Author Archives: simonc

Voyage of the Gift Shop Dingy: A Rest Day on Lundy

In August 2006 twenty three members of the IMC and various friends of mine from around
the UK spent a glorious week climbing on Lundy Island. Lundy is is a three mile long, half
mile wide, and 400ft high mass of granite, situated in the Bristol Channel about 11 miles
from the North Devon coast. It is an atmospheric and adventurous venue for sea cliff
climbing that I have fallen in love with. This year was to be my fifth trip there and,
having already done many of the lower grade classics of the island, I was keen to try
something new and unusual, perhaps as part of a mid-week rest day. Whilst planning a ‘tick
list’ for this year’s visit I was looking for something suitable when I came across a
description of St Mark’s Stone. This is a small island about three quarters of the way up
Lundy’s West coast.

St Mark's Stone
Figure 1. The location of St Mark’s Stone, Lundy Island, UK
(click on any image to view in Flickr)

St Mark’s Stone

St Mark’s Stone is not even mentioned in the Lundy guidebook proper, which was last
printed in 1994; however its supplement – which is regularly updated and available online – describes a dozen low-grade
routes that were first climbed there in 1998. Not only are these routes new, they are also
difficult to reach. As with many of the Island’s climbs the approach would involve a long
abseil – some 50+ metres – but this would be followed by a 100ft swim! Yup, that sounded
suitably esoteric. The supplement notes that “all the routes were repeated in August
2002 by a well-prepared party who approached the island in a rubber dinghy”
. Not being
able to afford a proper dinghy for the expedition I visited Felixstowe beach and bought a
child’s inflatable boat. This was immediately tested for robustness by my daughters.

To my surprise five other people said they were interested in joining me on a trip to
St Mark’s Stone. Simon and Steph are climbing friends of mine from Bristol who had joined
ranks with the IMC and visited Lundy on previous occasions. John Pereira had also been to
Lundy before but not for some time, whilst Alex Purser and Andy Hemsted were both Lundy
first-timers. Andy had stepped-in as a last minute substitute for Guy Reid,
who was recovering from his climbing accident at Swanage. One of the things I love about
climbing is the loose network of friends and contacts that you make whilst on your climbing
travels, and our party was a good example of this. We’d been climbing hard for 3 days so
Wednesday seemed like a suitable choice for our ‘rest day adventure’.

St Mark's Stone2
Figure 2. St Mark’s Stone, 100ft offshore from the imposing cliff of ‘The Parthenos’
Photo taken by Alex Rigg from Beaufort Buttress.

The Lundy topo showed that our abseil started from a spur to the North
side of Grand Falls Zawn. Simon and I had been here before in 2003. On that occasion we
had sat for some time on this spur looking back at the immense slab taken by American
Beauty, trying to summon up the courage to make the 250ft abseil and so commit ourselves
to doing that classic E1. This time we knew we were in roughly the right place, but not being
able to see down to the base of the cliff (as is often the case) we were unsure quite
where to abseil. Tying the 100 m static rope around a couple of large boulders I
threaded-in to my belay device and attached the backup prussik loop before starting a careful
descent down the loose fern-covered slope. This became steeper and more crumbly before finally
reaching solid rock, although I still descended slowly to avoid dislodging loose blocks
above. On reaching the bottom I yelled up that I was off the rope, and then started blowing
up the inflatable boat.

My plan had been to put the climbing gear in the boat and push it in front of me whilst
swimming across to the island. The boat could then be pulled back and the next person could cross with their gear. An alternative scheme was suggested – to set up a Tyrrolean Traverse between Lundy and St Mark’s Stone.
None of us had done this before but we gave it a try anyway. John volunteered to swim over to St Mark’s Stone with one end of the spare rope that we were intending to suspend across the gap. Off he went. On reaching ‘The Stone’ he realised that climbing pro, tape loops, nuts, etc. would be needed to attach his end of the rope to rock, so I swam across with my climbing gear in the boat. It quickly became clear that we weren’t going to be able to get the rope under enough tension for a person to haul themselves along it. We could have tried to increase the tension by setting up pulleys and using prussik loops, but the gap to the island was so big, and the rope so stretchy that we gave up on that idea. It just wasn’t going to take a person’s weight. Communication was now more difficult because two of us were on the island and four were still on Lundy, but we managed to change the plan. If we passed each end of the rope through runners attached to the rock then surely we could haul over bags of climbing gear suspended from the rope – rather like a cable car. Again this wasn’t successful. As the bag of gear neared the middle of the gap the rope was sagging so much that it started to dip into the sea. To pull the gear out of the water it was necessary to put the rope under so much tension (using italian hitches for example) that it was then impossible to move the rope one way or the other.

hauling gear
Figure 3. Our failed attempt to haul climbing gear across the gap – photo Alex Rigg.

By this stage lots of time (and energy!) had been spent fiddling about with the rope. It was time to revert to a modified form of ‘Plan A’. The gear would go in the big red drysac that was tied-in to the boat, and that would be pulled back-and-forth by the rope. One by one the remaining four crossed over, most of them swimming next to the gear-laden boat which was guided by the rope. At this stage the sea was pretty calm so getting in and out of the water was straightforward. In fact whilst the others were crossing I had fun jumping from rocks into the fantastically clear deep water. Andy, however, was not happy about the cold water so opted to sit in the under-sized boat and paddle over.

