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Articles from the old IMC website

A Pembroke Adventure

A sea cliff, route finding, commitment, adventure…

Ian Thurgood – July 2009

“We really must do Blue Sky – the 3 star, 2 pitch classic VS at Saddle Head”,
says I.

So, we turned up in the morning on an incoming neap tide with high water due
around 13:40hrs – clearly not the time to abseil into Blue Sky, but we knew
that. Plenty of time to tick off a few warm up routes off the non-tidal ledge –

Now, picture the scene. Come mid-afternoon the tide was very much on the ebb, so
nothing for it but to get that ab line down and do the business. We knew it was
a neap tide so the platform from where the first pitch truly starts was never
going to be exposed, but if you read the guide books, they all say you can ab
down to a ledge about 5m above the high tide line and not take anything away
from the whole experience – there, what could possibly go wrong!

The first pitch is described in the guide book as following the corner from the
platform (or 5m ledge in this case) then moving right on to a wall to a cave and
ledge stance – VS4a. Having spoken to some lads earlier in the day after they
topped out on Blue Sky, I followed their beta and threw the ab rope down the
left hand side (looking out to sea) of the buttress, as they said you abseil
past the first stance. Well, I don’t know if we were just too far left or what,
and I did ab past a small cave and ledge stance to what could, I guess, be
euphemistically described as a ledge above high water line, but the first pitch
that followed was not as described nor was it anywhere near VS4a!

Having got down to the aforementioned un-ledge (I did manage to place one No.3
nut to attach the belayer) – not before noticing, as I was abseiling, that the
end of the rope was drifting a good 15m out to sea. So I dragged it out of the
water before it could get itself wrapped around any submerged rocks and
continued to abseil with one hand whilst holding and paying out soggy coils of
rope with the other! I radioed to Christina that the ab line was free.
Walkie-talkies on sea cliffs – an absolute flippin’ god send I tell ya.
Christina started abbing down and as she did so the ebbing neap tide decided it
wanted to have some fun with us and push the waves just that little bit higher
up the cliff – resulting in the inevitable salt water rinse – 3 times!! You look
like King Canute – or at least that’s what it sounded like Christina was saying
to me, but with all the noise from the seas crashing around and below us it was
difficult to be certain!

Christina got half way between the espied cave and ledge stance and a slightly
damp around the edges Ian before making the decision that further descent was
inadvisable. Trouble is, the foot ledge she was dangling near was not suitable
as a belay – a sloping ledge and bulging wall coupled with only one piece of
protection. So, I decided to climb up to Christina without placing gear but
using a sling prusik round the ab rope as my leader placed protection.*
Fortunately the climbing was pretty straightforward so I was soon standing next
to Christina, whereupon, as Fagin would say, we reviewed the situation. Having
reviewed, it was decided that this really wasn’t a good place to set up a dodgy
belay! So, Christina stayed where she was connected to a No.6 nut and the abseil
rope whilst I transferred my prusik to the ab rope above her and carried on
climbing using the ab rope as pro. I carried on climbing, that is until
prevented by an absolutely desperate move out of a lovely secure corner onto a
wall to the right – gotta be British 5b/5c in anyone’s money! I know that
because I was unable to make the move without pulling the prusik really tight
and hand over handing up the ab rope for a few feet – horrible! Not to mention
the admiring audience from their nice dry, flat, non-tidal ledge round the
corner – no round of applause though ☹. Anyway, I had got to the cave and ledge
area we passed on the abseil down, which now seemed very small for 2 people and
2 ropes. But, this is where we would have to stay as Christina would have to
follow the line of the abseil rope, due to the fact that I would be belaying her
on said rope – yes, we still hadn’t flaked out the climbing ropes at this stage.
I managed to find two OK gear placements to anchor myself, flake out the rope I
was carrying (what a relief to finally get that weight off my back) and tie
myself onto the climbing end. All went well until Christina reached the horrible
move right. Bear in mind that not only was Christina climbing with 50m of 8.6mm
rope tied to her back, she was also tied in along the ab rope as the loose end
was soaking wet, so she had the added weight of several metres of 10.5mm sports
rope hanging off her waist loop! Not only was it a horrible, difficult move, but
I couldn’t take her on a tight rope as it would pull her away from the corner.
Eventually, after much investigation of alternatives, Christina stepped out of
the corner on to as tight a rope as I could reasonably give her and by a process
of combined tactics (including huffing and swearing) she arrived at the ‘stance’
– and was able to sit in the small cave to regain some composure!

