow click above and view @ Flickr)

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2 April 2011

Ansteys Cove

Ansteys Cove in the sun, fantastic! Andre, Dan and I headed to the coast for a quick Sunday/Monday blast, them climbing, me snapping away........

Andre quickly ticked Cider Soak (8a, 3rd rp over two days) he also red pointed Just Revenge 7c+ and "flashed" Empire of the Sun 7b with a tiny amount of beta (not forgetting the interesting looking 7b slab event).

Dan got his project route Just Revenge.

On Sunday a couple of other teams were providing me with some entertainment.....
The Dawson brothers (12 and 14yrs) warmed up on Empire then worked their projects: Cider Soak and Fishermans Tale (8b). Not bad!
Tim and Grant were going well, as were the Castle team.

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21 March 2011

Brands Hatch

Well this is different.

It was a steep learning curve trying to pick Matt out from the other riders with enough time to be able to get him in the centre of my cameras view finder then keep him there while Canon works its magic. The grindingly slow autofocus of my 100 quid lens (mainly brought for it's macro ability!) didn't really help but just as the shadows extended across the track I had some shots that looked ok on the camera.

Unfortunately, fortunately? I have never ridden a bike so I'm not sure what subtle details to try and capture on film and maybe something that I've photographed because it appeals to me will not look good to a rider? sorry! I do know that getting your knee down is a good thing...........

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23 February 2011

A last couple of shots

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19 February 2011

No fondue

After the initial flip upside down he kept falling.

W.t.f.?  Am I actually holding the ropes?  I remember trying to take in slack to stop his headfirst fall - unsuccessfully.

Miraculously when Ramon did eventually stop, upside down, on a sloping snow covered ledge he was completely unharmed.  Apart from not moving.  As he lay there with his eyes open I enquired after his health?  No response.  This wasn’t quite the finish I had imagined for the second pitch of our new route.

The 55m first pitch had kept me amused for a couple of hours, a turfy un-protected start followed by some slightly loose sections with ok ledges to stand on and dig protection from the frozen mud clogged cracks.  After that our chosen line steepened in to a long curving flake crack that Ramon traversed to the base of then disappeared up and out of view for hours, and I mean hours!  When I eventually saw him again I was surprised that he was without his right crampon (it had been removed for an inventive smearing move) but I was even more surprised when he tried to put it back on in the middle of some fairly technical climbing.  After the crampon was hung back on his harness and some awkward looking upwards moves were completed the ledge on top of the flake beckoned.  I have a sharp memory of three solid looking swings of the left axe in to what must have been turf followed by that move all winter climbers know, when a downward pull on a hold starts to receive an outwards component as height is gained.  I was closely watching this sketchy climbing and saw immediately when the left tool ripped.  I also saw when Ramon was quickly flipped upside down by the rope.  I heard the semi instinctive warning shout to the belayer change tone as the fall continued.

“Sit up Ramon, sit up Ramon”

Part of the gear ripping fall of about 15m had been hidden from my view but I had watched as Ramon had hit a snowy slab head first and not done much since.  After lowering him a couple of meters back to the narrow ledge level with the belay I was encouraging him to sit up - without success.

“sit up Ramon” I shouted again.

Tie off ropes (easily done as they were not very tight).

“Sit up Ramon”

Escape system.

“Sit up Ramon”

Belay myself across ledge.

“Sit up Ramon”

“I’m trying”

OK, good I thought, a coherent reply, not one hundred percent perfect but at least it was an improvement from laying upside down looking at the sky.  By the time I had traversed 10m right to Ramon he had put his crampon on and was looking at the big slice in his finger.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Your top tool ripped out of the turf.  What hurts?”

“My finger.  I don’t remember anything”

“We have to get back across to the belay”  I said.

“Is that my blood?”

“Err?     yea, from your finger”

“Where are we?  I don’t remember anything”

here we go………..

One hour later the Swiss doctor advised a light dinner and specifically no fondue!

Three hours later and guess what Scott and Nic had prepared for dinner.

