Author Archives: andyh

About andyh

Hardest Climbs Winter: Soloed clean on-sight Central Trinity II 2 Winter: Followed clean on-sight Castle Ridge III Winter: Alternate Leads on-sight Tower Ridge IV 3 Trad: Soloed clean on-sight Resurgence HVS 5a Trad: Lead on-sight Brown's Eliminate E2 5b Trad: Toproped clean on-sight Apple Arête Direct E4 5c Sport: Lead on-sight El Pesafigues 6b Sport: Lead clean after practice Imagination (Short) 6b+ Bouldered clean on-sight West Face Route V2 Bouldered clean after practice The Pibbles Problem (2) V3 Alpine: Lead on-sight Normal route PD- Alpine: Followed clean on-sight Les portes de la chapelle TD+ Scrambling: Soloed clean on-sight Mont Buet (North Ridge) 3 Scrambling: Followed clean on-sight Sentries Ridge 3S

Wide Boyz Crack School Tour 2017 – Big Rock

The Wide Boyz Crack School in association with Wild Country will tour a number of popular UK climbing walls this winter to introduce climbers of all abilities to crack climbing.

The Crack School is a 90 minute course led by two of the world’s top climbers Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall, aka the Wide Boyz. Participants will have the opportunity to experience all aspects of this climbing discipline. From how to make a pair of crack gloves to learning and putting into practice the full range of jamming techniques.

Having served a lengthy apprenticeship in crack climbing on the legendary Peak Gritstone and in Tom’s cellar in Sheffield, the Wide Boyz have gone on to test their skills on some of the most formidable lines around the world, including their ongoing Crucifix Project.

Based in the heart of the Peak, Wild Country has long met the needs of climbers, manufacturing gear to contribute to the sum of their knowledge. Wild Country are supporting the Wide Boyz Crack School to help climbers develop new techniques that they can then apply outdoors.

Tom Randall says: “Crack climbing is always perceived as this dark art that is almost impossible to learn quickly and involves quite a lot of suffering. The Crack Schools really prove that both of these are not true! We will have you jamming up parallel cracks in less than 90 minutes and we promise you will have a smile on your face. It is about learning AND having fun.”

Pete Whittaker says: “Most people think of crack climbing as painful, difficult and not useful. Crack School will help to erase all these problems! You will get to practice jamming on new painless volumes. We will show you that it is purely technique based rather than strength (so all abilities are welcome). Finally sneaky jamming can be found everywhere, so whether you want to swim up splitters in Indian creek or pull on tufas in Kalymnos, there will be a jam for you. We’re jamming, we’re jamming, I hope you like jamming too!”

To sign up for the Wide Boyz Crack School follow the direct link to each climbing venue below.

Date: 18th Fe

Milton Keynes Big Rock

Interested parties to self book and notify meet organiser so we can arrange lifts etc. Price includes usage of the wall before / after the event.

Tower Ridge

IMC assault 2010

The Route

At 1,344 metres (4,409 ft for oldies) above sea level Ben Nevis is the highest
mountain in the United Kingdom. Tower Ridge is one of a multitude of ridges that
tumble out from the North East side of the summit plateau. Tower Ridge is probably
the most famous of these and is a must tick for aficionados of Ken Wilson’s
Classic Rock tome. It is about 820m (2700ft) in length if the Douglas Boulder is
avoided and around 1000m (3300ft) if it is included.

The ridge is located approximately 500m south of the Charles Inglis Clark (CIC)
Hut and terminates close to the summit of the mountain. The usual route up Tower
Ridge is a graded at 3S or Difficult depending on whether you scramble or climb
it. Few mountain expeditions in the UK can offer comparable amounts of the
exposure and length that make this route truly Alpine in character.

In winter conditions it is graded Scottish Grade IV, partly because most of its
difficulties, such as the Eastern Traverse and Tower Gap, lie high up on the
route but largely due to its overall length. For a winter ascent it is
recommended to allow up to ten hours as “all levels of difficulty may be
encountered depending on conditions”.

A number of distinct features appear on the ridge. In the order that a would-be
ascensionist would encounter them, they are:

1. The Douglas Boulder is the first major obstacle on the ridge. For fans of
suffering, this offers possibly the most arduous climbing on the route and is
only recommended for fast and/or experienced parties. It is easily outflanked on
either side by using the East or West Gullies; both of these go at a winter
grade of I and can be soloed with ease.

2. The Douglas Gap is where parties using the East or West Gullies join the
ridge. For the hardcore who have gone direct careful down climbing into the Gap
is required or more usually, (speed is safety) an abseil is used. Escape from
the gap is by a “tricky” chimney. From here it is possible to move together or
solo as the terrain is quite straightforward. However in poor conditions it
might require protecting.

3. The ridge becomes a bit steeper at the Little Tower providing the first real
barrier after the Douglas Boulder. The SMC Ben Nevis guide book suggests left if
the conditions are dry or with good ice but right if it is under heavy powder.

4. The Great Tower offers a second and some what more substantial rise of the
ridge. A direct ascent of the Great Tower is hard. But like the Douglas Boulder,
it can be outflanked by traversing a narrow ledge (the ‘Eastern Traverse’) on
the left hand side before climbing to its apex.

5. The crux is provided by the (infamous) Tower Gap, a small notch in the ridge
beyond the Great Tower. The Gap is around three metres deep but at this point
the ridge has narrowed to less than one metre wide and offers up views of
precipitous drops to either side, providing ample exposure. The Gap can be
avoided by an extended version of the leftward traverse that is usually started
prior to ascending the Great Tower, For purists, however, this is a no go area,
but it is worth knowing about in case of an emergency. This bypasses the Gap
from below, regaining the ridge at a higher point. An escape into the nearby
Tower Gully is also possible if taking this route. If Tower Gully is being used
to escape, please be aware of potential avalanche dangers.

6. Finally an easy ascent from Tower Gap to the summit plateau is the reward for
the faithful. Now relax, take a deep breath and contemplate your two to three
hour walk off. “No, absolutely no, I’m not tired or knackered at this point.”
You may have to repeat several times at this juncture.

Tower Ridge

Plan 9 from outer space

  1. Drag ourselves out of bed at the ungodly hour of 02:30hrs for an early
    breakfast & coffee. Wander about looking liking spaced out refugees for a while.
    More coffee. Set of for a day of high adventure.
  2. Arrive at the car park for about 04:00hrs, take a deep breath, shoulder our
    packs and set off.
  3. 07:00hrs be at the base of the Douglas boulder, gear up, check pace and
    conditions then make final decision on the start route. Option one is Direct
    Route, 215m,  (IV, 4)*, easy climbing to a high crux (allow 2 hours) or option
    two East Gully (allow 1.5 hours). Abseiling into the Douglas Boulder and escape
    chimney (allow 1.5hours). 10:30hrs
  4. Douglas Gap to Little Tower and possible pitching on Little Tower (allow 2
    hours). 12:30hrs.
  5. Little Tower to Great Tower (1 hour). 13:30hrs. (4 & 5 may go quicker).
  6. Check pace, time, well being of group and conditions and then consider options.
    Option one the usual Eastern Traverse (if time is later than 13:30hrs), option
    two, Recess Route, 45m (IV, 6) – grade implies well protected. Option three
    Pigott’s Route, 45m (IV, 4)* or the Western Traverse, 70m (IV, 4)**. Allow two
    hours. 15:30hrs.
  7. Tower Gap. Allow 1hour. 16:30hrs
  8. Get to the top of the ridge – allow 1 hour. 17:30hrs. Target time for actual
    climbing 10 ½ hours.
  9. Walk off – allow 3 hours Head torches and spare batteries a must. 20:30hrs. Areas
    where possible to make up time, walk-in, walk-out, Douglas Gap to Great Tower.