After a little breather we flaked out the second rope, much to Christina’s
relief, tied on, and I set off to find the second pitch. I was not sure that the
stance we were at was the correct one, so I moved up and left of our stance to a
much larger, and I have to say more people friendly, cave and ledge stance –
damn! The route went up the corner from this stance then right across a short
wall under some overhangs. Looking up at the rightwards traverse from the
stance, the angle of viewing makes it look desperate, but once there, it is an
absolute gem. A flake running at hand height with positive holds all the way
along it’s length, coupled with a fantastic break at foot height (suitable for
the tall or the vertically challenged) made this one of the most pleasant
traverses I have ever come across – the only trouble being that it was over all
too quickly. On exiting the traverse, you are right out there on the arête
enjoying the most stunning climbing position with easy, protectable climbing to
finish. A pitch that deserves all of the 3 stars it is rightly given. If the
second pitch is as good as this what must the correct first pitch be like?

The belay was easy – just use the ab rope anchors! So I made safe and radioed
down to Christina to start climbing.

“ Shall I pull the ab rope up to this stance?” asked Christina

“ No, there are a couple of girls wanting to use it while we finish climbing.”
Replied Ian

“Ooh, hang on, where does this go?” said Girl 1

“Down to Blue Sky.” I replied

“ Oh, no, I don’t want to do Blue Sky” said Girl 2 running away!

By which time Christina had begun climbing, so the ab rope was left hanging and
coiled in a nice neat pile (we hoped!) way down at the first un-ledge I was at
about 2.5 hours ago! Christina made short work of the fabulous pitch – for those
that know Christina prepare to be shocked – she enjoyed the traverse!! – and
appeared on the arête wearing that smile that only a happy climber can wear.

As Christina started sorting out the climbing ropes, I stayed anchored in and
began tentatively pulling up the abseil rope. I knew I had untied the stopper
figure of eight so that wouldn’t catch on any rock. All was going to plan until
………. uh-oh resistance, the rope is stuck! If only those girls had got their
bearings upon arrival and I hadn’t stopped Christina from pulling it up to the
first stance. Luckily, letting out a bit of slack and gently teasing it back up,
the rat’s nest responsible for the scare appeared, swiftly followed by the end
of the rope and the end of our Pembroke adventure.

Fun and adventurous as it was, half a route is not the full tick, so we’ll be
back! Not so much sayonara Aozora (goodbye Blue Sky) as Ciel à bientôt Bleu
(until we meet again Blue Sky!)


* Editor’s note: Ian is well aware that a prusik isn’t safe in the case of a fall
onto it. So, if you didn’t know that, please don’t get the idea that it’s a
recommended method of self-protection. If, on the other hand, you did, then
you’ll know that it’s up to you to weigh-up the pros and cons according to the
particular case.

Swanage isn’t just for climbing

Pete and Louise find other challenges

Louise Krug – July 2009

The weather forecast for last weekend was grim – certainly grim up North where the planned IMC meet was to be. After scanning the forecast all week we decided at the last moment to head for Swanage – not to climb as it’s a bit too scary for us – but with bikes and walking boots and an intention just to get out and do something whatever the weather.

We set off mid-morning on Friday, which is clearly not early enough to avoid the bulk of the London escapee traffic. Still we were able to get a pitch in Tom’s Field and headed off for a short walk down to the sea. The ground was muddy chalk and extremely sticky. By the time we reached the shore, we were both modelling mud sculptures of snow shoes – much heavier I suspect than the original! We headed back a different route, which was good because it went past a barn that we could shelter in as the rain pelted down!

Saturday dawned much brighter so we set off on the bikes. We had one bike route gleaned from a back issue of MBR. Although it officially started in Corfe Castle, the route passes within a few hundred metres of the camp site, so we joined it there on the Priest’s Way. It’s a lovely ride through very pretty countryside, mostly off road. After an hour of so we ended up at Old Harry
(famous tourist spot). I lost some of the fun as the cycle track was heading fast towards the cliff edge so I pulled up short and walked the last bit till I got round the bend! Then a 3km road section (quiet) before a big old pull up to the Purbeck ridge. I walked a lot of that as well- I was no slower than Pete who rode it all and it was a lot less effort! Then another delightful section along the ridge ending with a sweet (fast as you want but not scary) section down towards Corfe. Here we deviated from the route description and used back roads and bridleways to join up with the route a little way out of Corfe. This was slightly longer, but avoided a long section of main road. Next began the grimmest section. Most of the route is rideable by most people (a long blue rather than red for those used to MTB grades) but not this section. Steep uphill, rubble and nettles. We both pushed/hauled the bikes, and needed a sweetie break in the middle to keep up going! Then we reached what should have been delightful gentle downhill single-track. Only it started to pour down, and chalk is slippier than limestone when wet! Still, it brightened up after about 1/2hr and we decided to make the short diversion to St Anstells head, to give us time to dry out! Stunning views and the weirdest church I have ever seen. All
that then remained was to find the Priest’s Way and campsite again. At this point I noticed some steering trouble. I put it down to tiredness so we stopped for another snack. Picked the bike up to go again and the front wheel remained lying down. Easily fixed (phew) and we finally  collapsed in the tent.