Figure 4. Paddling across in the gift shop dinghy

Throughout the crossing I was worried that the inflatable could be punctured by a sharp rock. I have to admit that I was fussing about this too much – but with all the difficulties we’d had getting it there I could imagine not being able to get our climbing gear back again without the boat.

Once on St Mark’s Stone you find that it’s got a friendy and relaxed feel. The main slab faces South so is warm and sunny, and rises from a large non-tidal platform on which it’s easy to lounge and take in the atmosphere. Most of the routes follow diagonal crack features on the main slab and all are at easy grades. These are marked on figure 5.

Figure 5. The routes on St Mark’s Stone.
Photo Alex Rigg.

In this photo John and Alex are on the far left-hand end climbing Lundy Offshore, marked by the green line. The straight diagonal chimney ending
at a is St Mark’s Chimney (Diff), whilst St Mark’s Crack (V Diff) is the line ending at b. Steph is leading St Mark’s Jugs (c) belayed by Simon Pelly. Leaning Difficulties is the straight chimney/crack ending at d, whilst the slab directly below (green line) is Swim for Victory, graded HVS but downgraded by Andy and me to VS at most. In this photo Andy and I have just finished the prominent straight line of Mary’s Jugs (e) and are looking for Arguably the Most Inaccessible Quality V Diff on Lundy. This is over on the right-hand end of the island and is – unsurprisingly – a V Diff. It’s reached by abseiling to some small ledges just above the high tide line. From this same point Simon and Steph created a new route called Blinded by Bermuda, in honour of my stunning shorts.

The slab’s diagonal lines are such strong features that most of the existing routes follow these. Whilst eating lunch and contemplating the rock my perverse mind decided that it would be fun to do something deliberately unusual. From this was born a new route Currently the most esoteric girdle traverse on St Mark’s Stone which Andy and I climbed in two pitches and graded VS. It’s two pitches are shown in figure 5 by the red and purple lines.

Abseilng in

Andy belaying
Figure 6. Abseilng in to ‘Arguably the Most
Inaccessible Quality V Diff on Lundy’
Figure 7. Andy belaying on our new girdle traverse.

I really wanted to do more climbing but John pointed out with some concern that sea was getting noticably rougher. I wasn’t keen to leave because it still seemed early in the day, but John was quite right. Alex swam back first to take charge of pulling over the dingy’s guide rope, then we took it in turns to swim back with our gear in the dingy. The sea was now rising and falling with some considerable swell, and even getting into the water proved a tricky with Steph being knocked from the rocks into the sea. Having seen this most of us wore our climbing helmets while swimming back.

Figure 8. The return crossing

Having made the strenuous 100ft return swim through a choppy sea you then had to get out of the water. Grabbing hold of the rock whilst the sea was at the highest point in its swell you were left clinging to slippery wet rock – above a nasty looking drop as the sea fell by some 10ft or more. Not nice. You then had a few seconds to scramble out of its reach before the sea rose and caught you again. Unfortunately the sea moves faster than you can climb. In attempting to scramble out several people ended up with cut feet, so I’d recommend suitable footwear if we ever do this sort of thing again. The other top tip is to use a length of rope as a handline. Those on shore coil this up and throw it over the head of the person in the water, aiming well past them. This makes it easier for the swimmer to find the rope and grab it as it falls onto them. They can then be hauled in by the helpers on shore. By holding your legs forwards rather like a water skier your feet hit the rock first – hopefully at the high water level – and you can be pulled out of the water by the rope, pivoting about your feet into an upright position above sea level. Only when standing almost upright do you grab the rock with your hands. It’s just as well we’d got this technique honed because while drying off and getting ready to change out of my wet clothes I knocked my rucksac off its ledge so that it bounced down the rocks and back into the sea. My camera was in there! Fortunately trapped air kept the sac afloat so I was able to jump back in to retrieve it, and then be hauled out again.

Figure 9. Standing in front of our exit point from the sea. As a sign of how rough it was the water is spraying up to well over head height as it hits the rocks

We were all safely back on Lundy island but the fat lady wasn’t yet singing. We still had to climb to the top of the cliff over fairly loose ground. Originally I’d planned to climb one of the routes in Grand Falls Zawn, but we’d been told by the Island’s nature warden that it was restricted due to the large number of birds that were still nesting there. To be honest at this stage I didn’t mind; the excitement of swimming back from St Mark’s Stone had left me feeling pretty tired. I now just wanted to see everyone safely to the top of the cliff and back to the Barn. The route up was technically easy, but the rocks soon gave way to loose grass and dry mud in which were embedded large boulders that had to be passed carefully for fear of dislodging them. Those people that were still left below the climber crouched behind protection out of the route of falling debris – or that’s what I wanted to happen. I can remember getting quite stressed when I saw this wasn’t happening. I really didn’t want to see anyone get hurt on my mad adventure, particularly after its success so far.