 What actually happened

08/03/2010 – Attempt 1 – (lessons learnt and how not to tackle a classic
mountain route)

In hind-sight an assault on a long route like Tower Ridge would best be started
the normal (easy) way. However being the fan of suffering that I am, led to a
decision to tackle The Douglas Boulder by its Direct Route (IV, 4). Everything
was going to plan, an early start and a good healthy slog up to the CIC hut and
it was game-on. However, I did reflect upon how menacing the visage that the
Douglas Boulder had presented on the walk, noting the mid-section appeared a wee
bit devoid of the lashings of snow enjoyed by the rest of the Ben Nevis North
Face. I had a moment of self doubt. Was I ready for a Scottish winter IV? How
hard could it be? What could possibly go wrong?

A quick sandwich, drink and gear-up and we were off for a day of high adventure
(much more than planned). Any initial doubts had now evaporated. A decent snow
ramp led up to the base of the Douglas Boulder. Adrian announced the first pitch
was described as easy and that he was having it. A belay was established,
everything double checked and Adrian was off.

The easy groove was a bit suspect, judging by the amount of debris cascading down
[AF: This was mostly ice cleared to find some protection], so Adrian
went off to the left onto more mixed terrain after a slight pause to reflect on
his situation, a bold pull was had and he was off again. Some time later the
welcome call of “safe” was heard. Now it was my turn, Adrian’s lead was quite
impressive as the mixed variation was no push over and felt quite technical for
what I was expecting. Once off the mixed ground a quick rising traverse led to
the belay point. Gear switched hands and it was my turn for pitch two.

The second pitch was fairly straight forward up to where it steepens and the snow
decided to impersonate candy floss. The first attempt to surmount this led to a
small snow collapse, an ice axe placement popping and a few choice words. After
a brief tussle a good(ish) placement was found and facilitated a bold high
stepping rock-over to gear and a belay. Once I was safe and Adrian’s belay
dismantled, he soon shot up the second pitch but was slowed up by the candy
floss section.

Again gear passed hands, a quick plan was formed for the next section and Adrian
was off again. Things slowed a bit at the base of the chimney. The route
steepened noticeably here. Adrian made one attempt to surmount the
corner/boulder. After getting a welcome piece of gear in he then down-climbed,
took a brief rest and then had another go. Finding a magic axe placement
combined with a high stepping crampon crunching smear for the right foot and a
bit of back & footing, he was up and over. Once established in the chimney
proper Adrian decided the next bit was emanating pure menace in our general
direction and generously gifted me with the next bit of leading. Luckily the
chimney is quite wide here and would allow for two people to stand side by side.

Following Adrian’s path into the chimney was no walk-over, that move alone must
be worth at least a technical 4. Gear passed hands yet again, a couple of deep
breaths and mental Hail Mary’s and I was off. No I wasn’t, um this looked
tricky. It was lucky that Adrian was there and able to offer moral support and
dry comments in my hour of need. Composing myself I then attacked the chimney
with an assortment of axe placements, manly pulls, another high stepping
rock-over and general off-width thuggery. These assorted techniques enabled me
to break through to the next tier of the chimney. No obvious gear, best press to
where I could get gear placed. More panting, power-grunting, cursing and
off-width shuffling gained good foot holds that in turn led to a good hand hold.
A good old fashioned bit of Victorian jug and pull climbing and I was on a good
ledge. Gear went in, and I relaxed to contemplate the next bit.

I tried the direct way at first but after two snow bank collapses; I tried to
out-flank the route by going left up a rising snow bank. Mixed climbing up a
short corner followed, from this I pulled up onto a snow-bank to what appeared
to be easy ground and a block advertising a hex placement that only Carlsberg
could have dreamt up. Once I was established on the snow-bank (about 60-70º) I
realised the snow was in poor condition. However a couple of moves would bring
the block and good gear into range. Careful plunging was employed to gain height
“oh fudge cakes”, or words to that effect wafted down to Adrian [AF: Fewer
syllables were actually heard
] as the snow-bank under my feet
collapsed. I was saved by plunging the ice axes in with two points of contact
per axe. I was able to re-establish my feet and try again and again and again.
Whatever I tried I just could not gain the block, it was a classic one step
forward, two steps backwards scenario. I dug some snow away looking for decent
holds but the rock was smooth underneath.

I reviewed my options: down-climbing would be problematical at best and probably
involve a controlled fall. Looking about, it seemed possible to traverse right.
Leaning out right I found a single good axe placement and good snow for a foot
hold. I gingerly tapped a step in at full stretch. I tried to rock-over, “oh
fudge cakes”, I couldn’t commit to the move. This was damn scary but strangely
exhilarating. Moving back, the snow bank shifted again, “oh fudge cakes”, even
if MR were called (yes, I did briefly think of this scenario) the snow wouldn’t
survive that long. “Oh fudge cakes”, what had I got myself into. The move right
seemed the only possible way to make progress.

Carefully reaching over and placing my right boot into the kicked in step I then
plunged the left axe low and close to my body to use as a push down hand hold.
Pushing down and reaching up with the right I found a solid hook in some frozen
turf that was welded to the rock. Ever so slowly I rocked up and over. I hardly
dared breathe as I was now a very good distance above the last piece of gear and
nothing felt 100% secure. More globules of turf and careful calculated moves led
to some steep slightly over-vertical rock and good gear, “phew.” I exhaled with
relief and could breathe again.

From this point on the climbing got progressively harder, possibly as I was
tiring or the relentlessness of the route was beginning to tell. Or then again
maybe it was just plain bonkers hard. More torquing moves, awkward gear
placements and long run outs ensued. This climb wasn’t going to be seduced into
submission without a pitched battle. By this time my clothing was soaked in
sweat from both the exertion and the adrenalin coursing through my system. The
climbing was becoming the scariest, most desperate, sustained and strength
sapping that I’ve ever been involved in; it just wouldn’t give up. But neither
would I, I was committed and focused.

Every time the promised easy ground was within reach, it evaporated before my
eyes as I pulled up, tricked by evil foreshortening again. By this point I was
fully focused and engaged with the problems presented by this route in a way I
have never been before on any other route or type of climbing. Every time I was
confronted with an impossible move, a bit of lateral thinking found a workable
solution and another piece of spartanly placed gear. My axes were used for
torquing from all angles: the point, the shovel bit and hammer all saw their
fair bit of action. At one point even the handle was employed.

On the way I passed more than one piece of in-situ gear left by persons unknown.
What tales of woe might they have? I knew that this wasn’t the correct line and
I was in a groove line heading generally up and left. I tried several times to
go right and rejoin the route proper. Each time the way was barred. But
continuing up and left I could still see some in-situ gear and crampon scratches
ahead. Someone had climbed it so it was possible.

