Monday, 21 November 2011

COLD, Kendal and weddings

During a busy weekend of Kendal film festival and weddings I managed to get down to the final stop of The North Face speaker series to see Cory Richards and Simone Moro chat about their winter ascent of Gasherbrum II.  After a very inspiring talk -  you felt you got as close as you can to understanding their motivations, friendships and the lows that culminated in the first winter ascent of an 8000m peak in Pakistan, we got to see COLD, the film made about the ascent.

I'm yet to see a mountaineering film that gets me properly gripped and is watchable for the full length, lets face it it's not the most enthralling sport to watch.  COLD was something else though a very different take on the whole mountain film, powerful, honest and raw, more about the story and emotions than the mountain and it really works.  Considering the environment Cory was filming in the footage he has captured is amazing.  Well worth a watch if you get chance to see the full version.

After that it was back up to Kendal for a social night at the film festival (and a quick visit to The North Face office and sneak peek at next winters kit - some very exciting pieces on their way for autumn 2012!), down to the Cotswolds to join Phil and Rowan tying the knot and then back up to Kendal.  All a bit hectic but a very enjoyable weekend and good to catch up with a lot of friend, as always with Kendal I some how managed not to actually see any films or lectures, next time... but a big congratulations to Andy Turner and the rest of The Longhope team for winning The Peoples choice! Looking forward to seeing the film soon.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Alpine Jollies

I’ve just got back home (yes Yorkshire is now home, more on that later...) from spending three weeks out in the alps.  For the past 3 years I’ve spent the autumn out in the Himalayas but after coming away from the last two trips empty handed I was pretty keen to get some guaranteed climbing in so Chamonix bound it was.

First up was a trip over to Zermatt with Guy Robertson.  We’d had plans on the Bonatti Direct on the North face of the Matterhorn but standing under the face at 4.30am with a temperature of only -0.5oC wasn’t the most confidence inspiring so up the Schmid it was instead.  Conditions were pretty good on the first two thirds of the face with great neve leading up the ramp.  A slight navigational error and a lot more hours later than expected we eventually arrived on the top.  The Matterhorn is surrounded by rumours of choss and bad or nonexistent gear, was it that bad? Yes there’s a lot of loose rock but if you’re careful there’s enough gear to make it acceptable, small cams being the most useful beta.  

Was the climbing good? Well it wasn’t amazing, far from it really but it is the Matterhorn so that more than makes up for it!

 Probably the most recognisable mountain in the alps?

Guy coming up the ramp

 Heading up perfect neve on the ramp

After a slight navigation error from me, Guy starts a big traverse rightwards to get us back on route 
(note: at the top of the ramp don't follow the obvious icy couloir leftwards, had we had a guide book it mentions this!)

 Following Guy's long traverse pitch

 The endless low angled headwall

 Exiting onto the Zmutt ridge about 100m below the summit

Next up was a week of photos for BD with Jon Griffith and French climber Alex Chabot.  Jon had had a sunset serac climbing shot he’d been after shooting for ages so after bagging that it was over to Point Lachenal for some mixed shots.  Back in the valley and with the autumn high pressure still working it’s magic we were soon heading up to the Grandes Jorasses to try the Gousseault- Desmaison on the left side of the walk spur.  Due to one reason or another, including a dropped axe we ended up bailing up the Shroud instead.  With Alex only having one axe we tied both 70m ropes together to run it out in 140m pitches with Jon soloing alongside taking photos.  Climbing the Shroud this way definitely isn’t the quickest... but it did mean we finished up the Hirondelles ridge to an amazing sunset on the top of Point Walker before a chill bivi a few hundred meters below.

As ever Jon came away with some amazing photo's so thanks for the following.

Alex enjoy the steep seracs

 Andy catching the sunset a bit later 

Andy on the Shroud

 The final section up the Hirondelles ridge to the top

 Sunset on the summit of the Grandes Jorasses

We were treated to an amazing sunrise and cloud inversion over Italy the following morning

After a bit too briefer rest day back in Chamonix Rob somehow managed to twist my arm and persuade a rather reluctant and un-psyched me to head back up to the Grandes Jorasses with the mega classic Croz spur in mind.  Last time up there had been a motorway leading through the glacier to the base of the route however the Foehn wind had put quite a bit of snow down on the frontier so after leaving the Leshaux hut at 2.30am we spent the next 5 hours trotting about completely lost, post holing up to our waists trying to find a way through the crevasse riddled glacier.  I think the getting lost was definitely a joint effort but the trail breaking was definitely mainly down to Rob, well he’s a fell runner with legs twice the size of mine and was definitely feeling the psyche a lot more than me!  