The Devil’s Slide by moonlight

Dinner that evening was a jolly affair. As usual we were all sitting around the huge table on The Barn, sharing meals, drinks and our tales of the day’s adventures. Spirits were high and, to my surprise, quite a few people said they’d like to join in with part 2 of my plan for the day – to climb The Devil’s Slide by the light of the full moon. The whole trip to the island had, in fact, been planned so that our visit coincided with a full moon. However, like most of the climbs on Lundy ‘The Slide’ is on the West coast, so the moon wouldn’t be seen from base of the slab until the second half of the night. It would need an ‘alpine start’, so I put in my earplugs and went to bed.

Somehow I woke at 1.30 am, just before my watch alarm was due to go off. That was good – nobody would be disturbed if the mission was aborted. Outside the full moon was shining brightly, but the sky was full of small clouds. They scurried quickly across the moon’s face, driven by the same wind that had made the sea so choppy during our return swim yesterday (!). Conditions weren’t great for climbing, and with all this cloud around I couldn’t even be sure that the moonlight would last for long. Should I wake the others? I woke Simon Pelly to ask his opinion. We decided that we would do it, so got ourselves ready to leave. Simon and I planned to go ahead of everyone else and to rig the abseil rope before they arrived; although I doubted anyone would really want to leave their bed to join us once the bravado of the previous evening had worn off. At the last minute I quietly woke those who’d said they were interested, and left The Barn.

Simon and I set off up the gravelled track on the East side of the island, planning to cross over to the West coast when we reached the Threequarter Wall. In this way, we figured, we’d go straight to the cliff at the top of The Devil’s Slide. It was a good plan, but we should have prepared by visiting the target area sometime in the previous few days; it was a bit late to realise that we hadn’t been there for 4 years! As you can probably guess, on arriving at the West coast we weren’t sure if we were in the right place. Uncertain of what to do we went North a bit, then South a bit, then back North – trying in vain to identify a feature we recognised. It all looked the same in dark. Finally we heard voices, so headed back South towards them. Right at the point where we’d originally arrived on the West coast we found all the others, heading down a gully that leads to the abseil boulder halfway down the edge of The Slide. Feeling pretty silly I mumbled something lame about taking the scenic route, then set about tying the abseil rope around the boulder.

I arrived at the bottom of The Slide first. It felt eery to be alone in the darkness with an angry sea crashing into the base of the rocky platform. Far above I could see half a dozen head torches dancing around, but all I could hear was the pounding sea. By the time Simon arrived our ropes were flaked out and I was ready to go. At first I tried to leave my headtorch off. Sure, the climbing was easy even without much light – just pad up the super sticky granite slab – but I found it difficult to spot where to put protection, even when leaving long gaps between the placements. I chickened out and turned my head torch on. Soon I arrived at the halfway break, level with the big boulder that we’d abseiled from. There were still plenty of people there, queuing. Despite it only being 2:30 am four other pairs of climbers had joined the party. It looked like this adventure had turned out to be too popular.

Figure 10. Belaying at the halway break on The Devil’s Slide.
Photo taken by Ian Thurgood from the abseil boulder.

By the time Simon and I arrived at the top of the climb, three more pitches later, the sun was rising and a warm glow hugged the horizon. Caroline and Mike met us at the top of the cliff; our rucksacks brought up from the abseil boulder and the abseil rope already packed. Being at the back of the abseil queue they’d got too cold and decided not to do the route, particularly since they wouldn’t actually be doing it by moonlight. Four pairs, it seemed, were as many as The Slide could accommodate in one night. We didn’t wait for all the others to finish climbing, but set off back for The Barn to catch some sleep. After all, it was dawn and another days climbing was beckoning …

Letter to Organizers of ICE 2006

Letter to Organizers of ICE 2006, from a beginner

By Simon Chandler & Nick Willis – January 2006

This letter was sent to the organizers of the Ice Climbing Ecrins (ICE) festival on our
return from France in January 2006. You can read our article about
this here. We have decided to allow
other members of the IMC to read our letter as a warning of what to
expect and be aware of should they decide to go to future ICE
festivals. Please do not reproduce this letter elsewhere, or make
it available to non-members.

Nick and I spent the first two days of the festival in the
beginners area in the Freissinieres valley attending workshops.
Whilst we were there we commented that we should try to give the
ICE organizers some feedback about our negative experiences. In
normal circumstances that might have been as far as it went –
nothing but a good intention. However, after hearing about the fatal accident we
felt compelled to write …

Dear Gerard,

Here are the observations and comments that my climbing partner and
I wanted to give as ‘feedback’ to the organizers of the ICE
festival. It has taken me a long time to organize these thoughts
and choose the right words, so my apologies for the delay.
Originally I tried to write this as a short list of suggested
improvements. However, I decided that without the explanation of
what we saw and experienced in the beginners area on the 5th and
6th of January the ICE organizers may not understand why we make
these suggestions. So, please forgive this rather long anecdotal
email. I will summarize our suggestions at the end.


All my comments refer to the first fatality at the ICE 2006
festival [in which a beginner was killed by an icicle that fell
from overhanging rock].