After placing my first tri-cam and pulling up I found an in-situ nut. Forget
abstract notions like ethics I’m having that, and with wild European abandon I
clipped it. As I pulled up onto the next tier of rock, the quick-draw I had just
used clipped into my crampon! This arrested my forward progress halfway through
a high-stepping, nerve wracking hard move. A sideways shuffle and I was able to
jam the hammer of my ice-axe into an accommodating crack and hang off this
whilst I freed the crampon with the other axe. At the point of giving up the
cursed quickdraw dropped free. The rope felt tight, a quick check with belay
confirmed I had plenty left, couldn’t see where it was dragging, I wasn’t sure
what was going on, but as I pulled up it seemed to correct itself.

A couple of stepped blocks led to a small rubbish snow bank in the corner.
Hooray! Above the next set of hard moves the angle eased and juggy holds were
mere metres away. After several inventive axe placements and failed attempts I
found, what felt like, the right sequence.

A thin crack in the initial corner presented a good placement. Double stacking
the axes I pulled through to another and yet another good slot. Reaching up I
got a lateral torque with the right-hand axe. Stepping high I smeared my right
crampon into the smooth corner. Delicately I brought up my left boot and found
something small to stand on. Straightening up and reaching through with left axe
I couldn’t find anything. “Oh fudge cakes”, I said, not for the first time on
this climb. As I contemplated how to get to the jugs, I heard a gut wrenching
ping as the right axe popped out of its placement.

Time momentarily stood still, “oh fudge cakes”, “oh fudge cakes”, “oh fudge
cakes”, then I was flying out and down. I initially hit solid ground in a semi
face-plant position, heard some metallic clanking and mildly bounced into space
again. I began thinking I should have by now stopped, “oh fudge-cakes”, I really
should have stopped by now. After bouncing down several snow slopes and rock
bits spinning around, I ended up in a semi-inverted position, having enough time
think though what would happen if the gear failed and how far I would go; I came
to a grinding halt. Silence. Am I damaged? Is anything hurting? Did the gear
hold? Will it keep holding? A multitude of thoughts barraged my mind. I righted
myself and conducted a mental system check of my body. No, nothing obvious hurt.
Then a few aches and pains announced themselves. My head had cracked against
something but my helmet had taken the brunt of the impact. I could feel that
some ribs were now or were going to be bruised. “Oh fudge-cakes” I said for the
last time that day as a tentative voice came up from the belay “Are you all
right”? The in-situ nut and my first tri-cam placement had held.

Adrian: My reverie was broken rather suddenly by both ropes tumbling
down to below my feet, along with sounds of movement from up above. My thoughts
had time to catch up with events as I took in an armful of rope and locked the
belay, just as the rope that had tumbled down shot upwards with alarming
rapidity. Holding the fall was easier than I expected, but given that it had
happened over an extended period of time, I knew even then that Andy must have
bounced off the rock a few times before coming to a stop. It was only after
everything was still again, that I watched as first one, and then another item
of hardware sailed over my head. The ice axe embedded itself in the snowfield
below the chimney and what I later realised was a crampon came to a stop right
at the bottom of the snowfield. There followed an eternity of silence, which
lasted for two maybe three seconds…

“Yes” I replied, “I think so”. Looking back up to see how far I had fallen I
realised this was the biggest lob of my climbing career. My heart shrank when I
looked up and saw the amount of rope between me and the gear. I had climbed some
distance above my gear in an all out attempt to reach the easy ground. In hind
sight I had missed an obvious gear placement in my focused drive reach the
aforesaid easy ground. Reflecting on the length of rope above me I estimated the
fall was 8m to 10m in length or around the height of an average two story house.

“Do you want to carry on”? Adrian asked. I looked up and couldn’t face doing all
those moves again. I had given it my best and my best wasn’t good enough. Part
of me felt I had let Adrian down as this was now in effect a wasted day and he
wouldn’t be able to experience the moves on this pitch. “No, lower me off”, I
replied “I’ve had enough”. I hadn’t realised how exhausted I was until I
stopped. My forearms felt like jelly and sweat was running freely down my face.

A second system check revealed I had lost my left crampon and my right ice-axe.
Adrian gently lowered me down and I retrieved what gear I could as I descended
to the belay. We estimated that I had spent 60 minutes possibly longer to climb
approximately 25m – 30m. By the time I arrived at the belay I was in a post
traumatic adrenalin endorphin rush Zen like calm. Adrian wisely took charge of
setting up a lower-off and we talked each move through (more important for me,
cheers to JB for that tip). As I abseiled, off I retrieved my ice-axe from the
base off the chimney and my crampon from the bottom of the 2nd pitch. Adrian had
dryly mentioned seeing items of gear fly over head at great speed.

On reaching the bottom of the climb I reattached my crampon and waited for
Adrian. Adrian arrived and the ropes were pulled through with no further ado. To
save time I trudged off down the slope dragging the rope behind me. Wow, they
actually straightened out as planned and stayed tangle free. As we coiled the
ropes I found some damage about 1.5m from one end. It looked like one of my axes
had made a determined attempted to saw through the rope. I assume this is what
snatched my axe out of my hand during the fall.

All that was left was the long walk back to the car and a stop off at the Fort
William Morrison’s for some food and a bottle of single malt.

On latter reflection we noted the following points for future reference:

  • On the approach the climb looked “lean” and in hind sight wasn’t in proper
  • Snow conditions at the top of pitch two should have warned us to bail out there
    and then.
  • If you can’t stick to the route proper don’t go off route to out-flank it unless
    absolutely sure of what is ahead.
  • Mixed climbing would appear to be far harder than comparatively graded ice/snow
  • Fully iced up cracks would have made this route so much easier.
  • If pushing the grade (winter) research the route first.

Quotes about Douglas Bolder – Direct Route

“Note: May become very difficult in lean conditions” – Alan Kimber, Cicerone
Press Limited (2002), Winter Climbs: Ben Nevis and Glencoe

UKC Quotes:

“Andy led most of it, nails for the grade”. Reference to Andy is not me!

“Attempted West Chimney variation IV, 4. Lots of powder and minimal frozen turf
made it interesting for the grade. Leader backed off near the top due to lack of
gear at crux section. Abbed off route”.

“Took ages”!

“Anyone else find this outrageously under-graded”?

And finally after consulting the mighty guide book it appears I had strayed onto
parts of Down to the Wire (V, 6) in lean conditions. What actual grade I was
climbing at is anyone’s guess?

09/03/20010 – Attempt 2 – How do a classic mountain route

After the previous day’s adventures it was decided we would take a suck it and
see approach to the next day’s activities and see if any injuries would
belatedly announce themselves to me.

I woke at some ungodly hour the following morning, trundled down to the dining
area and had a hearty breakfast. A quick check on the weather and conditions –
today would be good, tomorrow rubbish. I went back upstairs and informed Adrian
I had a plan. Adrian arrived downstairs to hear my plan which in a nut shell was
Tower Ridge, now or never, let’s do it. We reviewed our gear and considered the
route, the load was lightened and we took Adrian’s 50m ropes. We started late
but made a lot of time up on the walk-in and were at the base of the climb
sometime between 10:00hrs and 10:30hrs.