Eventually after and hours brew stop and quick power nap (the psyche had returned to both members by now...) we crossed the bergschrund at 08.30 and started up the Slovenian start.  After the approach the route was really enjoyable, with great ice runnels linking the snow fields leading to and exposed pitch up the crest of the spur to just below the summit.  From here there’s two options, either the original finish to the left or the more commonly followed right hand finish.  This year the right hand finish has a couple of spicy pitches which Rob dispatched in fine style and we were starting the raps down the Italian side just before darkness set in.  

The lack of photos from the Croz is due to me leaving my camera at the hut, but a big thanks to the Aussies who bumped into some friends at the train station and asked them if they knew an English climber who drives trucks... not too many of them about so the camera founds it way back, thank you!

Monday, 4 July 2011

BD Journal report on Kyashar

Here’s the bit of writing I said I'd post ages ago... about our attempt on the west ridge of Kyashar, its on the BD web site so have a look here:

It seem the last two attempts on Kyashar have prompted a bit of interest in the line and a strong French team will be heading out in the autumn to attempt the south pillar so best of luck to them.  Hopefully they'll get better conditions than we had and manage to get up the pillar on their trip, it will certainly help me make the decision about going back for a third time!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Snow, snow and more snow in the Hinku

Trying to escaping the heat and humidity of Kathmandu I almost wish I was back in the Hinku valley sitting out another afternoon storm.  Flicking back through my notebook I can count five days out of just over a month we spent in the Hinku valley when we didn’t have any snow or rain, and that unfortunately just about sums up our expedition.

After acclimatizing at the col between Kyashar and Kusum Kanguru we spent two weeks sitting in the village of Tangnag at our base camp, waiting and hoping the weather would eventually settle and allow us to try the unclimbed South Pillar.  We never had a super storm with 72 hours of snow or anything like that but just constant unsettled weather that most afternoons would cover the mountains with a blanket of fresh snow, and the thought of having to climb through or sit out these storms every afternoon at over 6000m on a steep technical face wasn’t exactly appealing or for that matter an option.

The start of the south pillar which on last year’s attempt with Tony Stone we rock climbed was plastered in snow for the entire month we camped below it and coupled with the unsettled weather and ever increasing quantity of snow on the mountain it was obvious we weren’t going to get on the pillar.  A brief lull gave us a bit of hope and wanting to salvage something from the trip we retrieved out gear that had been stashed below the route and decided to attempt the easier west ridge.  This is the line that the mountain was first climbed by in 2003, from the col where we’d acclimatized to a 100m shattered rock buttress leads to a snow/ice ridge eventually finishing up the ice slope of the west face.

I’m just writing a short article on the attempt so I’ll save the story till then and link it to here but it was only an attempt unfortunately that included some of the scariest most dangerous climbing I’ve done in the mountains.  In the mean time Nick has written a good piece on his blog here, and probably a far better read than mine will be!

Although it wasn’t the most successful trip climbing wise (again... thats two in a row for me and three for Nick) we had a good laugh, found some great bouldering around base camp and most importantly back in one piece to do it all again next time!

Panorama of the Hinku, Kyashar on the left to the West face of Mera Peak on the right

Acclimatizing at 5700m at the col between Kyashar and Kusum Kanguru, the west ridge is above Nicks head

The upper part of the South pillar of Kyashar

The calm before the storm

Approaching the col between Kyashar and Kusum Kanguru

leaving the col, with the buttress marking the start of the west ridge above

'a cheval' approaching the west ridge on horrible and deep unconsolidated snow 
(photo - Nick Bullock)

Nick approaching the buttress at the start of the west ridge with 
the 'normal' route on Kusum Kanguru behind him

2 hours after leaving the col we eventually arrive at the base of the 
buttress, something we thought would have taken 15 minutes.... 
(photo - Nick Bullock)

Nick at the belay before the final hard pitch

Leaving the belay for the final pitch 
(photo - Nick Bullock)

Nick approaching the bivi boulder after 18 hours on the go

Sunrise over the Khumbu

Trying to warm the hands whilst Nick constructs the first abseil anchor (photo - Nick Bullock)

Starting the second abseil

 Drying kit back at base camp

Base camp with Kusum Kanguru above

Sun halo above the west face of Mera

Nick and I would like to thank the Nick Estcourt Award, The BMC, Mount Everest Foundation and the Welsh Sports Association for their generous financial assistance, without which the expedition could not have happened.  And for their continued support I would like to thank Mountain Equipment, Black Diamond, Scarpa, Tendon Ropes, Adidas Eyewear and Science in Sport as well as First Ascent for supplying us with MSR stoves.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Kyashar 2011 Expedition update - part 4

Just had a text in from Andy and Nick (see below)....unfortunetly its bad news the weather hasn't improved so the guys have had to bail on their attempt and are now on their way back to Kathmandu.