Just by way of introduction, I think it’s worth saying that I’ve
been climbing on rock for 18 years, and that I also do some caving.
I understand that in doing this I’m taking some calculated risk to
my safety, and that I must know how to look after myself – I
certainly don’t expect someone else to do that for me. I now have
lots of experience of multi-pitch UK-style trad climbing in
adventurous situations (on a UK scale). I understood that there
would be even more risk involved when venturing onto ice for the
first time, so I did some reading in preparation for this (I read
Will Gadd’s book cover-to-cover). I am a complete beginner when it
comes to snow and ice.

I’ve consulted with the other three people with whom I shared a
gite during the festival. All of us were beginner ice climbers but
with a wide range of experience in other forms of climbing, so
these comments are an objective and honest summary of the ICE
festival from a beginner’s perspective. I also heard similar
comments from other beginners during the festival.

Three issues need to be covered: organization, preparation and

In summary, we all felt that organization of the beginners sector
was very poor. It was definitely overcrowded, with too many
beginners in too small an area with too few guides. On the morning
of Thursday 5th January I was in the beginners area. Fortunately I
was signed-up in a group of four beginners with one specifically
allocated Millet guide who we had met at the expo the previous
evening. We were lucky, since we knew who was in charge of us. Most
beginners in that area however were not with an allocated guide,
but had arrived via shuttle bus at 10:00 with the expectation of
being given “ice climbing introduction for adults run by guides
from Cie des guides Oissans-Ecrins and youth teams of FCAF and
, as described in the ICE program. For these beginners there
was a great deal of confusion. Who was a guide? Who was in charge?
Which group was which? Who should a beginner talk to to get some
advice or guidance? Which top-rope could they climb on? People who
hadn’t signed-up with Millet were trying to climb with ropes set up
by the Millet guides, and the guides weren’t happy about that. To
make matters worse a completely independent group of climbers from
Kings College London had arrived at that sector early that morning
(the area was deserted when they arrived, with no warning that it
would be used later in the day) and were busily climbing on it when
the first party of beginners from the ICE festival (i.e., us)
arrived at 9:30. There was an argument between the Millet guides
and the group from Kings, which ended with them both insisting on
using the same ice. It was very, very crowded. I consciously
thought to myself that the overcrowding and chaotic situation in
the beginners area was unnecessarily increasing the risk of there
being an accident, and that I should get in touch with the
organizers to make this comment and suggests improvements. This was
my feeling a few days before I heard that there had indeed been an
accident [in which a beginner from
Greece was killed by an icicle that fell on her from overhanging
]. The situation in the beginners area was acknowledged
in the ICE organization’s press statement about the accident
overpopularity of the beginners area had pushed certain
glaciairists to venture into areas disadvised by the professionals
of the mountain”

In the literature advertising the ICE festival there is what I
interpret as a carefully worded ‘disclaimer’ statement:

The object of this meeting is to help you discover our icefalls. We
will help you get to the sites by shuttle bus. After that, you are
in the winter mountain environment under your own responsibility.

Fair enough. But the festival was also advertised as “sought out by
the beginner”
, with attractions such as “free safety workshops
(both on the ice and at the registration point)”
and with guides
available for “teaching ice climbing”. Because this is attracting
people new to ice climbing to venture into something about which
they have little knowledge or experience there really has to be
some responsibility on the organizers to provide for those
beginners. Not just to provide a way to get up the learning curve –
which my partner and I did successfully – but to do so with as much
safety as possible. I recognize that this statement could be open
to debate.

As beginners we are very ignorant of what you far more experienced ice
climbers would consider to be obvious signs of danger in the ice
climbing environment. As an example, on Friday 6th January my partner
and I found ourselves back in the beginners area, but this time without
an allocated Millet guide. Again, it was very busy. Rather than stay in
the chaos we decided to find a small, unused section of ice on which to
practice placing ice screws and making Abalakov belays. I asked one of
the guides where I could find a suitable area, and was told that if I
went “that way” (pointing vaguely down the valley) I’d be bound to find
something. So we walked in the direction indicated to us, looking for
some ice to use. After only a few minutes we found what we thought was
a suitable ‘mound’ of water ice in a quiet area away from the main
path, dumped our sacks and started placing screws. Fortunately a
passing experienced climber saw us and warned us in a very agitated way
to “get out of there – it’s very dangerous”. We just hadn’t realized
that the icicles hanging from the rock above could cause us harm. We
have since learnt that it was a situation exactly like this that killed
the beginner on the previous day. We had seen the icicles, but had
figured that they weren’t directly overhead and that they were firmly
attached to the rock. I now feel really stupid – and lucky!