A quick solo up Douglas Gap East Gully (I) and we were at the base of the
“awkward” chimney. Still a bit shaky from the previous day I almost backed out
of leading it but Adrian talked me round and it was felt best to get it out of
my system. The chimney succumbed fairly quickly after I realised there was a
nice chunky hand hold to be had out left and got stuck in with some hefty boot

Adrian soon joined me at the belay and we decided to move together with Adrian
in the lead. Up the ridge we went, taking the first steepening on its right
flank. This started with a small ice pitch and thereafter was consolidated snow.
We stormed up this, stopping at the first levelling for a quick break and photo
call. I probably ate something; I usually do given the slightest opportunity. I
took the lead again taking The Little Tower on its left flank which included a
small icy pitch at a slightly steeper section. At a small levelling I found some
good gear and set a belay up, as it was not obvious what was ahead. Adrian led
off and was soon near the base of The Great Tower.

Before I set off, a guided party caught-up to us. The guide asked if he could
pass us. I foolishly agreed as I wanted to stop for a sandwich anyway. Off I set
soon joining Adrian on a nice level area and tucked in. Adrian asked a good
question when I told him what I had agreed too, “why”? I had no good answer
other than I did not want another team hanging off our coat tails. After a
longer than expected wait disaster struck as a “fast” party barged through and
took up position at the Eastern Traverse belay. “Oh fudge cake”, or words to
that effect I thought. Then the guide came bundling through and climbed past the
“fast” party who hadn’t managed to start the Eastern Traverse yet.
[AF: We later realised that these parties had sneaked up on us by
eliminating the Douglas Gap via the eastern slopes which are striaghtforward in
the conditions of the day. That’s perfectly fine, but it fooled us into thinking
they were moving very fast.

Eastern Traverse
About to follow Andy into the unknown on the Eastern Traverse
By this time my patience was wearing thin, with Andy out of sight and stuck for ages
behind a slow party struggling to get up the Great Tower.
Andy remained commendably sanguine throughout all the long waits. [AF]

Prior to this we had been on target for a six hour ascent time despite taking it
easy and stopping for minor photo shoots… Oh hum, after a protracted wait the
“fast” party cleared the Eastern Traverse. Game on again. Adrian blasted up to
the Eastern Traverse’s starting point and established a belay. I led round the
Eastern Traverse and soon caught up to Team Speedy at the exit chimney. I
quickly belayed Adrian up after Team Light Speed had cleared the area. Gear was
exchanged and Adrian led out of the exit chimney which included a very
committing pull on a single axe placement; with the required commitment and
skill Adrian pulled up and off he went. When I followed the stiff pull still
felt committing as a second. Good lead Adrian.

After joining Adrian at the belay my heart sank, Speedy Gonzales and co were
huddled together in Tower Gap, by the looks of it they were having a moment or
maybe an hour! Getting impatient I sauntered down to Tower Gap just as the
leader got the nerve to exit the gap. At last the leader set his belay up and
the second then spent about 30 minutes making an easy bit of climbing look like
a grade VII epic. Getting even more impatient, I loudly mumbled “for fudge cakes
sake how hard can it be” or words to that effect. In the end I climbed down in
to the gap to give a hint to the Frank Spencer of the winter climbing world. As
I set our belay up dithering second was still in the Gap, scratching his way to
sanctuary. In the end he managed his escape. God only knows how.

Adrian was soon in the gap and we again switched gear putting Adrian in the lead
for the exit, which he quickly and competently dispatched. He swarmed up the
slope to the final levelling and belayed me up to join him. Then we moved
together up the final rise to summit at almost 18:00hrs exactly. Right on queue
the clouds descended and we had to navigate off the plateau the traditional way.
Not bad as I had budgeted up to 10 hours for an ascent and it had taken us 7 ½
to 8 hours to do.

Adrian worked out a bearing and a guesstimate pacing to get us onto the exit
bearing from our position and, wow, within a pace or two we landed bang on top
of one of the summit cairns, from here navigation was quite straight forward. We
decided to walk straight to the youth hostel; Norman would give Adrian a lift
back to car park the following morning to collect his car.

We arrived back to the hostel at about 21:15hrs. Norman’s friend Gill had cooked
a stir fry for us which down rather well with some single malt and red wine.

I will never let a party pass me again on a winter route, if they get held up
tough luck. They have a few options: get fitter; get up earlier to beat me to
the route or pick another route altogether. Letting the group through added an
extra two hours to our summit time.

However, on a brighter note the route was truly epic on an Alpine scale. We had
great conditions, weather, views and we climbed well together. This was one of,
if not the, best climbing experiences I’ve had. Also this was the first “big”
winter/Alpine style routes either of us had done without a guide, so the sense
of achievement was immense. This day will live us with for a long time.

Bring that glass of single malt on and a goodly portion of haggis, neeps and
tatties from The Clachaig Inn if you get down in time, which unfortunately we

Ben Nevis across Observatory Gully
Looking across Observatory gully to where the big boys play.
Probably it’s the Orion Face where a party are nearing the top.


Mountaineering Council of Scotland
Ben Nevis Navigation:

– Sunset








11h 10m 07s




11h 14m 46s




11h 19m 25s




11h 24m 04s




11h 28m 43s




11h 33m 23s




11h 38m 03s

Guide Books:

Richardson. S., Hudson. M., (2002), Ben Nevis – Rock & Ice Climbs,
Scottish Mountaineering trust.

Nesbet. A., Anderson. R., (2006), Scottish Winter Climbs, Scottish
Mountaineering trust.


O.S. 1:50,000 Sheet: 41

O.S. 1:25,000 Explorer: 392

Harvey’s Superwalker: Ben Nevis

Harvey Ben Nevis Summit: 1:12,500 scale (useful for showing the
summit area)

Sources and recommended reading:

Wilson. K., (2007), Classic Rock, Batan Wicks, London.

Gresham. N., Parnell. I., (2009), Winter Climbing, Rockfax

Barton. B., Wright. B., (2000), A Chance in a Million – Scottish
Avalanches, Scottish Mountaineering trust.

Daffern, T., (2002), Avalanche Safety, Batan Wicks, London.

Twight. M., Martin. H., (1999), Extreme Alpinism, Climbing Light Fast &
High, The Mountaineers, Seattle.

