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Blog

Annual Meet 2014 - Pembroke

Friday

It was 7 o’clock on a wet Friday morning in Cambridge, but this could do nothing to dampen the spirits of the eager team of CUMC members, with Luke valiantly turning up in his pyjamas after just 4 hours sleep to drop off some kit. Sure enough, in a statement of intent, we set off just one hour later than our intended departure time, and made good progress, our only major delay coming when Alex and Cameron spent half an hour looking for Laurence in a service station, only to eventually find him nonchalantly sipping his second refill of his Starbucks coffee.

We arrived at the campsite in the afternoon, and after setting up our tents set out to walk along the coast path to St Govan’s, the nearest crag. This proved optimistic, as it was actually about a 10 mile walk with full climbing sacks, so, deciding we’d quite like to get there before midnight, we quickly returned to the car, and arrived in time to fit in a couple of routes. Laurence set the tone for an exciting trip with a dramatic fall on the first route of the trip, after deciding the E1 variation looked more fun than the VS he was on, and I suppose if your idea of fun is dangling head first in mid-air after a fall of 5-10 metres then it was!

Tom, Imogene, and Rose arrived in the second car in the middle of the night, with our team spirit shining through as the three of us already there decided they’d be far better off without our help putting up their tents in the pitch black.

Saturday

Saturday was everything we had hoped for from the trip: clear blue skies, not a breath of wind, and beautiful sunshine all day. Everyone was keen to make the most of the day, particularly those who were only coming for the weekend (the super-keen, super-efficient Rose was ready before most of us had got up!) so we again headed to the St Govan’s area. In perfect conditions, Tom and Alex both led the brilliant HVS Army Dreamers, before also later in the day doingthe classic traverse Riders on the Storm, with both declaring it one of the scariest routes they’d ever done. Meanwhile, Rose exhausted Laurence by dragging him up an E1 and 2 E2’s. After a full day, we all headed back for some dinner, enjoying cooling off in the sea and the revelation of warm, powerful showers on a campsite!

Sunday

Tom, Imogene, and Rose had time for a morning’s climbing before heading back in the afternoon, fitting in some great routes at Mother Carey’s, including the classic 3 pitch severe Threadneedle Street.

Cameron and Phil also decided to give it a go but somehow mistook the first half of the neighbouring E1 for the first pitch, meaning Cameron led 10 metres of E1 with only two pieces of gear, somehow battling his way to the top of the pitch, but not before he had utterly terrified both himself and Phil with his increasingly frantic running commentary, which was more befitting of a rhino about to have a heart attack than a Cambridge student!

We then headed back for a dip in the sea and an early dinner, before fitting in an evening route at St Govan’s, meeting Luke walking from the station on our way. A highlight of the trip ensued as Luke, waiting at the top as we had left his harness at the campsite, decided to cook himself some dinner. The student staple of baked beans may seem a simple meal, but Luke’s decision to leave the beans in their tin and then place this on top of his mess tin as he heated it left him with a nice circular hole in his mess tin and distinctly dubious-smelling baked beans!

Monday

On Monday we paid a visit to St David’s, about an hour’s drive away. Despite being baffled by the fact that our turning actually had a sign to the place we wanted to go, rather than being unsignposted as advertised in the guidebook, we eventually made it, and arrived to another day of perfect conditions.

Being the more experienced pair, Alex and Lawrence went to do Ethos, one of the area’s classic HVS’s. Their expertise shone through as they managed to forget the rope when they abseiled in, having to use prusiks to escape!

Meanwhile, Luke, Phil, and Cameron had a great day, with Luke deciding it was sensible to take on the classic E1 Sinecure, his first lead at the grade, as his first since coming back from injury after taking a groundfall on his previous lead. Yet despite any misgivings the rest of us may have had, Luke made impressively short work of the route, even if his first three pieces of gear did fall out. He, Phil, and Cameron all declared it one of their favourite routes of the week.

Tuesday

With Alex and Cameron starting to feel the effects of the previous four days and with the lack of a driver as Laurence left in the morning, with Lucy not arriving until the afternoon, we decided to take a rest morning, walking into town and taking a tour of Pembroke Castle. Ironically, the day also proved surprisingly efficient, as we still fitted in three routes in an evening visit to Saddle Head, the same number as we managed in a number of other full days!