"Hi Dunk, we've been shut down by unsetttled weather and too much snow up high, its been over 2 weeks since we had the last snow free day, with no chance of getting on the South pillar we tried the easier West ridge but got hammered by the weather. We went a different way to the first ascent team found some very 'exciting' (very scary) climbing. There was way too much snow to make any progress on the upper ridge so bailed next morning. Should be back in Kathmandu in a week Nick and Andy"

Andy will post further info when he gets back into Kathmandu so check back later

Cheers Duncan - Mountain Equipment

Friday, 29 April 2011

Kyashar 2011 Expedition update - part 3

Just had a text in from the guys...

"Been sat in base camp with lots of snow every afternoon for the last 5 days. We managed to get some bouldering in during the mornings before it arrives. Bottom butress which we want to climb in rock boots - not axes and crampons is now plastered so we need a few days of sun to clear that first and lots of snow on the face. Gear stashed at start of climb so all set for when we get the weather! Fingers crossed its arrives soon" - Andy and Nick

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Kyashar 2011 Expedition update - Part 2

Just had this text message in from the guys via their Sat Phone......

"All well at BC. Nick is over the man flu and we've spent the last few days bouldering around BC and acclimatising up to 5300m. Weather has been a bit unsettled but not too bad. Heading up to the Col between Kyashar and Kusum Kanguru to acclimatise for a few days... Cheers Andy and Nick"

We should hopefully hear more from the guys over the coming days so make sure you check back for all the latest

Cheers Duncan, Mountain Equipment

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Kyashar Expedition 2011 - Update

I managed to grab a 5 minute chat with Nick and Andy this morning via sat phone.

The guys arrived at Base Camp yesterday and up to now everything has gone to plan bar a bout of man flu and tooth ache for Nick - which Andy informed me is just a sign of old age much to Nick’s delight.... youth!

So far they have only been able to catch short glimpse of Kyashar on the trek in as visibility has been poor due to snow though Andy mentioned that the weather had started to clear this morning, so fingers crossed that it will settle over the coming days.

Nick and Andy are now going to spend the next 2/3 days acclimatising at base camp before making their next move. Make sure you check back for the latest over the coming days

Cheers Duncan, Mountain Equipment

Saturday, 9 April 2011

And so it begins

Somehow, a lot sooner than expected I’m back in Kathmandu, the same sights and smells, the realities of real life forgotten for the next 5 weeks.

Most of our kit’s in Lukla, sorted and packed yesterday and flown out a day ahead of us this morning so no excess baggage bills to worry about this time.  Once again our agent, Loben Expeditions, has organised everything flawlessly.  I’m slowly learning that using a good agent you can trust takes away a lot of the stress of expedition climbing, well the planning bit anyway...

Hopefully the weather gods will be on our side and we’ll fly to Lukla tomorrow morning and start the 3 – 4 day trek to our base camp at Tagnag below the south face of Kyashar and our home for the next 4 or so weeks.  Although it’s my third time into the Hinku Valley I’m really excited to be heading back, Kyashar is an amazing looking mountain with a really compelling line, well worth a second attempt. 

While we’re away we’ll be sending the odd text via the sat phone to Duncan at Mountain Equipment and he’ll be updating their blog and hopefully this one if I remember to send him the relevant details!

We’ve been really fortunate on this trip to receive a number of grants to help towards the cost of the expedition and would like to thank the Nick Estcourt Award, BMC, Mount Everest Foundation and the Welsh Sports Association.

And of course a massive thanks for their continued support to Mountain Equipment, Black Diamond, Scarpa, Tendon Ropes, Adidas Eyewear and SIS.

Monday, 21 March 2011

A week of entertaining failures

It started on Tuesday when Di and I headed over to the north-west and Beinn Eighe. We’d planned on doing Kami-Kaze on the Far East Wall but were stopped well before we even reached the plateau when we both ran out of patience wallowing through deep unconsolidated snow up the side of Beinn Eighe.