The next day was very windy, so we were happy to leave the bikes and set off on foot. We walked through the Lulworth ranges (military ground, sometimes shut), along the coast to Lulworth Cove and onto Durdle Door before returning over the higher ground. Extremely pretty, grand coast line, dramatic in the high winds. Extremely tiring for a coast walk – dropping to sea level and then rising to between 150 and 200m a total of 6 times. We could have bagged a Munro with that! And we missed the opportunity to drop down a final time to the ghost village of Tyneham, abandoned during the second world war.

And then it was 6pm and time to return home. The travelling there – round London – makes it a relatively hard place to get to given how close it is, but for non-climbers there certainly is plenty of interest. All the footpaths and (almost!) all the bridleways we encountered were well maintained, and well signposted. The scenery is fantastic and you still get a good deal of exercise even though nothing is terrible high! There is a (serious level) climbing trip planned for the 19th/20th September, but I would seriously recommend it also to non-climbers. For the record, the Lulworth Ranges should be open that weekend.

Finally, on no occasion did we make it to the famed Compasses pub, being too scared of the rain on Friday and too tired on Saturday.

Norman Goes To the Alps

On French Guides

Norman goes to the Alps

Norman Smith – August 2009

Let’s face it , the French can be a pain in the bum. They smoke vile smelling cigarettes, take interminably long lunch breaks and delight in forcing Les Anglais to try and resurrect their O level French.

So it was with some trepidation then that I agreed to hire a French guide for a
week’s climbing in the Alps this summer. My aim? To reacquaint myself – after a
twenty five year gap – with what Alpine climbing is all about..

First appearances, however were not encouraging. My guide was called Pascal. And
yes, he insisted on smoking pungent little roll ups, including while climbing (a
la Don Whillans.) And yes his English was only rather more lamentable than my
French. And yes, he thought he was God’s gift to women.

But apart from that….well, he was brilliant and I can’t recommend French guides

Here’s why .

When the weather is lousy in Chamonix, the natural recourse of most Brit climbers
and their guides is to retreat to a nearby bar and bemoan their fate. Pascal
however seemed to have an instinctive knowledge of where to go to get some
climbing done, even when the weather was dodgy. So when it was cloudy and wet in
Cham he took us through to Italy to climb Gran Paradiso. And the weather ?
Absolutely brilliant.

Second if you’ve been in a French Alpine hut you’ll know the Hundred Years War
never really ended. Turn up for breakfast in the dawn light and it’s every man
for himself. Frankly, you’ve got about as much chance of getting some quick
service as Josephine had of Napoleon.. However, arrive with old Pascal by your
side and suddenly you’re at the front of the queue. Talk about preferential
treatment. Likewise if you want to get a nice hut bedroom all to yourself
instead of being dumped in the snoring inferno of one of the main dormitories,
then a French guide is the answer.. As for the climbing. Well, as you’d expect
French guides tend to be an inspiration. But what’s really good about them is
their attitude. They’re really not that big on Health and Safety. Or put another
way they’re prepared to let you fail. They don’t just heave you up on a tight
rope. Instead they insist you lead, route find, set up the belay points and
generally make a complete hash of things. It’s not just a lot more fun but it is
the only way to really learn about Alpine climbing

Oh, and one last thing that I found particularly refreshing about French guides
is that they have a healthy disregard for the high tech gear Stasi who seem to
thrive in Britain. Pascal climbed in a pair of old cords and what looked like
gardening gloves. He even expressed some admiration for my ageing and rusty ice

On the downside ? Well, he did insist on trying to rescue every female climber
who got into trouble. But hey, he’s French.

Jeremy’s First Taste Of Climbing At The Beginner’s Weekend

In the Beginning

Jeremy’s first taste of climbing at the beginners’ weekend

Jeremy Hall – August 2009

Across a frightful chasm I saw that there protruded from the rain-polished slab
of rock, one very small rust red nodule.

I prepared myself to undertake what I knew would be an irrecoverable shift in my
balance left to right to the very extent of my stride and I marked again the
nodule. Had it shrunk? For now it was really no more than a blemish.

A breath, a glance, and then, without being aware that I had moved at all I was
across. The way to the top was unlocked. Breathless but triumphant I re-joined
my leader, Martin S, at the summit.

So it was, at Baslow Edge on the beginners weekend in May, one of the first moves
I ever made, on what was my first ever day climbing rocks. And in the company of
Martin, much more was to come. Corner Route, Curbar Cracks, Cracked Wall,
Mauvais Pas, Shandy, Rum and Pep; through showers and sunshine and my failing
strength, Martin’s re-joiner ever “let’s keep chipping away”, we climbed and
climbed and climbed them all. And just when I thought I could climb no more, a
great hail storm broke above us. Surely now, the rocks would be drenched and we
could retreat with honour intact. But no, as my indomitable companion observed,
the hail was only bouncing off the rocks, and soon we climbed anew.