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16 February 2011


Virtually no low level snow has made a couple of trips up to the Breitwangflu easier than normal partly because no skis are needed and partly because it is possible to drive up some of the forest track.  Of course there are the obligatory little driving moments such as sliding backwards then sideways down a hairpin bend, always good to get the heart started at 6 am on a dark morning - at least the corner was one of the few that wasn’t edged with a precipice.  Compared to the approach the climbing has been fairly non-eventful which is good and bad, good as we have avoided any epics and bad as the top of the Breitwangflu has remained elusive.  One trip up there to attempt one of the best lines I have ever seen (Flying Circus) left me relieved that I wouldn’t have to try and Jumar any ice pierced horizontalness.  A couple of days later we tried Alpha Saule, a route that is shown as an ice line in the guide, however we had seen that the crux pillar was missing and an alternative mixed line looked possible.  With virtually no information about the route, apart from advice from a friend to take pegs and encouragement from another to do the line completely clean, we started climbing.  After we had slowly, too slowly, finished three deceptively long approach pitches of smooth brittle ice Ramon set about the crux mixed pitch steadily hooking and crimping his was on to an ice rib.  Seconding this superb little pitch of good rock holds, interesting moves, heavily featured ice (with stiff elbows) was fun for me, it would have been better to lead of course but not that day.  As it turns out this obvious line has seen a bit of traffic and remained largely free of fixed gear, one old bolt on the belay ledge and some good wires relatively close to the ground protect the start of the pitch, more good wires and one conveniently placed peg entice a leader on to the ice.  Then? sprint up the steep ice rib to a ledge or hang around and place a [probably] ok screw, the choice is yours.  After this? the second half of the route remains - three pitches of ice, I had looked at the vertical ice festooned with brackets and chandeliers, running with water and unhappily given up.  Ramon gamely took a look round the corner and cleverly decided on the less featured ice of an alternative line.  After the snow had been falling for a while I started to loose my unconcerned attitude to driving back down the forest track in the dark, after the freezing water had run down to Ramon’s armpits his resolve wavered.  At this point on the route, with the technical crux finished (by Ramon), team motivation slipped out of reach.  Not something that would have happened previously.

Making an escape from the snow

How to escape from the snow

The real action has been going off at Uschinen over the last few days – Ramon did Pink Panther.  Kristoffer Szilas has been working his way through the routes on the Pink Panther roof all around the grade of M10+-#! (check his Blog for details - link on left).  Kris has been putting in the hours training with Malcolm Kent at Malc’s wall in Cobenhavn, lucky for them to have such a good facility to train at and credit to Malc for building it.  Alex (http://www.alexandrebuisse.org/) has been recording events and I even got some shots I like when M12 was ticked by a British climber for the first time in years.


Kris and Jim

Kris on the sucessful red point of Power Bat

I first met Tom and his dad Jim at Kiental where their van immediately caught my attention for several reasons: 1, it was British (unique at Kiental I think) and 2, it looked like they were camping in it, and Kiental gets very cold at night!  So as it turns out they are camping in the alps for the winter while Tom pulls the place down.  Later while walking up to Uschinen I saw a tent (also unique for me) and guess who was camping there?  After a couple of weeks Tom has now climbed most of the routes at Uschinen and added a couple of new lines and link-ups.

Tom ticking Vertical Limit
20 March 2015 good work on the solos Tom.   rig

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My weakly round up for Jan

some more (Kiental) photos……

Wet ropes, wet hands, standing on a loose block held in place by ice?

Ramon and Pete on genuine WI6

This is the way to climb ice: sitting rests and bolts.
(photo Pete Collins)

Putting an ice screw in with my teeth or something?
(photo Scott Swalling)

Pete Collins

Mr C

Tommy Harris

Mr H

Scott Swalling

Me (photo Pete Collins)

Me (photo Tommy Harris)

Me (photo Tommy Harris)

Me (photo Pete Collins)

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2 February 2011

Back in the saddle

The classic (ph. Pete Collins)