Round two with Beinn Eighe was with Nick on Thursday which turned into a very amusing ‘mini-epic’. Blood, Sweat and Frozen Tears was the aim for the day and with slightly more consolidated snow and some old tracks to follow we even made it onto the summit plateau this time.

We found the abseil point ok and Nick headed down, 15 minutes later the rope was still tight and I could hear some muffed shouts emanating up from below. Wandering round to get a view of the wall from the top of Central Buttress we figured he was off route.  On a ledge but unable to find a decent anchor Nick decided he’d untie from the ropes, let me abseil down, find the correct anchor, pull the ropes, continue the descent and pick him up on the way past.

Sounded great... I found the well used abseil anchor, pulled the rack up from Nick, backed it up and started pulling the ropes. Then the inevitable happened, just as the end of the rope goes out of sight above me they jam.  

'Umm, this could get quite interesting' was an initial thought after shouting a few choice words up at the ropes to no avail.

So I was on an anchor with 30m or rope and Nick was somewhere below me on a ledge with no rope or rack, great! After a brief conflab the knife came out, brand new Tendon rope got chopped and I just made it down with the remaining rope to an anchor Nick had spotted to his right on the girdle ledge. The rope pulled this time and I managed to throw a rope to Nick who reacquainted himself with some caving techniques and grovelled over to me. 

As with all these sort of situations we found the light hearted approach worked best, ignore the seriousness and have a good laugh about it (it’s blood, sweat and frozen tears not bagels, must have had food on the mind...):

We tied the rope off and abseiled into West Central Gully, down climbed this and then slogged back up Fuselage Gully to our kit and retrieved the stuck rope from the top. Didn't like leaving a rope littering the crag but Nick managed to get back across on Saturday to do the route and retrieve what we’d left. 

Trying (and failing...) to be artistic with ice tools and the Lancaster 
wreckage in Fuselage Gully

Roll on Saturday and one last attempt to grab a winter route. Andy Sharp and I made an exhausting post holing approach to Shelterstone to climb Citadel which we thought might just have been in condition. Unfortunately it looked from the approach that the top was probably going to be black but we started up with open minds to see what we found. 

Andy starting up the second pitch of Citadel

After the lower crux, which is really fun steep climbing on bomber hooks and torques, it was pretty obvious the meltdown had set in, water was running down the rocks everywhere and turf wasn’t exactly frozen anymore. Yes there was snow on the ledges but it was far from wintry enough to justify continuing up the summer line. Decision made Andy quickly took us out via the top of Sticil Face in a monster 120m pitch and we started the final post holing mission back across the plateau.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Adidas Terrex Pro's and Lorpen Socks

It's still snowing and the ski road closed with almost 3ft of snow up at the Cairngorm ski centre, definitely looking like a ski day tomorrow if we can see anything. I've been meaning to post for a while about a couple of bits of gear that I originally got hold of before heading out to Nepal last Autumn but have found just as useful up here in Scotland as above 6000m in Nepal. This may look like a bit of a plug, it probably is but it's genuine kit that I believe in and have found to work very well.

The first as the Adidas Terrex Pro's a modular glasses/goggles combo.  Ok so you're probably not going to use these for walking down the high street but in the hills they are awesome.  Maybe it's because I liked to play with Lego all those years ago that I love these so much, they're like a pair of Lego sunglasses, fully modular so you can build them up how you like.  It would take me ages to explain every feature of them so just have a look at their web site for all the finer points.  This modular design also means if you sit on them or wipe out and land on your face, as a friend discovered when he caught an edge skiing, they break where they're meant to and you just pop them back together rather than having to get the duck tape out and do a botch repair on them.

The thing I've noticed most and what sets them apart from previous glasses/goggles I've had is I actually use them a lot, I've never liked climbing in full goggles or even carrying them for that matter.  But with these I have them in the pack all the time, get them out more often and therefore look after my eyes better, not just protecting them from the sun but as is more common in Scotland the wind and all that dust and grit that is getting blown about in the snow.  For use in the mountains you can get the Space lens which is super dark and they have a nose piece you can attach to give great protection from high intensity sun or strong wind chill.