Actually I didn’t quite make it up Cracked Wall (HS 4a) despite there apparently
being loads of really large hand holds and great foot holds. I think it’s fair
to say that a difference of opinion over the abundance, size and usefulness of
holds began to emerge. Co-incidentally I found myself on the same side of this
particular debate when the topic was re-visited a few weeks later several
hundred feet above Llanberis pass.

Having survived and even prospered under Martin’s excellent instruction on day
one, so it was we went to Birchen Edge on the Sunday. Sail Chimney and Trafalgar
Wall, a solo on the Gang Plank and on Handy Crack a lead and fall. My first ever
placement saved me, but a lob was recorded. In my defence it should be said that
the rock was very slippery, rendering any attempt at this difficult graded climb
almost impossible – wouldn’t you say Martin?

As the rain became heavier we joined Andy, Caroline and others in offering words
of encouragement to Tom, a fellow beginner, whom was in a tricky situation half
way up a chimney unable to advance or retreat. Eventually after a brilliantly
executed abseil from Tom, gear retrieval from Andy and belay from Emma it was
off to the pub.

Al, Maddy and I headed back to Ipswich exchanging tales of daring do. The next
day I reflected that mountaineering in general and rock climbing in particular
is a terrifying pastime. By Tuesday I had convinced myself that I would never do
something as ridiculous ever again, and by Wednesday I had signed up for the
beginners’ multi-pitch.

Beginners’ Multipitch Weekend

Friday 03/07/2009 to Sunday 05/07/2009

Andy Hansler – August 2009

The weekend got to a very early (04:00hrs) and somewhat damp start as Adrian and
I charged up to Llanberis, as it was still raining, unusual for N. Wales I’ll
concede. We wandered into Pete’s Eats for a cuppa & some nourishment. This was
followed by a bit of gratuitous gear fondling action and the pitching of our
tents at the campsite.

Not all was lost as we took a decision to give Idwal slabs a go; it stopped
raining only to start again (several times). But thankfully Adrian’s optimism
scared the foul weather away as he declared something along the lines of “it’s
last bad bit before it turns good”, and it did.

We had a very nice afternoon whizzing up Ordinary Route (Diff), anything but
ordinary, a very nice route. Next we assaulted Lazarus (Severe, 4a) which saw
Adrian dispatch the 2nd pitch in fine style. This was topped with The Arête
(VDiff) some scrambling and nice walk back passing under Cneifion Arête and
dropping down the far side of the Sub-Cneifion Rib. The walk off was completed
in daylight hours and no head torches were in anyway harmed during the days
activities. We then retired in good style to the pub for some grub.

Saturday started with, you’ll never guess it, rain! Steve prepared the battle
plans and the teams were mustered. Dan & Joe got me (what crimes had they
committed in a past life) and as we didn’t ‘ave a car we yomped off down the
Llanberis pass savouring every last drop of rain.

We then spent some “quality” time sheltering under the Cromlech boulders, after
several false alarms it stopped raining long enough for us to kid ourselves it
would been fine and off we stomped and slithered up to Dinas Cromlech. After
deciding Cenotaph Corner in the wet was just so yesterday we opted for a more
challenging route… Flying Buttress in big boots, Dan didn’t seem convinced
about the big boots bit and mentioned his rock shoes at least once before

I got to the top of pitch 1, thought “arr, the rocks almost dry”, splatter,
splatter, right on cue it started to rain. Joe led the second, third and fourth
pitches. However Joe encountered a wee bit of rope drag as the fourth pitch had
”grown” to include the fifth pitch. As a special treat Dan was given the final
chimney pitch which was good to watch, as despite an earlier declaration that he
didn’t use knees, Joe and I were convinced we saw some being thrown at the route
in wild abandon, and yes it rained during this pitch as well. Once again the IMC
membership made it off the crag in daylight hours. Wow; two days running.

Sunday started with much better weather and pretty much the same teams, we headed
out to Carreg Wastad where I wasted no time in selecting a local sandbag (a
habit I’m keen to break), The Crevice (VS, 4c – guidebook grade), the first
pitch looked OK, and the guide book claims no technical grade, so we thought
this would be a pitch for Dan to lead, sometime later and several pauses for
thought Dan made it to the top; after seconding this pitch I would give it VS 4c
any day, good lead Dan. Then we got to the “strenuous chimney” apparently “folk
often get stuck here for hours”. An overhanging, squeeze- chimney with good
holds all in the wrong places, VS 4c, like ‘ell, I would guess HVS – E1, 5b/5c.
After I had retreated with the family name in tatters Joe launched himself at it
with bags of enthusiasm, but soon ground to halt. Comments like “oooohh”,
“arrrghh” and what must be a potential future IMC classic “my torso is too big”
along with a number of miscellaneous grunts and frowns.