The Expo

At this time we had not heard about the fatality on the previous
day, and we certainly hadn’t read the press statement (“The
overpopularity of the beginners area had pushed certain
glaciairists to venture into areas disadvised by the professionals
of the mountain”)
. If we had, then we may have been more cautious
in our search for some ‘quiet’ ice. I suspect that the guide who
said that we could find some suitable unused ice in “that
direction” hadn’t heard about the accident either (or they would
have been much more cautious with their advice). Alternatively, if
they knew about the accident then they were under-estimating our
ignorance of the dangers in the ice-fall environment. They
certainly weren’t ‘disadvising’ us of venturing away from the
beginners area. My climbing partner and I had attended the safety
briefing on the evening of Wednesday 4th January, and we did not
hear any specific warning about dangers in Freissinieres valley
(this has been confirmed by checking with our house-mate who also
attended that briefing and is a native French speaker). The
“disadvised” line of the press statement may be referring to text
in the guide (‘Glace et Mixte en Cascade’) or notices about
conditions of the ice in the expo hall (printed from the webpages
‘Conditions des cascades de glace’).
However, my partner and I
found the guide difficult to follow because I don’t completely
understand the text due to my very rusty schoolboy French. Our lack
of local knowledge about the Freissinieres valley and of experience
in reading ice topos make the guide’s maps difficult to understand;
We are still uncertain about exactly where on the guide’s maps the
beginners area is located! As a beginner at the festival there is a
lot of new information to try to understand and assimilate. We
certainly can’t be expected to read and remember all the advice on
the expo’s ‘Conditions des cascades de glace’ notice board.

The difficulty of having to take-in so much new information so
quickly is compounded by the fact that despite being advertised as
‘international’ almost all the written information at the festival
(weather reports, safety notices, etc.) is in French. We were
fortunate because I speak some French and we had a native French
speaker in our group. However, most non-French speakers could
understand some English. People I have spoken to think there should
be much more written communication in both French and English to
help international communication.

One further organizational problem was that we found it difficult
to identify anyone at the expo who we could talk to about
organization of the introductory courses. We wanted to find someone
from Cie des guides Oissans-Ecrins or an organizer of the ICE
festival so that we could discuss the problems we had witnessed in
the beginners area on Thursday 5th; we wanted to ask somebody how
this could be avoided on the following day but still get some
further introductory tuition from a guide. As novices and first
time attendees at the festival we cannot recognize the right people
to talk to, and although we asked the women from the Pays de Ecrins
tourist group (in the registration tent at the expo) they were
unable to help. Even our French speaker asked them, so it wasn’t
just a language problem. There wasn’t a clearly defined way for
anyone to get in contact with someone in charge.

So, I’ve outlined various difficulties we had. What about possible
solutions? Here goes …


Preparing beginners for Ice

Even before beginners attempt to get on the ice they need to be given
some information about the dangers in the ice climbing environment, of
which they are – by definition – ignorant. This could be done as a
slideshow presentation on the afternoon or evening of registration on
the first day. Remembering that we beginners are ignorant, an
expert needs to give us very clear information, specifically targeted
and delivered so that a beginner can understand and remember it. Don’t
be afraid to ‘state the obvious’, and don’t be worried about
patronizing us. Ideally the presentation would be delivered in both
French and English, and by using pre-prepared graphics & slides it
shouldn’t be difficult to overcome language difficulties. The
presentations topics could include:

  1. How to identify and avoid danger (icicles, windslab, avalanche
    awareness, always check your watch before each pitch so you don’t
    miss the bus, signs of hypothermia in climbing partners, what to do
    to reduce the chance of facial injury from flying ice, what to do
    if there is a laceration …). Use lots of photos to illustrate
    these points.
  2. A detailed verbal description of where beginners will be
    climbing, illustrated with photos and simplified maps. The maps
    would show the approach and clearly mark any nearby danger areas.
    These maps should be available for beginners to take away with them
    so they have them when they get to the valley. They should be
    available at the expo, and could be posted at the shuttle bus
    departure points.
  3. An introduction to good places for beginners to go to try their
    first lead. Where are the short unpopular, and very simple sections
    of ice that non-beginners aren’t interested in? Again, photos and
    simplified maps, preferably with copies to take away.

In fact I was expecting that such a ‘Noddy introduction’ would be
available because the program mentions “free safety workshops which
will be open to all, both on the climbs and inside at the
registration point for the meet.”
Since you had attracted beginners
to the festival I assumed that one of the safety workshops at the
registration point would be targeted at beginners.

Prevent overcrowding

My second main suggestion is that there needs to be more
preparation of the beginners areas, and more organization of who
you are sending to them. The objective is to prevent overcrowding
by dispersing the beginners amongst several well-controlled
sections of ice – organized individually by different groups of
guides, but overall managed by an individual named organizer of the
festival who has responsibility for managing the beginners areas by
coordinating with the guides. Before the festival several possible
areas suitable for teaching need to be identified. An estimate
should be made of the number of people who can safely use each
area, and the areas then need to be allocated to the different
groups of guides (only Petzl in section 1, only Millet in section
2, only Cie des guides Oissans-Ecrins in section 3, etc.). Of
course for this preparation to work it will be necessary to prevent
other groups of climbers from using the pre-selected beginners
areas. To achieve this the areas will need to be clearly marked and
signed (in French and English) from the evening before the first
introductory lesson and for the duration of the festival. You may
also wish to consider putting up warning notices (again, French and
English) on any danger areas that are very near to beginners areas
– although with adequate preparation of beginners at their special
safety briefing, close supervision by the allocated guides, and
better management of overcrowding, this may not be necessary.