Whillans Brown Tick List

Andy’s tick list

Route Grade Crag Guidebook Page FA’ist FA Led
Bilberry Crack VS 5a Bamford Eastern Grit 86 Brown 1952
MAy35 E6 6b Bamford Eastern Grit 88 Brown 1958
Pensioner’s Bulge VS 4c Baslow, Eastern Grit 314 Whillians 1965
The Thorn HVS 5a Beeston Tor Northern Limestone 183 Brown 1954
Orpheus Wall HVS 5c Birchen Eastern Grit 339 Brown 1950
White Rose Flake VS 5a Brimham Rocks Northern England 145 Whillians 1950s
Ribbed Corner D Burbage South Eastern Grit 228 Brown 1951
Gog Arete V0 5a Burbage South Eastern Grit 226 Brown 1951
Goliath, E4 6a Burbage South Eastern Grit 231 Whillians 1958
Lethargic Arete S 4a Burbage South Eastern Grit 224 Brown 1951
Magog HVS 5b Burbage South Eastern Grit 226 Brown 1951
Emerald Crack E3 6a Chatsworth Eastern Grit 352 Brown 1957
Puppet Crack HVS 5b Chatsworth Eastern Grit 350 Brown 1951
Sentinel Crack E3 5c Chatsworth Eastern Grit 350 Whillians 1959
Angular Crack VS 4c Curbar Eastern Grit 286 Brown 1948
Avalanche Wall HVS 5a Curbar Eastern Grit 301 Brown 1950
Baron’s Wall HVS 5b Curbar Eastern Grit 298 Brown 1950s
Birthday Groove E1 5c Curbar Eastern Grit 294 Brown 1950
Deadbay Climb HVS 5a Curbar Eastern Grit 288 Whillians 1951
Deadbay Crack E1 5b Curbar Eastern Grit 288 Whillians 1952
Deadbay Groove E1 5b Curbar Eastern Grit 288 Whillians 1954
Elder Crack E2 5b Curbar Eastern Grit 302 Brown 1950
Green Crack HVS 5b Curbar Eastern Grit 304 Brown 1957
L’Horla E1 5b Curbar Eastern Grit 304 Brown 1957
Maupassant HVS 5a Curbar Eastern Grit 304 Whillians 1955
Short Slab HVS 5a Curbar Eastern Grit 286 Brown 1950
Sorrell’s Sorrow HVS 5a Curbar Eastern Grit 290 Brown 1950
Soyuz E2 5c Curbar Eastern Grit 292 Brown 1950
The Corner HVS 5b Curbar Eastern Grit 298 Brown 1955
The Left Eliminate E1 5c Curbar Eastern Grit 307 Brown 1951
The Peapod HVS 5b Curbar Eastern Grit 307 Brown 1951
The Right Eliminate E3 5c Curbar Eastern Grit 307 Brown 1951
Tree Wall HVS 5b Curbar Eastern Grit 289 Brown 1954
Two Pitch Route VS 5a Curbar Eastern Grit 292 Brown 1950
Wall Climb VS 5a Curbar Eastern Grit 298 Brown 1950
Fox-trot HVS 5a Den Lane Quarry Western Grit 286 Brown 1961
Brown’s Blunder VS Dove Dale Northern Limestone 188 Brown 1950
Pickering Ridge VS 4a Dove Dale Northern Limestone 192 Brown 1950
Pickering’s Overhang E1 5b Dove Dale Northern Limestone 192 Brown 1950s
Southern Rib HVS 5b Dove Dale Northern Limestone 188 Brown 1950s
The Groove E2 5c Dove Dale Northern Limestone 191 Brown 1950s
The White Edge E3 6a Dove Dale Northern Limestone 191 Brown 1950s
The Wong Edge E3 6a Dove Dale Northern Limestone 191 Brown/Whillans 1950s
Venery HVS 4c Dove Dale Northern Limestone 188 Brown 1950s
Hanging Crack E2 5b Dovestones Edge Western Grit 248 Brown 1957
Ace of Spades HVS 5a Dovestones Quarry Western Grit 250 Brown 1957
Tiny Tim VS 4c Dovestones Quarry Western Grit 250 Brown 1957
Beech Nut E1 5c Froggatt Eastern Grit 282 Whillians 1951
Broken Crack VS 5a Froggatt Eastern Grit 279 Brown 1948
Brown’s Eliminate E2 5b Froggatt Eastern Grit 282 Brown 1948
Cave Crack E3 5c Froggatt Eastern Grit 272 Brown 1950
Cave Wall E3 5c Froggatt Eastern Grit 272 Whillians 1958
Chequers Climb VS 4c Froggatt Eastern Grit 283 Brown 1949
Chequers Crack HVS 5c Froggatt Eastern Grit 283 Whillians 1951
Great Slab E3 5b Froggatt Eastern Grit 281 Brown 1951
Hawk’s Nest Crack VS 4c Froggatt Eastern Grit 272 Brown 1948
Heather Wall HVD 3c Froggatt Eastern Grit 274 Brown 1940s
Janker’s Crack HS 4b Froggatt Eastern Grit 283 Brown 1948
Janker’s End VS 4c Froggatt Eastern Grit 283 Brown 1948
Janker’s Groove VS 4c Froggatt Eastern Grit 283 Brown 1948
Joe’s Direct Start V2 (5c) Froggatt Eastern Grit 280 Brown 1950s
Pedestal Crack HVS 5a Froggatt Eastern Grit 282 Brown 1948
Sickle Buttress Direct VS 4c Froggatt Eastern Grit 279 Brown 1948
Skogul S 4a Froggatt Eastern Grit 273 Brown 1951
Slab Recess Direct HS 4c Froggatt Eastern Grit 280 Brown 1948
Strapiombo E1 5b Froggatt Eastern Grit 270 Whillians 1956
Sunset Slab HVS 4b Froggatt Eastern Grit 271 Brown 1948
The Big Crack E1 5b Froggatt Eastern Grit 282 Whillians 1955
Three Pebble Slab HVS 5a Froggatt Eastern Grit 276 Brown 1948
Tody’s Wall HVS 5a Froggatt Eastern Grit 274 Brown 1948
Valkyrie HVS 5a Froggatt Eastern Grit 278 Brown 1949
Central Crack HVS 5b Gardoms Eastern Grit 328 Brown 1956
Corner-crack D Gardoms Eastern Grit 322 Brown 1951
Gardom’s Unconquerable VS 4c Gardoms Eastern Grit 327 Brown 1950
Undertaker’s Buttress VS 4c Gardoms Eastern Grit 326 Brown 1951
Wall Finish VS 4c Gardoms Eastern Grit 328 Brown 1956
Whillans’ Blind Variant E1 5b Gardoms, Eastern Grit 327 Whillians 1951
Bachelor’s Climb VS 4c Hen Cloud Western Grit 101 Brown 1952
Bachelor’s Left Hand HVS 5b Hen Cloud Western Grit 101 Whillians 1950s
Bulwark E1 5b Hen Cloud Western Grit 94 Brown 1950s
Delstree HVS 5a Hen Cloud Western Grit 97 Brown 1950s
En Rapple HVS 5a Hen Cloud Western Grit 97 Brown 1961
Hen Cloud Eliminate E1 5b Hen Cloud Western Grit 100 Brown 1950s
Main Crack VS 4c Hen Cloud Western Grit 97 Brown 1950s
Reunion Crack VS 4c Hen Cloud Western Grit 97 Brown 1950s
Second’s Retreat HVS 4c Hen Cloud Western Grit 100 Brown 1952
Curving Crack VS 4c Heptonstall Quarry Northern England 54 Whillians 1961
Forked Lightning Crack E2 5c Heptonstall Quarry Northern England 55 Whillians 1961
Surform E1 5b Higgar Tor Eastern Grit 216 Brown 1958
The File VS 4c Higgar Tor Eastern Grit 216 Whillians 1956
The Rasp E2 5b Higgar Tor Eastern Grit 216 Brown 1956
Skylight VS 4c High Tor Eastern Grit 218 Brown 1957
Great North Road HVS 5a Millstone Eastern Grit 246 Brown 1957
Plexity HVS 5a Millstone Eastern Grit 239 Brown 1957
The Mall VS 4c Millstone Eastern Grit 248 Brown 1957
Brown’s Crack E2 5c Ramshaw Western Grit 110 Brown 1950s
Don’s Crack E1 E1 Ramshaw Western Grit 110 Whillians 1950s
Prostration HVS 5a Ramshaw Western Grit 110 Brown 1950s
Ramshaw Crack E4 6a Ramshaw Western Grit 113 Brown 1964
The Crank VS 4c Ramshaw Western Grit 107 Brown 1950s
Altar Crack VS 4c Rivelin Eastern Grit 69 Brown 1940s
Crack One S 4a Rivelin Eastern Grit 64 Brown 1950
Crack Two S 4a Rivelin Eastern Grit 64 Brown 1950
Ebenezer’s Staircase VD Rivelin Eastern Grit 66 Brown 1940s
Red’s Slab HS 3c Rivelin Eastern Grit 59 Brown 1952
Roof Route HVS 5b Rivelin Eastern Grit 68 Brown 1950s
The Original Route E2 5c Rivelin Eastern Grit 63 Brown 1954
Ackit HVS 5b Roaches (Lower) Western Grit 68 Whillians 1958
Choka E1 5c Roaches (Lower) Western Grit 78 Brown 1958
Crack of Gloom E1 5b Roaches (Lower) Western Grit 71 Brown 1958
Dorothy’s Dilema E1 5a Roaches (Lower) Western Grit 70 Brown 1951
Matinee HVS 5b Roaches (Lower) Western Grit 72 Brown/Whillans 1951
Rhodren HVS 5b Roaches (Lower) Western Grit 78 Brown 1958
Slippery Jim HVS 5b Roaches (Lower) Western Grit 66 Whillians 1958
Teck Crack E1 5c Roaches (Lower) Western Grit 68 Brown 1958
Joe’s Hanging CrackE3 E3 6a Roaches (Lower) Western Grit 69 Brown 1950s
The Bulger VS 4c Roaches (Lower) Western Grit 76 Brown/Whillans 1951
The Mincer HVS 5b Roaches (Lower) Western Grit 75 Brown/Whillans 1951
Valkyrie Direct HVS 5b Roaches (Lower) Western Grit 72 Brown/Whillans 1951
Aqua VS 4b Roaches (Upper) Western Grit 84 Brown 1954
Saul’s Crack HVS 5a Roaches (Upper) Western Grit 62 Brown 1947
The Sloth HVS 5a Roaches (Upper) Western Grit 89 Whillians 1954
Don’s Delight E1 5b Stanage End Eastern Grit 108 Whillians 1962
Terrazza Crack HVS 5a Stanage End Eastern Grit 108 Brown 1952
Jeepers Creepers HVS 5b Stanage High Neb Eastern Grit 120 Brown 1958
Quietus E2 5c Stanage High Neb Eastern Grit 118 Brown 1954
The Knutter HVS 5b Stanage High Neb Eastern Grit 115 Whillians 1962
Centaur E1 5c, Stanage Plantation Eastern Grit 140 Whillians 1958
Count’s Buttress E1 5c Stanage Plantation Eastern Grit 126 Brown 1950s
Crescent VS 5a, Stanage Plantation Eastern Grit 141 Whillians 1959
Esso Extra E1 5b Stanage Plantation Eastern Grit 140 Whillans 1957
Mangler E1 5c, Stanage Plantation Eastern Grit 141 Whillians 1959
Namenlos HVS 5a Stanage Plantation Eastern Grit 148 Brown 1950
Overhanging Wall HVS 5a Stanage Plantation Eastern Grit 144 Brown 1950s
The Little Unconquerable HVS 5a Stanage Plantation Eastern Grit 151 Brown 1951
The Right Unconquerable HVS 5a Stanage Plantation Eastern Grit 151 Brown 1949
Tower Crack HVS 5a Stanage Plantation Eastern Grit 140 Brown 1950s
BAW’s Crawl HVS 5a Stanage Popular Eastern Grit 155 Brown 1953
Cleft Wing VS 5b Stanage Popular Eastern Grit 154 Brown 1953
Cleft Wing Superdirect VS 4c Stanage Popular Eastern Grit 154 Brown 1958
The Dangler E2 5c Stanage Popular Eastern Grit 178 Brown 1954
The Nose VS 4c Stanage Popular Eastern Grit 158 Brown 1954
The Unprintable E1 5b Stanage Popular Eastern Grit 178 Whillians 1952
The Z Crack VS 4c Stanage Popular Eastern Grit 178 Brown 1952
Whillans’ Pendulum and Black Magic HVS 5b Stanage Popular Eastern Grit 171 Whillians 1958
Frisco Bay VS 4c Stoney Middleton Northern Limestone 46 Whillians 1952
Glory Road VS 4b Stoney Middleton Northern Limestone 47 Brown 1951
Golden Gate HVS 5a Stoney Middleton Northern Limestone 46 Brown 1950
How the Hell VS 4c Stoney Middleton Northern Limestone 43 Brown 1950
Morning Crack S Stoney Middleton Northern Limestone 43 Brown 1950
West Window Groove HVS 5a Thor’s Cave Northern Limestone 179 Brown 1950s
Knobblekerry Corner VS 4c Tintwistle Knarr Western Grit 216 Brown 1951
The Old Triangle HVS 5a Tintwistle Knarr Western Grit 214 Brown 1951
Ceiling Crack E2 5c Widdop Northern England 59 Whillians 1955
Blue Lights Crack E1 5b Wimberry Western Grit 231 Whillians 1948
Freddie\’s Finale E1 5b Wimberry Western Grit 228 Brown 1948
The Trident HVS 5a Wimberry Western Grit 230 Brown 1948