Dan opted not to try this pitch, apparently he made this decision when my
language turned blue and, as he described it, I started to use “power grunts”.
Joe hadn’t done anything to change his mind.

Right on cue everyone else turned up to watch us being repulsed by this fiendish
Welsh route. At least Dan enjoyed the abseil so it wasn’t a total loss. And I
had the injured arm excuse to use, which I did unashamedly.

We rounded the day off with a bit of dirty bouldering which saw Joe send the
classic’s, The Ramp *** (V1 / font 5) and Ramp Central * (V2 / font 5+).

In brief a good weekend with good company and umm, good(?) weather.

Team Buffalo away to Stanage

Guy and Simon battle the elements

In what turned out to be a ‘David and Goliath’ affair The Buffalo Boys went North
to Stanage for a weekend that was intended to kick-start their outside year on
real rock after a winter of inaction and plastic.

However what was billed as a pre-season friendly became a slightly stiffer test
as the home team brought out their big hitter – The Wind.

Saturday dawned hopeful and with a pre-prepared slimmed down ‘Stanage rack’ and
single rope we set out with lighter packs than usual.

“Be bold, start cold” the maxim goes, and it was yes to both as I left North Lees
in a t-shirt then as we hit the path atop Stanage the wind really showed its
teeth, Brrrracing.

At the Left-Hand End we dropped down and opened up the ‘definitive’ – what a
fantastic book. If you haven’t got it, put it on your birthday list – and sorted
out a route.

You can call me “Rusty Cobweb” I thought as I struggled seconding a route I
should have found a lot easier, but joining Simon at the top I was just bloomin’
happy be on real rock again.

The conditions precluded extremity and as we meandered back toward North Lees we
looked for jolly entertainment: we found routes that we’d not done before and
came across a whole area that was new to us both.

High points grade-wise, if you’re looking for such, were Simon’s flashing of a
cracking 5c problem that I could only just start (thus showing the benefits of
bouldering – hey ho, perhaps I will have to give it a go sometime), and his
on-sight of a tricky HVS despite an attack of cramp at the crux.

At close to six, with the sun going and the cloud coming, the whistle blew for
half time with The Wind slightly ahead on points.

Sunday; and the second half saw ‘Howling’, The Wind’s bigger and meaner brother,
brought off the sub’s bench.

Things get skewed in such conditions however I think, on the day, we gave a fine
account of ourselves and the smile that came onto my face atop Christmas Crack
stayed with me all the way home on the team bus; a pint of coffee and a
slab of flapjack at Outside having set us up for the journey.

The Wind may have got the better of us in some ways but it was a Pyrrhic victory:
it will always be remembered as bitter and cold whilst the weekend had fun and
warmth writ large on it.

Easter in North Wales

The Official Report of the Official Splitters Easter Trip

Mike Bayley – April 2009

Thursday evening saw myself, Mervyn & Dave (a friend of Martin’s) gathering at
Jesse James’ bunkhouse in North Wales for the Easter weekend. With an
indifferent weather forecast for Good Friday, Martin & Adrian were driving up
the following morning.

True to the forecast, Friday started wet so after a slow start we headed off to
the Llanberis slate quarries for a look round. After an unplanned tour of a
Welsh hillside we arrived at the parking where we met Martin & Adrian. After
some damp wandering and taking in the industrial heritage, itchy feet saw the
party splitting. Dave & I elected to continue our wandering whilst everyone else
opted for a more energetic walk elsewhere. And so we continued our wandering
through the somewhat other worldly quarries, taking in Serengeti, California &
Australia in a carbon free style.

Dali’s Hole – an otherworldly place.

As the day progressed, the weather improved and the quick drying slate made
climbing an option. A dash back to the bunkhouse saw a rope and quickdraws
hastily packed and we got 6 or 7 routes between F4A & F5A in before the face
went into the shade and a trip to Pete’s Eats became more appealing.

Meanwhile, the walkers had changed their plans and gone for an ascent of
Milestone Direct with much squirming on the chimney pitch.

Over dinner plans were laid for the following day, all involving an early start.
Adrian & Dave went for Grooved Arête on Tryfan and were out of the door at 0730
to beat the queues. Martin, Mervyn & I opted for Pinnacle Wall on Craig yr Ysfa.
Despite starting a little later, we were the second party on the crag after some
extended walking along its foot and up into the amphitheatre in fruitless
pursuit of the start of the route, mountaineering judgement ruled and we opted
for the most popular route – Amphitheatre Buttress. A combination of soloing,
moving together and pitching saw us cover 960’ of climbing in 3½ hours and what
fine climbing it was too. Partway up the route, we were able to see Pinnacle
Wall, someway up the opposite side of the amphitheatre wall. Well there was no
flipping mention of that in the guidebook!