Kandersteg is one of those clean cut Swiss Alpine villages, sheltered in a valley between steep mountains large wooden chalets and a handful of expensive looking hotels spread out along the narrow road.  Nordic skiing is big business with miles of pisted track for weekday pensioners keeping fit and weekend races.  There is a long tradition of tourism and travel at least partly due to a hundred year old railway tunnel connecting the Northern towns to the ski resorts South of the mountains.  The fondue and chocolate producing cows have their winter chalet near the village centre and children are transported by their parents using sleds rather than buggies.  But beneath this precise Swiss exterior a dark secret is brooding (well it’s not really dark or a secret but…..) by some quirk of fate one of the highest concentrations of ice and mixed routes in the Alps is found dripping from the cliffs overlooking the family toboggan run.  Getting to Kandersterg from London takes the same time as driving to Fort William even if a Sea France sailing is required.  The route that avoids the French toll roads goes via Luxembourg where a full tank of fuel should be brought to make the most of the low tax rate.  Reliable ice is found for 2 – 3 months most years (even if the ice is a bit lean this season) and liberally scattered within two hours walk are steep overhangs that grow hanging daggers of ice for intense mixed routes in the M8 – 10 grade range, most of the pure ice routes really get going at about WI5 but guides and groups still find enough to do at places like Kiental and Stock.  I have been ice and mixed climbing in Kandersteg for 5 years and still only just scratched the surface (we even did a new route last week).

Ramon on Rise and Shine *** mixed line 20min from the centre of K'steg

Ramon and I have been in Kandersteg for about a week now and somehow don’t have a long list of routes ticked as only only one of our two man climbing team is anywhere near the required standard, as Ramon only narrowly avoided on-sighting ALL of the pitches of the brilliant Rise and Shine M7/7+ he must be climbing well.  We have been out most days and tried lots of routes but as often happens with routes near the limit some loose their appeal after the on-sight is blown and others were found to be out of condition after closer inspection.  A couple of days are easily spent working on the line of a new route but the main reason the slow start to this trip is mainly I’m not hungry enough to take the sharp end of the rope.  I’m not sure exactly why leading feels tricky for me now but I’m putting it down to several factors: a) a fall b) lack of training because of a) and c) ‘Mirrors of the Unseen’ an awesome book about travel in Iran.  After reading about the history of an ancient civilisation (in a hot country) faffing about halfway up a frozen cliff really seems a bit pointless!  I did recently repeat an M9 I had done years ago (without spurs this time!) so that was a step in the right direction.

Ramon on the alternate top pitch of Reise N Reich

Ramon on P1 of Training.  Rope soloing this later was a learning experience.

Why climb?
It seems that ticking well know routes or getting photos doesn’t motivate me, if I’m not enjoying climbing well I don’t have a reason to climb……… what does really motivate me for climbing though is to retrieve a pair of axes some knob end left half way up the Breitwangflu, some string tied Grigri roped soloing soon solved that slight hitch (good news Danny!)

"Rob, don't forget your axes"

Why walk?
The relatively mild winter has meant that a lot of the approach walks (2 hrs to Breitwangflu, 2 hrs to Uschinen, 1 hr to Gasterntal) can be significantly reduced with careful use of good tyres, throttle and momentum.  Driving two tonnes of 4x4 that can take on a mind of it’s own when friction fails (why does it always depend on friction?) has taken some getting used to and maybe some more practice in the UK could be useful.  Snow chains on all corners would also be nice but none of the Swiss climbers seem to use chains and I was startled to find a Skoda parked half way up a mountain until I saw it’s Synchro badge and heavily treaded tyres.  I guess if I lived in a country where Snow can last for a third of the year then I’d be better at driving in it.

Why no British?
Considering the amount of good winter climbing here I can’t understand why there are so few climbers from the UK here, although I have met some keen parties in the last week, mainly the dedicated father and son team who deserve full credit for camping in their tent and van throughout the winter.  Not only that, they have been climbing the local test pieces and adding some new routes of their own.

Ramon on the new route.
I spied the cracks from the toboggan track and Ramon
tried the direct start (r of rope) but it is poorly protected.
The LH groove (out of shot) lead me to the crack just
below Ramon. Where I lowered off, tired and out of cams.
Using the in-situ gear Ramon got past my high point
then lead the crux of the route. P2 - interesting mixed
by me.  P3 - good looking ice by Ramon.
As it was getting dark I didn't 2nd P3.
A good route. Just about acceptable style!!
Technically easy climbing - no bolts, unusual for K'steg

Ramon on P3

Provisionally named new route, inspired by the
nautical wood panelling of the basement apartment.

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