All beginners must sign-up in advance with a guide who they meet
the evening before at a stand in the trade show. This policy is
already used by Petzl and Millet, and should be used by all guides
for beginners, including “Cie des guides Oissans-Ecrins and youth
teams of FCAF and FFME”. This last group of guides must, therefore,
have a stand at the expo. Before leaving the expo beginners will
know who to ask for advice, and the guides and organizer
responsible for managing beginners will know in advance how many
people will be in each of the beginners areas. They can also check
that the beginners have attended the beginners safety briefing, and
are aware of the special safety instructions for the area where
they are going (illustrated on the simplified maps described
before). When they are at the ice fall the beginners will know who
is in charge, and the guides will know who should be there trying
to climb on their ropes.

If someone has not signed-up with a guide then they will not be
able to just arrive at a beginner’s area and expect to climb. To
avoid disappointment this policy needs to be communicated clearly
in the ICE festival program and webpage so that prospective
beginners know the situation before they arrive (or decide to
attend). To further help manage the number of beginners you should
perhaps consider making it necessary for those who wish to use the
free guides to pre-register several weeks before they arrive at the
festival. You would then know well in advance if you have enough
guides and prepared beginners areas. We were very surprised that
registration was not necessary at ICE 2006.

The organizer responsible for beginners areas should be able to
give all the guides a daily update on any changes to the plan and
report on any incidents on the falls. There should also be an easy
way for people to contact that organizer if they have any questions
or comments.

The introduction of a special beginners safety briefing meeting
should not add any significant cost to the ICE festival. Once
you have prepared the material for that briefing it can
probably be reused on following years. The extra
administration needed for pre-registering beginners at the ICE
festivals could be alleviated by employing someone to help the
organizers do this. The costs could be covered by making a
small administrative charge to each beginner who attends. They
would certainly not mind doing this if they benefitted from
more organization during their introductory workshops.

We think our suggestions address all the problems previously described.
Please tell us what you think to them.


Simon Chandler & Nick Willis

Addendum – January 2007

Our letter may, in some small way, have contributed to a change in the attitude
of the organisers. Here’s the official blurb for the following year’s ICE

In direct response to a number of ice climbing accidents in Europe last year the
focus of this year’s festival is on safety whist ice climbing, and so “ICE
ATTITUDE” is the theme for the whole event. Gérard Pailheiret, the festival’s
organiser, explains:

Even though in ice climbing we make the same movements as in rock climbing, we
find in ice climbing the same risks as in mountaineering. The ice climber has to
be aware of the environment in which the sport takes place, know how to read the
ground, and the conditions of the ice and the route. All these ideas will be
discussed during ICE 2007, and the findings and conclusions covered in a specially
written document at the end of the festival. The PGHM and CRS mountain rescue
services will be present at ICEXPO for the five days of the festival to offer
advice and provide information.”

ICE 2007 features ice clinics, ice workshops, a trade show, ice climbing
competitions, films, and pro’ demonstrations.

On Fat Ice

By Simon Chandler & Nick Willis – March 2006

Fracastorus – a 5 pitch III/3+ 190 metre Glace en Cascade
(click on any picture for larger image)

I was struggling to second pitch 4 of “Fracastorus”. Will Gadd’s
book had been right – alternating leads when climbing ice is not
such a good idea. Having finished a lead you then have to stand
still for a long time while your second climbs up, you swap over
gear, then they lead the next pitch. In our desire to climb at the
sharp end Nick and I had spurned this advice, and now I was paying
the price. The temperature was actually relatively mild, but water
trickling down over the surface of the ice had made my gloves wet,
and my hands senseless with cold. My damp gloves were literally
freezing – sticking to the ice whenever they touched it. The cold
had got to me and I felt exhausted. At least, as I approached the
belay, I was starting to move less like a stiff-limbed zombie.

Nick suggested we leave pitch 5, but I said something stupid like
“I’ve not come this far to give up now”. Handing over the gear we
discussed how to do this last pitch. It all looked very steep, and
the bit nearest us was dripping with water. As I traversed past
this to reach the drier ice, water splashed into my face and down
my neck. Hmmm – refreshing?! At least now on the lead I was warming
up again.

ICE 2006 was a festival held in the Ecrins
region of the French Alps. A premier destination for climbers, it
has hosted the ice climbing festival for the past 15 years. It
seemed a great opportunity for us to attempt this aspect of
climbing amongst the more ‘ice experienced’ Europeans. The festival
was advertised as having free workshops for novice climbers, free
loan of equipment from gear manufacturers, and a free film festival
and entertainment in the evenings. We’d also arranged to share a
gite in L’Argentiere la Bessee with other ice climbers that we had
met through the internet Rock forums, hence an affordable yet
cosmopolitan base was formed with Conor, Nikolaus and Elsa. Your
man Conor also introduced us to his Irish climbing partners and a
very sociable circle added to the fun and fear of the climbing.