Talking to the pair who followed up on the route, it turned out that one of them
was a member of the Ogwen Valley MR team. Although not present on that infamous
day in 2006, we had a bit a chat about rescues and his experience of a rescue on
Great Gully. The day finished by walking off a broad grassy rib and a trip to
Ogwen cottage for tea and checking the weather forecast.

Sunday’s forecast was for a dry but cold start with an increasing chance of rain
in the afternoon. So, we opted for Bochlwyd Buttress, some 20 minutes from the
car. The downside was its north easterly aspect which gave us a chilly start.
Once again, the guidebook was less than perfect and we struggled to match the
topo to the crag. I took the initiative and launched up a route that I thought
was a Diff but which proved to be a Severe with an awkward exit from a niche.
The guidebook wasn’t wrong in that respect. I was up and down trying options,
placing extra gear and trying to keep my hands warm. When I finally went for the
move, I have never been closer to falling without actually doing so and a knee
had to be employed for, erm, stability. Later in the day, Mervyn made a proper
job of falling in the same place so I no longer feel quite so bad about the
tactics that I employed.

Martin then jumped in with a lead of Wall Climb, complete with an interesting
traverse. Still not sure if we did the second pitch correctly but a fine climb
nevertheless. Then it was Dave’s turn on Arête & Slab, another fine route with
some testing moves for a Diff.

My turn again – this time on Marble Slab. The guide suggests severe, UKClimbing
HS; I’ll take the latter as that’s what it felt like to me and very thin in the
middle. Focus was required!

And that was the end of our day, apart from another visit to Ogwen Cottage for
tea & check of the weather forecast.

As forecast, Monday started dry & sunny but with three of the party leaving
during the afternoon big walk-ins were out. Dave & I opted for a return visit to
the slate where, in a confidence building style, we repeated most of the routes
from Friday and pushed out to F5C. That took us to early afternoon and a good
place to stop. From my perspective a very good first weekend of the year, pity
about the cold I took home.

Scottish Winter

Despite much IMC winter action in Wales and the Lake District, I may have been
our only representative on the Scottish winter scene this winter. So this is the
tale my trip in early March.

Being both inexperienced and rusty from missing the previous season, I booked a
guide for four days, with the Glen Nevis youth hostel as a base. I can
thoroughly recommend both the hostel and the guide. The latter, Ian, a Mancunian
based in Snowdonia, is known to at least three other IMC members to my

The main issue with these trips is the weather and correspondingly, the snow
conditions. There had been plenty of snow. Reports of neck deep powder on the
Aonach Eagach ridge added to the inaccessibility of most of the high routes on
the Ben due to category 4/5 avalanche risks didn’t bode all that well.

We warmed up with a wade through the snow to a grade II ridge somewhere near Lock
Laggan, which passed without incident, significant snowfall or even a late

The next day was dedicated to another wade up the side of Tower Ridge to
do Fawlty Towers III, to the right of the Douglas gap. This was our second
choice route, due to traffic on the Douglas Boulder route that we first headed
towards. Meanwhile, a party had set out to tackle the ridge itself from the CIC
hut, at the same time that we’d passed the hut. Apparently this was the first
attempt for several days, thanks to the excessive snow accumulations. The only
problem that we had was that at that height, water was running under the ice and
a lot of it had no real substance to it. With the benefit of a top rope, I was
able to trust the ice on route, whereas Ian had to take a few diversions when
leading. If I’d been leading, I’d have backed off in terror after the first few
metres. The top pitch proved particularly difficult, with Ian needing three goes
to find a route that had any semblance of security. As we descended to the
Douglas gap, we wondered whether the ridge party had any chance of finishing in
daylight. The fact that they were only just above us on the ridge well into the
afternoon suggested not. The third day was pretty easy to assign as a rest day;
the forecast of high temperatures and heavy rain proving to be annoyingly
accurate. As we later saw, this caused most of the main gullies on the Ben to
avalanche and actually improved the remaining snow to something like a
reasonable state.

