Author Archives: iana

Learning To Climb Again

An Introduction to Winter Lead Climbing at Glenmore Lodge

I wish that I hadn’t taken the overnight coach I thought on the walk into Coire an t-Sneachda. Maybe in hindsight it wasn’t such a good idea to go by a method of transport that guarantees an interrupted, uncomfortable night without the benefit of anasthetic. Maybe going for a week of winter climbing in the Cairngorms with a niggling ankle injury wasn’t the greatest of ideas either.

Pushing those thoughts aside I pushed on diagonally up the snow slope, unsteadily trying to keep pace without slipping or impaling myself on my own crampons. A few helpful tips on how to improve my footwork from our instructor (Mike) later and I’d made it to the beginning of the day.

Still a little shaken, I followed Mike up Hidden Chimney Direct Start. Having never climbed anything harder than grade II before, jumping straight into grade IV was a bit of a shock to the system! Some inventive moves with my borrowed axes were needed – yes you can jam your hammer into a crack, but only if you can live with having the pick pointing straight at you when you make the next move. First pitch over without mishap my fellow instructee, also confusingly called Mike, lead the much easier second pitch. As I was standing around in the cold for the duration, I started the lengthy process of extracting a flapjack from its wrapper whilst wearing mittens. An eternity later I took my first bite: seconds later a lump of ice knocked it straight out of my hand.

James belaying on the Haston Line

Finally – time to climb again. I moved up to where Mike and Mike were waiting before leading through to the top, Mike (the instructor) happly soloing ahead and either finding or placing gear up ahead. As we got further up the protection got even sparser so that as I traversed below the cornice that signalled the end the plan became: just don’t fall off. As I cleared the cornice I came to an abrupt halt as I reached the end of the rope. Luckily Mike had the other rope and was able to set up a snow bollard and a bucket seat as I struggled to move into a safer position. Some revision on how to body belay later, Mike made it to the top.

After an action-packed first day, we followed it up the next day with a long walk through Charlamain Gap to Lurcher’s Crag. The 1.5hr walk in took a whole 2.5hrs but when we got to the base of North Gully it was worth it as there was loads of lovely water ice. As I’d got a different pair of axes out of stores I was enjoying the benefits of clipper leashes (no axes dangling from my wrists when trying to place protection for example). We even had some sunshine! After walking out in the dark we made it back to the lodge in time to bring the remains of the scheduled tea and cake into the evening lecture.

Sunshine from lurcher's crag

Lectures in the evening were all on useful topics like how to avoid getting avalanched, how to navigate when you can’t see, and what to do if you fail to avoid being avalanched. At the end of each lecture it was easy to see who was on a climbing course as we were the ones having difficulty unfolding ourselves afterwards.

Wednesday we climbed with the other group on the leading course (to make things less confusing both fellow students were called David), and we spend a pleasent day scittering around on a mainly rock route and getting used to placing our own protection. Now for those of you who’ve only climbed in summer – it’s a bit more involved that just finding the right sized nut to fit in the likely looking crack. First step is to clear away the snow in order to find the crack in the first place. Next you have to scrape the ice away from inside the crack. Then you try to place a #3 nut – it fits! Not so fast – lets just ckeck that all the ice has been removed. Some more scraping and you find out that crack is actually large enough for a #6! Now to make sure that it’s well seated – you hit it with your pick until the nut is completely misshapen. Rinse and repeat.

Also David (but not the same one as before)

By Thursday there had been a bit of a thaw. So as we climbed up Goat Track Gully there was meltwater in addition to the rain streaming down the rock, down the ropes and then onto the belayer. Valuable lessons were learnt like:

  • waterproof gloves aren’t;
  • belay jackets only work if you wear them;
  • wearing gaiters over your trousers funnels water down your legs into your boots;
  • a spare pair of dry mittens are fantastic.

On the last day we focussed more on new skills like placing pitons (not easy if your borrowed axes have extremely bent shafts), revised some older ones like snow belays, and had a bit of coaching on technique when climbing on ice. My ankle decided to tell me that enough was enough on the walk out – but it had made it through the rest of the week.

An absolutely fantastic week. Well to be recommended. Also recommended is the Caledonian Sleeper that I took on the way back.

More photos from the trip are available here.

IMC Spring Bank Holiday

A Lakes trip

Ian Ackerley – August 2010

Leafing through my logbook and piecing together a few memories I find a record of this May’s trip to the lakes. Add a few photos…

A light but persistant drizzle heralded the morning so Martin H, Steve C, John boy and I headed out along Mickleden in glorious cloud for a spot of ghyll scrambling up Troughton Beck. Some consistant scrambling with an interestingly green section near the end.

Slippery when wet.JPG

Now in cloud but with the drizzle still holding off we traversed along the side of Pike of Stickle. Some careful navigation later we were at the base of something resembling the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Some gardening later, we made it to some good (and wet) rock and then to the summit.

The path to the east lead to Dungeon Ghyll. By this time the drizzle had really set in as we scrambled down a path trod by Martin many moons ago. However, the promised abseil had multiplied in Martin’s absence to become three – for even better value! The middle abseil was the longest and wettest, and featured an adjacent cascade to test our abseiling skill.

Steve testing the abseil (out of shot).JPG

Rejoining the path before any more slings needed to be sacrificed, we made our way to the ODG to finish off the day.

Sunday saw better weather so, with the addition of Martin S and Mervyn, we headed to White Ghyll for some climbing.

A promising start with Martin H leading most of Gordian knot. Martin then went on to an excellent lead of “Waste not want not”. On trying to follow, I was suddenly aware of the height part way along the traverse and took a swing. The day was finished off with a successful lead of the first pitch of Slip knot only slighly marred by another loss of confidence seconding the final pitch.

On the Monday morning, Martin and Steve headed off for some harder climbing while I headed off to Upper Scout Crag with the main crowd.

Well deserved lunch.JPG

Jeremy lead the first pitch of Route 1 with confidence, followed by Stuart and then myself. My lead of the second pitch started off with a traverse to the right as suggested by the guide. The lack of polish, gear or holds should have suggested that this wasn’t the route that I was looking for (Jeremy: That’s definitely not HVDiff), but meeting Phil as he lead Zero Route finally confirmed that I’d wandered. A suprisingly social finish to the climb (Phil: Stop taking my gear placements!) made for an enjoyable climb to nicely wrap up the weekend.