As the magazine articles constantly tell us, European ice falls are
so readily accessible with the advent of sleazy jet and
competitors, so why do we want to dodge Scottish weather when we
can climb blue ice cascades after a croissant breakfast? Clearly,
the Scottish experience will always be very different from that
encountered in the Alps and a direct comparison is a little unfair.
Bolted belays, twenty minute approaches and consistent weather
ensure our Euro cousins get more action each winter, and glossy
photos of axe wielding grimpers had certainly caught our attention.
Mervyn’s article from the March 2004 newsletter had enticed me to try this aspect
of the climbing game, and Jerry Gore’s article in a recent Summit
magazine (#40, winter 2005) had made it sound safe and almost

I was getting very tired. Halfway up the continuously steep pitch
was a slight flattening off. When this was level with my face I
used the adze of one axe to cut two large steps in it, then a few
moves later I was able to stand on these with my toes pointing
down, giving my calves a rest. What a relief. Whilst resting on
this makeshift ledge I put in another ice screw. My last. The belay
was in sight however – a loop of rope around a tree. One more push
and I’d be there. “Make it count” I said to myself as I swung my
axes. I’d been getting so tired that my left hand had lost
coordination, and many of the swings resulted in just a glancing
blow off the ice. In contrast the swing technique of my dominant
hand had been getting better and better. Combined with the soft wet
ice my right pick was often sticking first time with a reassuring
‘twang’ sound. I only needed to try again when the initial
impact caused the ice to break up. Sometimes this happened in an
obvious way – with a great chunk of ice falling away from under the
axe’s blow. At other times the axe went in, but it just didn’t feel
right. Just four days ago I’d never even worn a pair of crampons,
so how I knew this I really don’t know.

Click image to go to Flickr to play the movie

We spent the first day of the festival having a free lesson in ice
climbing with a guide from Millet. A good tip is to make sure you
get to their stand at the expo as soon as possible on the opening
evening so that you can sign-up for the limited places. Our native
French gite-mate, Elsa, realized this and made sure that we were
all at the top of Millet’s list. The next morning we were bussed
out to Freissinieres valley for some top rope climbing on an ice
fall of varying steepness. It was the first time I’d even worn
crampons, so I started cautiously. The necessary technique was
practised and improved upon in this relatively safe environment,
and proved to be a perfect foundation for the rest of the week.
However, many people were crammed into this beginners sector and
problems arose due to the inviting nature of this ice fall. As a
consequence of our experiences in this sector and elsewhere during
the festival we sent a letter to the organisers via Jerry Gore, who agreed to help with translation. Our day with the Millet guides culminated in leading a single pitch on pre-placed protection. We were pleased with this rapid progress.

Beginners Sector
The Beginners Sector – as busy as Stanage on a Bank Holiday

The next day we found a very small quiet section of ice and learnt
how to place gear ourselves; handling ice screws with one hand
whilst hanging from an ice axe with your other can be tricky, and
it was only after half a dozen failed attempts that we succeeded in
making Abalakov anchors quickly and effectively. We started this
practice standing on the ground, and worked our way up to creating a
new ‘micro route’. It was only 3m high, but was good training. This
day had been a physical rest, but was good technical and mental
preparation for our first ever multi-pitch lead on ice the
following day.

Paulo Folie
Nick’s first ice lead – Paulo Folie

I heard Simon’s call signalling his safe arrival at the belay
point. My aim was to set off at speed, as a quick time check
revealed it was getting very late. We had avoided the cost of
hiring a car by using the free mini busses that were provided by
the festival for getting out to the frozen valleys. This had worked
well so far this week, but today the return connection now seemed
unlikely. I traversed through the dripping water to reach Simon’s
first ice screw, quickly spinning it out from the cascading ice.

We were both particularly cautious when placing and removing the
screws, always reminding ourselves this was mostly borrowed kit. A
clumsy drop could cost us forty quid! Fortunately, nothing was
dropped and even we stayed connected to the ice throughout. A fall
on the first day by one of our Irish gite-mates on lead had been a
shock, but it had proved the reliability of modern ice screws. It
held perfectly whilst Conor claimed a very early ice-lob – the
festival hadn’t yet officially started; we were mightily impressed
by the boldness of these honorary IMCers – The Irish
Mountaineering Council!

Last Pitch
Starting the last pitch of Fracastorus

Back on pitch 5 of Fracastorus, I kicked and swung the line Simon
had led previously, noting that it was the steepest pitch and
clearly the crux of the route. Joining Simon at the sturdy looking
tree, I told him we’d be struggling to make the bus due to the
late time. However, Simon was already focused on arranging the
anchors and rope, organising the gear ready for the multi-pitch
abseil which was the descent method for this III/3+ 190 metre
route. We were physically and mentally drained and the temperature
was noticeably dropping on this North facing fall, yet we still had
to get down and the seriousness of the situation certainly made us
cautious with the rope work. We talked through everything that we
were doing in setting up the first abseil so that the other could
double check and no silly mistakes were made.