Climbers on the Douglas Boulder

Abseiling into the Douglas Gap

Climbers on the Douglas Boulder Abseiling into the Douglas GapSouth West Ridge III

The classic Twisting Gully III,4 on Stob Coire nan Lochan was the next day’s
target. This time we were the first party to get to the crag, on what turned out
to be a busy morning, with many teams out. I can imagine that in good
conditions, the technical grade might be a bit generous, but in the rather warm
air, the ice wasn’t the best that I’ve encountered. The crux is a steep traverse
out from under a chock stone, which Ian reached with his usual efficiency.
Belaying and watching from below, it didn’t look easy, and to confirm that, a
“Watch me!” put my concentration onto its full setting, as though it might ever
not be. Ian edged out onto the face. I fed a little of the higher blue rope
through the belay device. Searching for a placement with the left hand axe,
obviously nothing good to be found… Then the unmistakable sounds of falling, of
crampons not staying put. In the age that ensued, I locked off the rope and
braced for the inevitable tug. It never came though. Somehow, Ian held on, his
crampons having latched onto rock a foot or so down. “Tension on blue”, then he
continued climbing, with obvious care and got out onto the rib. Being able to
use the revealed footholds made following straightforward. Nevertheless, I was
reminded of my rustiness on the next pitch, where I made a complete, four
course, meal of a simple corner, almost devoid of ice. Ian had easily bridged up
on nothing very obvious, but when it came to my turn, I ended up hanging from my
axes, cranking up with my feet scraping ineffectually at the rock. Ho hum.

The fourth day’s climbing saw us out bright and early and after an hour and a
half’s trudging at the base of Green Gully IV on the Ben. Its technical grade
seems to be a movable feast, but conditions weren’t bad. There was plenty of
ice, which was mostly pretty secure to climb on, although gear was mostly old
pegs, this being another classic. Three steep full length pitches and an exit
over the cornice went by without difficulty, but was entertaining and what
Scottish gully climbing is all about.

All in all, my best winter trip to date.

Ben Nevis NE Ridge

Cornwall Easter 2009

Steve’s account of the Official IMC Easter trip

Steve Culverhouse – April 2009

For Easter 2009 a team of 9 keen folk turned up in the middle of the night just a
few miles from Lands End and pitched up next to the hordes of Surrey University
climbing Club with a forecast of mixed sunshine and showers in prospect.

Friday saw most of team IMC visit the cliffs of Bosigran to tick such a list of
classic HSs & VSs as Doorpost, Little Brown Jug, Anvil Chorus and, from the team
who may not have read the guidebook as well as they should, something now call
‘Anvilberg’. Although the day started chilly, the scene was set for the rest of
the next few days as the sun came out and folk were soon moulting Buffaloes and
fleeces as if they’d gone out of fashion (oh hang on, maybe they already
have…). The sun was to continue until the end of Sunday, and very welcome it
was too.

For Saturday most of us went to Chair Ladder to tick some more classics such as
Terrier’s tooth, South Face direct, Bishop’s Arête & Diocese (a good lead from
Joe on the tricky 1st pitch).

Sunday was spent back close to Chair Ladder at a small crag called Fox Promontory
which is well worth a visit at the HS & VS grade. Between us we pretty much
climbed out the whole crag. Good leads from Joe – on a hideous HS going on VS
off-width and Guy on a VS-going-on-E1 horror next door. The day finished off on
a high note though with team keen (Martin & Guy) leaving it just a little too
late for their chosen last route of the day. Steve had topped out on the route a
few minutes earlier and Joe was 3m off the ground when the combination of a
rising tide and a lively sea had it’s inevitable effect… Undaunted however Guy
& Martin retreated to safer ground and finished the day off in style with a new
route – is there a name yet chaps?

Ian and Christina had made an even earlier retreat from Fox and wisely packed up
and left on the Sunday leaving the rest of us to wake up to blustery showers and
grey skies on Monday. We all made an early exit and by the time we reached
Exeter the skies were cloudless and blue again so Martin & Guy made it to
Cheddar for a couple of routes (6b I hear!) and Joe & Steve did a tour of Avon
Gorge in Bristol. After an uninspiring and rather scary start (in hindsight, the
route name – Nightmare – should have been a clue) they finished up on Giant’s
Cave Buttress. This route is ideal for show-offs or publicity seekers as the
last, crux, pitch goes up within 6m of the tourists on viewing platform at the
eponymous cave and the top belay (off a venerable Victorian iron fence) is
perfectly placed for more gawping (“Mummy, I think that man’s stuck”).

A top trip!

Cornwall Easter 2009

Ian’s account of the Official IMC Easter trip

A brief resume of the IMC trip to Cornwall Easter 2009

….and not a cream tea in sight!!

Christina myself and Monty took the decision to drive down over night to avoid
the bank holiday traffic blues having travelled this way on our foray north of
the border in early March. We left home at 01:30hrs after a few hours of sleep
in our nice comfortable bed and arrived Trevaylor camp site at 08:30hrs just as
the rest of the crew were having breakfast. The others (except Elena of course)
had decided to go to Bosigran, but we had thought we would warm up gently at
Sennen Cove. So, after pitching the tent and partaking of a leisurely breakfast
of toasted hot cross buns (well, it was Good Friday) with copious quantities of
tea, that’s where we went.