Andy’s Woodie

The OCD world of Andy’s climbing training

Andy Hansler – December 2009

First, what the heck is a woodie and how on earth can it help with climbing? A woodie is best described as a freestanding frame that facilitates a wide range of training techniques. These go beyond pull-ups which many people wrongly assume is a woodie’s primary and only function.

It is designed for tendon-friendly muscle-strengthening endurance exercises. These target the fingers, arms and back. It will work these areas in a similar way to as if the climber were on steep rock, and is therefore an ideal training medium if your aspirations are for climbing in this direction.

What it will not do is improve your footwork, unfortunately, you’ll still have to go to the rock-gym or, heaven forbid, climb real rock to achieve this.

The aim is to build up to being able to complete burns of between 4 to 10 minutes separated by 10 to 15 minute breaks. Depending on how you attack the workout session, you can work your aerobic endurance and/or gradually push your anaerobic threshold further. What this does aerobically is to increase your endurance and thusly increase the time taken before the dreaded anaerobic pump sets in. However by using this device you can hang in there once the pump sets in and see how far you can push it in a fairly safe environment, crash matting is advised. I have commandeered Caroline’s boulder mat for this purpose.

Once you start to get a feeling for just how long you can actually “hang-on” once pumped, when you’re on real rock you will see a decrease in the panic / stress that can accompany this sensation.