Simon set off first, manoeuvring the ice bulges in reverse whilst I
shivered into my belay jacket and swapped wet gloves for a semi-dry
pair. Several metres below me, he came to a stop and had to adjust
his backup French prussic; the ropes were freezing-up and the
clumping ice was jamming in the prussic which required Simon to
drop a turn. Meanwhile, I forced myself to relax and take in the
sights from the tree, the light was slowly ebbing away but
Fressinieres Valley was still in clear view as I stamped my plastic
clad feet and willed warm blood back into my fingers. In four days
we had experienced just a tiny section of this beautiful winter
scene, yet there was still the Valleys of Fournel and Celiac
playing on my mental wish-list, Glace et mixte en cascade.

By the time we reached our bags it was 6.10pm. We’d missed the last
bus home and it was dark, so it was on with our head-torches and
rucksacks, and – with our crampons still on – we set off down the
40 degree snow slope back to the bottom of the valley. The car park
was empty, but we managed to hitch a ride back the 5km to
L’Argentiere la Bessee with a kind French family. In fact, they
had initially said they had no room to give us a lift. A fair
point really – they were two adults, two kids and a dog! On
realising we had no other means of getting back, they took pity on
our exhausted faces and the minus 10 environment. After much
shuffling and rearranging we crammed ourselves into the car. I
left Simon to politely converse in French from the boot, whilst I
cursed my laziness with foreign languages. Next time I’d be more
prepared, maybe.

Overall we felt that the ICE festival was an efficient and fast way to get
up to speed in climbing on water ice. The festival has many advantages, including
free guiding, free gear loan, and free transport to and from the ice falls.
It also has excellent entertainment in the evenings – although we were
usually too tired to enjoy these. To take full advantage of the free guiding you have to
get signed-up with Millet (for beginners) or Petzl (more advanced)
as soon as the festival opens by going to their stands at the expo. If you don’t
then you’ll spend lots of time queuing in the cold waiting for a brief top rope
session with other less organised guides (from Cie des guides Oissans-Ecrins).
The falls will be busy so expect to wait your turn, and don’t be surprised if some rude
continental type overtakes you on route! The festival is organized in a typically Gallic
laid-back way, so with that expectation, go there and enjoy.

Thanks to all our kind IMCer friends who loaned us ice
gear and warm clothing that enabled us to make this trip. Special
thanks go to Mike Hams (for Simon’s mountain boots, crampons, ice
axes and ice screws!), Mervyn Lamacraft, Martin Hore, Matt C and Dave Tonks.
Thanks also to the many others who offered us gear and advice.

The gite we stayed in is highly recommended. Clean, comfortable,
and ideally situated for the ICE festival. In 2006 it was brand
new, cost €340 for a week and slept 5. The owner can be
contacted at Mr Moal, 55 Avenue Jean Compadieu 13012 Marseille (get
better contact details).

Addendum – January 2007

This article was used as the basis of a letter which
we sent to the organizers of the ICE festival. We hoped to prompt the organisers
to improve their organization, preparation and communication; particularly with
regard to the way in which beginners are introduced to the dangers of ice
climbing. In some small way pehaps we did. Here’s the official blurb for the
following year’s ICE festival.

In direct response to a number of ice climbing accidents in Europe last year the
focus of this year’s festival is on safety whist ice climbing, and so “ICE
ATTITUDE” is the theme for the whole event. Gérard Pailheiret, the festival’s
organiser, explains:

Even though in ice climbing we make the same movements as in rock climbing, we
find in ice climbing the same risks as in mountaineering. The ice climber has to
be aware of the environment in which the sport takes place, know how to read the
ground, and the conditions of the ice and the route. All these ideas will be
discussed during ICE 2007, and the findings and conclusions covered in a specially
written document at the end of the festival. The PGHM and CRS mountain rescue
services will be present at ICEXPO for the five days of the festival to offer
advice and provide information.”

ICE 2007 features ice clinics, ice workshops, a trade show, ice climbing
competitions, films, and pro’ demonstrations.

Profiles – Part 1

This first part of an occasional series is aimed at those IMC members who, for
whatever reason, don’t get away or down to the wall that often and is intended
to tell you something about the committee and high profile members. It’s best
not taken too seriously, though!

Peter Krug — President


pete elf2


Looks like: An elf

Most likely to say: ‘Women don’t find me attractive’

Least likely to say: ‘Just a half this time’



Mervyn Lamacraft — Secretary


mervyn feynman


Looks like: Mervyn Lamacraft (or perhaps Richard Feynman ?)

Most likely to say: ‘I’ll be staying on for an extra day’

Least likely to say: ‘I fancy a quiet retirement’



Dave Scott — Treasurer


Looks like: Alex McIntyre

Most likely to say: ‘Well done Oscar’

Least likely to say: ‘Bouldering, it’s the new leading’



Mike Bayley — Newsletter Editor


mike lendl will_self


Looks like: Ivan Lendl (others have suggested Will Self)

Most likely to say: ‘My back’s a bit stiff’

Least likely to say: ‘I’ve had too much to eat’



Simon Chandler — Communications Officer & Webmaster



Jean Reno

Jean Reno


Looks like: Leon the hitman (i.e., Jean Reno)

Most likely to say: ‘Gis a job’

Least likely to say: ‘Why would anyone want to go to Lundy?’