In Scotland with the LST Bright lens (photo-Andy Townsend)

Acclimatizing on Mera peak, Nepal with Everest in the background, Space lens and nose piece

The second bit of kit is socks... yes boring I know but if you suffer from cold feet like I do quite a vital bit of gear.  I knew of Lopren socks from their ski range but had never realised what an extensive range they had until Nathan from the Mountain Boot Company introduced me to them and sent me away with a load of samples to try. The stand out piece for me was the Trekking Expedition model, made from Polartec Powerstretch with a thin layer of Primaloft insulation around the foot bed, toes and ankle. A concept I'd never seen in socks before but all makes for a very warm sock.

Initially I was a bit dubious about them thinking you'd get a lot of movement between the layers leading to a not very precise feel on technical ground. Having since tried them out on quite a bit of technical ground I've found this not to be the case and the only thing you have to watch out for is that you don't get a slight crease under your foot when you put your boot on.

I've used them in Nepal with the Scarpa Phantom 6000's whilst acclimatizing on Mera Peak and an attempt on Kyashar and never had cold feet once, on Kyashar as we were on a south face and they were almost too hot!  In Scotland I've been using them on the colder days with the Scarpa Phantom Guides, they're not for everyday use in Scotland but if you suffer from cold feet or you work in the outdoors and end up standing around a lot they'd be great and also give you the option of using a lighter more technical boot than you normally would in colder conditions.  For both boots I've used them with I haven't found size a problem, i.e they're not that bulky that you'd have to go up half a size in a boot compared with your normal socks.

Warm boots and socks all help towards warm feet but the key factor is a boot that fits well.  If you've got a boot that's too small and you foots crammed in with no movement possible or too big and you have to engage a 3:1 pulley to get the laces tight enough to climb without an inch of heel lift you're going to get cold feet no matter how good the boots and socks are.

Tony changing back into his socks and boots after the rock buttress on Kyashar

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Winter Returns

Nipped out for a quick ski with Pete Benson today, unfortunately the weather came in a lot earlier than forecast so we didn't get to see much.  We skinned up Lurcher's Gully and over to the March  Burn from where we dropped down to the Lairig Ghru.  We'd intended to head up onto Braeriach and find some gullies to ski but with the weather rapidly deteriorating we took a rising traverse back to the top of Lurcher's and back down to the car.  Not the best ski ever but good to get out and stretch the legs.

Up high there is a lot of snow being transported by the easterly winds we're getting at the moment which will be loading a lot of slopes and giving a very high avalanche danger.  But back at the car park there was very little wind and a lot of snow falling.  Could be some good skiing low down over the next few days.

Not the best skiing in the world, an inch of fresh on top of bullet hard neve...

Ski touring Cairngorm style

Monday, 7 March 2011

British Mountain Guides Winter Test - take two next year...

After a very hard 6 days on the winter test we eventually finished on Friday.  Unfortunately I didn't quite get the result I was hoping for and have to come back next year to redo two days.  Anyway it wasn't all doom and gloom so a big congratulations to Andy, Andy and Chids who sailed straight through, my heads still a bit hazy from Friday nights celebrations with them!

It's definitely a disappointment and a bit of a blow to plans but looking back at it I think it's a very fair result from what I thought was a really well run assessment week.  I had a shocking day on Thursday, the first client day, and my teaching definitely wasn't up to scratch, I knew this from the summer test so I've only got myself to blame for not doing more about it.  Most importantly though I feel I've come away from the week having learnt A LOT about guiding, something that can only stand me in good stead for the future.

So the plan now? In the short term it's hunt for some work, hopefully get out climbing for myself again and get my head down with last minute plans for the fast approaching Kyashar expedition.  After the initial disappointment that I won't be heading out to the Alps for my first season as an Aspirant Guide I'm now really looking forward to spending the summer in the UK enjoying rock climbing again and maybe even pushing my grade that seems to have plateaued for the last 7 years.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Creag Meagaidh conditions

Andy Townsend and I were over on Creag Meagaidh today for more guiding practise and conditions were looking fairly good. We climbed The Wand which had quite a nasty egg shell layer of ice over it in places but was still good climbing. After topping out we descended via the Window and then headed up The Pumpkin which is in great condition at the moment.  Other Andy and Paul also climbed Diadem which was in good condition, more neve than ice though.

The cornices above these two routes were fairly small but anything climbers right of Cinderella is threatened by quite a large cornice that has already sunk leaving a crevasse behind it and looking quite unstable.

Creag Meagaidh under blue sky's today 

 Andy Townsend on The Wand

 Paul following Andy Nelson up Diadem 
(there's a much easier start in keeping with the grade to the right)

Very unstable looking cornices