In short, a woodie can be used to develop endurance and strength in the upper body, especially the forearms and fingers. It is not used to develop power.


  • It is free standing, hence no need to rebuild your house (important if you are renting and prefer not incur the wrath of your landlord).
  • It is relatively cheap; you can keep the cost down by making your own wooden holds.
  • It requires only basic woodworking skills and tools.
  • It can be built well within a single weekend (ideal winter project).
  • It is relatively small so should fit into a spare room.
  • As it is in the house and not a cold garage, you are more likely to actually use it.
  • It is very versatile and can be used for a great many exercises.

Materials required:

  • Two 7-foot 4x4s; kiln dried (if you weigh less than160 pounds these can be reduced to 2x4s). These are used for the vertical supports.
  • A minimum of two pieces of ¾-inch plywood are used for the horizontal cross members. These are sized (minimum) of 8 x 42 inches, mine were longer as I was making a custom version, as opposed to the standard one that is shown in Eric Horst’s book Flash Training. It was this book that inspired me to build my own woodie.
  • Two 48-inch 2×4’s, these are attached to the vertical 4x4s to stabilise the unit.
  • Four 31-inch 2x4s. These are used to support the vertical 4x4s to the bottom stabilising beams.
  • Four 90 degree Teco (or similar) plates to secure the vertical units to the lower stabilising parts (easy) or if you are more skilled use a mortise & tenon joint with two coach bolts per side.
  • Fixings: approximately 25 3-inch drywall screws (wood-to-wood joins), 25 1.5-inch drywall screws (Teco plate to wood joins) or use coach bolts long enough to run through 4 inches of wood.
  • Finally, T-nuts and fixings.

PhotoSet on Flickr

The woodie could be made narrower to hold just a fingerboard if you’re quite pushed for space. Anyone wanting to make one who would like further advice or assistance, I’m only an email / phone call away.

Sources / Further reading:

Horst. E. J., (1996), How to Rock Climb: Flash Training, Chockstone Press

The above book is out of print but is readily available on Amazon, or mine is available for a short term loan.

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.

How hard can it be? Well, according to the guidebook…

Andy finds a V. Diff with attitude

Any Hansler – December 2007

After a flurry of emails and texts it was agreed that my partner in rock climbing excellence, or should that be rock terrorism, Mr Rafe, and I would meet at the infamous Dol-gam, Capel Curig campsite. Yes, the famed campsite that comes complete with quadraphonic sheep sound effects (steady Mr Krug) and the dulcet tones of a handy built-in running river. Oh, and not forgetting the farmer who appears smiling at your tent entrance wanting payment at some ungodly hour in the morning.

After packing most of my kit the night before with the idea of an early start a self-induced disaster slowly began to overtake all my plans and good intentions!

After a series of delays I was successfully ambushed by my World of Warcraft PC game (I only meant to check my emails, honest governor). After a sustained tussle I was able to escape this torrid virtual landscape and re-enter the real world. Oh crikey, fiddle sticks and all that; I was behind schedule and much, much worse Mr Rafe was on my case! He had sent a text message to say he had already arrived at the campsite. I was shocked as he even had the audacity to ask deep and penetrating questions such as what time was I expecting to arrive there.

A hasty text, and an even hastier exit, and I was off and running; the car was revving, its stereo cranked up to the max heaving out Scandinavian black metal vibes, and my leaden right foot stomping on the accelerator hard. I didn’t exceed 100mph once, well maybe once but don’t tell anyone.

Good progress was made until opportunistic feeder Andy was led astray and, as if by magic, drawn into a midpoint service station for some of their world-class cuisine (not), a suitably large coffee and an even larger bill out of all proportion to the meagre peasant-level fodder produced. Fully caffeinated up I was suitably wired to carry on towards North Wales at breakneck speed.

I finally descended on the campsite at 23:30hrs or was it 00:30hrs where Mr Rafe, the hero and scholar that he is, was still awake and able to offer a tin of beer which I felt duty bound to accept so as to honour the rules of hospitality. My God, this was North Wales in October and I able to put my tent up with no rain; had I entered a strange and mysterious alternative Wales? Apparently not – I had missed the rain by a few hours as was evidenced by my now slightly soggy camp shoes. Some discussion was held with talk of an easy first day with an easy (beer talk there) VDiff up on Glyder Fach main face as a warm-up to be followed by something harder.

Retiring not soon afterwards we were to be kept awake by lashings of rain in a much more traditional Welsh setting. Alas we ended up rising a bit later than planned; oh well, “best laid plans” and all that. I must stress that the late start was nothing to do with sheep or beer. Every cloud has a silver lining as we opted to use this as the ideal excuse for a trip to the gear shop and a deluxe, super-healthy (?), heart-attack-inducing fried breakfast. Once again both gear shops were sold out of the items I wanted, although this didn’t in any way hamper the bumper gear fondling session, one shop was even visited twice! After re-lacing my boots and carefully stowing my recently purchased energy bars in Dave’s glove box we were off.

We set off from the car park at about 10:30 – 11:00hrs for the hike up to Glyder Fach. We took a fairly direct line of attack yomping up past Milestone Buttress on Tryfan, then contoured off towards our target just before the Bristley Ridge / Bwlch Tryfan area. On route to the Glyder Fach main face area we came across a fantastic looking bouldering area with oodles of crack problems, from finger to hand to full-on off-widths. We may enter the dark side and return here at some point for a dedicated boulder session as this looked like far too much fun to ignore.

Gaining a bit more height we were able to cross the scree slopes at their narrowest points; always a disappointment that, as we all know much fun scree slopes can be. We were at the base of the climb by about 12:30ish. It was at this point I now remembered that my energy bars were still in Dave’s glove box, in Dave’s’ car at the blinkered blink blank car park. But Mr Rafe being a total gent offered me some of his grub. Geared up with both ropes flaked we were ready for action! Dave was especially excited as I had managed to coerce him into a first taste of the dark connoisseur art of big boot climbing.

Out came the guidebook for a final consultation. The trusty Ogwen and Carneddau tome describes Chasm Route ** (IMC star junkies take note) as an honest old fashioned climb that demands a workmanlike approach and according to its pages it even has a “famous” named crux pitch called “The Vertical Vice”. The new Ground Up North Wales guide even goes as far to make wild claims about The Vertical Vice typically requiring the considerable expenditure of energy and then trying to scare off would-be pundits with mention of a difficult finishing crack once past the terrors of the vice!

Oh well, how hard could it be (very difficult according both guidebooks, apparently,) and what could possibly go wrong? After all this was only a seven pitch VDiff with an easy and obvious descent route on what was to be a warm up on for an attempt on Lot’s Groove…

Things finally got off to a slow start at some unspecified time – we had both tucked our watches away in our rucksacks at the bottom of the climb for safe keeping. We decided to link the first two pitches together for speed although this was negated by Dave having an extremely fun time experimenting with the sublime skill of climbing in big boots. It must be said that his progress was assisted (not) by jocular comments wafting up from the belay stance. What was the hold-up? Why was he taking so long? Ah, now was my chance to show him how it should be done – enter Mr Hansler, devourer of VDiffs. Umm, this seems a bit thin, bold in places, crikey that felt a bit stiff for VDiff I thought to myself feeling a bit humbled. Quickly taking the gear I set off up the pitch that gives the climb its name; a steep and smooth sided beast that is greatly assisted by a crack on the right, the anatomical advantage of long arms and some slightly unorthodox manoeuvring. This was all proving to be great fun. Even more fun was finding some puddles on the ledge right were I wanted to plant my hand as well.