A lovely starter with Corner Climb (V Diff) followed by the excellent classic
Demo Route (HS) – which the Royal Marines Commando instructors used to
demonstrate to their new charges in standard issue boots and big packs on! At
this point, the lure of ice cream and a wander along the beautiful Sennen Beach
was all too much so we packed up climbing and did just that. Unfortunately Bilbo
the 14 stone Newfoundland lifedog (no, honestly, google him!) was not on duty.

After dinner it was getting a tad chilly sitting at the camp site so there was
nothing else for it but to repair to the local hostelry to swap tales and make
plans for the next day’s adventures. As the others had all been to Bosigran and
C and me decided we couldn’t tick the much talked of Commando Ridge (no prizes
for guessing who used to use this route as part of their training!) outing as it
wouldn’t be fair on Monty, a mass IMC assault on Chair Ladder was agreed.

Whilst other parties were bagging routes left right and centre, I was having a
bit of an unenthused day. We eventually half scrambled and half abseiled down
main gully and wandered around for ages trying to decide on a route we both
liked the look of! We eventually settled on Mermaid’s Route (3 pitch V Diff)
which turned out to be a fantastic climb with some rather interesting bits for
the grade. Much lazing in the sun followed whilst, once again, the others
bustled about and climbed loads. After some time Christina persuaded me that we
should ‘get on with it’ so we headed for pinnacle gully descent (where I knew
Steve C had installed an abseil rope and reckoned he wouldn’t mind if we used
it) with a mind to tick Terrier’s Tooth – another classic. Of course, having
faffed about for so long, the tide was now on it’s way in with a few of the
larger breakers splashing over the belay ledge. Being a bit of a route purist I
opted for the original line up the initial wall of pitch 1 which follows a
quartz seam that is unprotectable 4b for the first 3m or so and even then you
wouldn’t want to fall on the gear! It’s a fantastic line though. The wall after
the half way ledge on pitch 1 is damn near unprotectable as well, but it’s
amazing what concern for the belayer’s welfare on an incoming tide can do to
ones climbing speed – although Christina did in fact get a little wet at one
point! The next 2 pitches went according to plan and I was able to chat with a
guy on the route next to us and get some beta for getting off the pinnacle.
Well, what a scary descent that proved to be!! First of all you have to make a
down-slide off the belay block into a niche above a wall in the right of the

Bottom of Terrier's Tooth Coastal View from Fox Promontory
Bottom of Terrier’s Tooth Coastal View from Fox Promontory


Once in the niche it’s safest for one person to belay the other who down-climbs
the wall placing gear on the way down to protect the second. All well and good,
but then the second has to down-climb the wall removing all that lovely
protection on the way so, should they slip, the bit of pro that would arrest the
fall is below them!! Once the wall is negotiated it’s a walk off to the side to
a suitable spot in the gully to have a breather and sort the ropes etc. Like
many things in life, this descent is lovely when it’s over!!A quick dinner on
the camp site, wash up and it was back to the pub – hard and thirsty work this
climbing lark! More tale swapping ensued whilst a plan was hatched to descend
upon Fox Promontory – a small cliff of mostly single pitch routes just along the
coast from the main Chair Ladder fleshpots – on Sunday.

Sunday dawned with more blue skies and warm sun (a bit of a theme for the weekend
so far ) and the added bonus of chocolate Easter eggs! So, off we all sped to
Fox Promontory – apart from Steve and Carol who headed for Chair Ladder and
Clare who unfortunately had to return home. C and me watched the others
negotiate the especially horrid looking scramble descent down the sunny south
face, so decided we would set up an alternative abseil rope down the colder
north face – this proved to be a great time saver for the rest of the day’s
activities – but even to get to the abseil point involved scrambling down to and
over the ridge of the promontory. Steve & Joe and Martin & Guy were ticking
routes off like men possessed, but, again, Christina and I adopted a more
leisurely approach! We managed The Whisker – a lovely little VS4c albeit a tad
steep at the top – followed by the fine left slanting black quartz seam of
Reveille (HS4b) before scrambling back out for sustenance in the sun.

Perfect end to a perfect day
Perfect end to a perfect day


Christina had already mooted the idea of driving home over night Sunday as
Metcheck had forecast rain for Monday. From my point of view, it seemed anathema
to pack up after 3 such fantastic days on the basis of, at best, a computer
probability! But, pack up and drive we did and by the content of the texts the
following morning, this turned out to be a cunning plan (a plan so cunning you
could pin a tail on it and call it a fox) by chief strategist Christina!

All in all another excellent Cornish Easter weekend with beautiful scenery,
magnificent climbing on exquisite sea-cliff granite and perfect company. It’s
memories such as these that keep us going through the grim daily grind in our
dingy old offices!

Here’s looking forward to dry summer weekends, more good climbing and even more
good company.