The next few pitches went quite smoothly but it was noted that the cloud cover was dropping a bit and it seemed darker than it should be. A quick check and yes, we had both left our head-torches in our rucksacks, obviously to keep our watches company. Dave arrived at the base of the “Vice” pitch and shouted down encouraging words to the effect of “I’m glad that you’re going to be leading that”.

I was now ready for whatever this “vice” thing could throw at me; and hah, that didn’t look like much. I squirmed into a narrow greasy chimney, jammed a boot in and wriggled my way up towards a smallish opening through which some daylight was filtering, I then did the rock climbing equivalent of the breast stroke and pulled through into a strange little cave-like affair. Umm, I thought, as I realised the squirmy chimney thing wasn’t actually the “vice” bit of guidebook notoriety.

Looking up I could see a narrowing chimney / off-width thing. Balancing on the end of a pointy bit I stood up and bang, damn, my helmet was too big for the chimney. I crouched back down. Leaning out a bit more I went up again and was squished very solidly into the chimney / off width thing – a startling insight rattled through my brain, “that would be why it’s called a vice then!”

Crouching back down for the second time I unfolded the mental drawing board for a quick re-take; the escape to the right was an obvious cop out so I ruled that out but facing left I could make out a ladder of smooth handholds. Up I went again. This is hard I thought, down I came again. Next, squatting, I lent out at full arm’s-length so I was almost outside the chimney / off-width monster and grabbed a hold with my left hand and heaved upwards in a “workmanlike fashion” and wedged my feet behind me.

What followed was a torrid battle using a technique best described as “chest and footing” that included expanding my chest so my upper torso acted as a cammng device. At one point my upper body was cranked round about 100 degrees with respect to the orientation of my legs (one of which was momentarily stuck under an unhelpful flaky bit) as I followed the handholds up and to the right. This was new, I have never been pumped on a VDiff before. But then suddenly whoa, I was free from this menace from the land of Wales and the glory days of tweed climbing. Where did I put my pipe?

Hah hah, the final difficult crack was there right in my face; a nice big beast splitting into a Y shape in its upper reaches and yes, it was polished to a very high standard. It looked like someone had really gone to town on it with the Pledge. So right at the best possible moment, as I was halfway up, the rain came down and out came a fair few swear words and up came some laughter from the belay. Wedging in I found a solid chock to pull on with another one conveniently higher and behind. Grabbing the second chock stone I was somewhat alarmed as it suddenly moved towards me and attempted to escape the crack. Luckily my feet were cammed in solidly and I had a bomber right handhold. Heart inserted back into my chest up I went again. Finally at the belay station I was able to relax and collapse into a jellied heap.

Dave came thundering up after the belay had been set up but not without some grunting and noises of protest it should be added. Once we were both safe the belay was dismantled at the speed of light and the ropes coiled even faster. Optimistic talk was even bandied about getting to the pub for a decent meal; thoughts of doing Lot’s Groove had long since evaporated in the salivating jaws of The Vertical Vice. Damn, it was getting dark. Off we merrily went to locate the obvious and easy-to-find descent route in the now very poor light. Buggernuts! Someone had stolen it, probably the sheep.

At last we found a gully of some description and we carefully started down using the time-honoured fairy step technique. After much tentative blundering about we found a large ledge with some rather decent “ab tat” helpfully attached to a large flake. Looking across I could see where we were, height- wise, in relation to the Chasm Route. A brief consultation with the guidebook confirmed we had enough rope to reach “dry land”.

Setting up an abseil point with care I led off into the dark, down what seemed quite a steep face. Once I was clear of the ropes Dave followed. Leaving Dave to sort the ropes I tiptoed across to our base camp skirting around the top alphabet slab. Eventually the sacks were discovered and head torches recovered.

Going back was a bit harder as I could now clearly see the drop off from the traverse, or part of it as it disappeared into the mist. Dave was somewhat relieved to have his head torch back in his possession. The first rope had been pulled through, freed and coiled; however, the other rope wasproving to be a bit more problematical. Much cursing would have been heard if anyone else had been silly enough to be sheep hunting climbing in this area at this late hour. After 30 minutes of trying to free it by various and devious means an executive decision was made to abandon the damn thing.

After reclaiming our sacks and de-gearing it was about 20:30 or thereabout and quite dark. Our master plan for navigating out was to go generally right and down, not so easy as it was now darker than a dark thing and the cloud cover / mist had reduced our illuminations’ effectiveness to about 5 – 10 metres. So off we went generally forward and to the right as planned, using the slope as guidance and hoping find Cwm Bochlwyd at some point, and then to locate the path from that. After some careful down-climbing and backtracking, and possibly chasing our own tails we managed to identify a large grassy slope leading us straight down to the even larger boggy expanse in which the lake most be hiding.

After crossing a rather slippery boulder and gingerly stepping through the follow-on bog I turned to warn Dave, but alas I was too late, Dave disappeared up to his waist with a loud splosh. Of course I didn’t laugh…

At last we found the Cwm Bochlwyd from which we were able to take a bearing and find the missing path. Good progress was made until the path vanished, re-appeared and vanished again and again. But now we were on the final leg of the journey. At one point I made a snappy comment (apologies Dave) which in hindsight was good indication that the blood sugar levels were dropping due to a lack of sustenance; sugar, spice and all things nice. After a while and the odd trip we decided to have a break; no point in getting a busted ankle in the last 30 minutes!

At last we made it back to the car and wasted no time in raiding the glove box for the energy bars; feeling much revitalised we demoralised ourselves by checking the time – 00:30hrs. With no more to-do we rushed back to the campsite and set to cooking some food and cracking out some beers (cheers again Dave). Of course it decided to start raining but then stopped after we retreated to the safety of the tents.

The next day we went to Idwal Slabs for easy day; Tennis Shoe seemed a bit greasy so we opted for The Ordinary Route. We generally followed the line of The Ordinary Route, but climbed the slab to the left on the first pitch and following a more direct line higher up. This time the descent was much more civilised although the gully was a bit wet. And yes, this time we did make it to the pub for some well-deserved beer, and we stuffed ourselves stupid. Damn the temptations of the desert menu.

On the final day “Operation Rope Rescue” was launched. The offending rope was recovered without too much fuss and we were able identify our earlier descent path. Off we went to have a look at the Llanberis Boulders, but alas a boulderfest was not destined to occur as the weather finally broke. Saying goodbye and getting back into my car I prepared myself for the highly inspirational journey back to flatland Suffolk.

Anyone wanting a good old-fashioned climb should look up Chasm Route; it has a lot to offer; lots of varied climbing and an exciting and bizarre crux. Personally I would give this three stars and the not the guidebook two. But be warned, I’ve climbed VS routes with easier crux moves than this! So this definitely looks like one of those VDiff’s you should breeze once you are leading VS routes on a regular basis.