After retreating from our initial intended route when a seagull divebombed Cameron as he strayed too close to its nest, Lucy enjoyed her introduction to Pembroke climbing, Phil was hugely excited to find that Saddle Head had not one, but two Diffs, and Luke enjoyed showing off by dangling from one arm halfway up a route.

Wednesday

After discovering that the whole St Govan’s area was out of bounds due to army firing, we again headed to St David’s, this time to the disarmingly innocently named Initiation Slabs. As Phil had pointed out, ‘initiation’ can have a number of connotations, and a few hours later we left with Alex and Luke having completed the extremely scary run-out VS Aries, and Lucy and Alex then being forced to prusik out as the tide came in to block access to most of the routes. Undeterred, we headed for the neighbouring bay, only to find a massive rockfall had made the routes unrecognisable from those in the guidebook.

After stopping for a late lunch at around 4 o’clock, we headed to Craig Caerfai, home of the area classic Armorican. Cameron and Luke abseiled in, but, perhaps in an effort to emulate the expertise shown earlier in the week by Alex and Laurence, forgot the rope, leaving them stranded for about 15 minutes as they waited for Alex to return from one of his many explorations of possible DWS routes (perhaps dreaming of Malta?!). It was worth the wait, however, and, with Alex leading Phil and Lucy up after, everyone agreed it was one of the week’s best lines. Our mixed day continued as we dropped three nuts in the sea and discovered a massive gash in our ab rope, but, as we relaxed in the classy venue of Haverfford West’s ‘Kebab’s ‘R’ Us’, we all agreed it had been a successful, if eventful, day.

Thursday

Keen to make the most of what seemed likely to be our final day’s climbing given the less than promising weather forecast, Alex perfected his porridge-making technique just in time for us to leave for Mother Carey’s at the extraordinarily early time of 9.30. The wind seemed to want to make up for it’s lack of activity during the rest of the week, nearly blowing Phil and Lucy off the cliff as Cameron led them on a wild goose chase attempting to scramble through the raging sea in his blind desperation to do one particular route. After they finally persuaded him that the highest point for miles around might not be the best place to spend by far the week’s windiest morning, they returned to Alex and Luke, conveniently just as they had finished constructing the abseil. Everyone fitted in one final route, with Alex impressively leading the E1 Karma Waters. Rain then drove us back to the car, but Alex and Cameron’s indomitable, but perhaps misplaced optimism meant that we left the ab rope in place, only to be forced to venture out into the rain to retrieve it half an hour later. This left plenty of time for an afternoon and evening of almost constant eating and drinking, first in the pub, and then in the drying room at our campsite. As we emerged from our second pub of the day at about 11 o’clock, it suddenly began to pour with rain again, leaving us to sprint up the unlit road with just one small head torch, getting completely soaked just in time to dive into our tents. That may not sound bad, but Luke was less fortunate, forgetting his phone and so being forced to run alone through even heavier rain in pitch black, as we once again displayed true CUMC team spirit in a collective decision to abandon him.

Friday

We had already decided to head home a day early due to the storm, and so the first part of the morning was spent attempting to squeeze five people and all of their climbing and camping kit into one small car. Everyone was very glad to take a break after about 2 hours, when we just about managed to shake the numbness out of our legs for long enough to fit in a few hours climbing at ‘Boulders’ in Cardiff. Luke’s impressive attempt at a 7a route apart, we all soon found that the effect of any fitness we might have gained from the week was far outweighed by the tiredness built up over a week of climbing and being woken up by the world’s noisiest sheep multiple times every night.

Nevertheless, we all agreed it had been a brilliant week and we had probably already done more than enough climbing. Thank you to Tom for organising the trip, as well as to everyone who came and made it so memorable. We look forward to another great annual meet next year!


A short week in the Écrins.

For me, exams finished on Saturday 7th June. After 9 in 8 days I was reasonably knackered, so what better to do than finish a saturday afternoon exam and head to Stansted for the night! Whilst in the past I've had no problem kipping on the airport floor overnight, this time things were different: you used to be able to put your head down anywhere and everywhere, but now they come round at intervals and prod you towards the arrivals lounge i.e. a space not condusive to sleeping, with flashing lights and megaphones going on for most of the night.

 

Oh well! After a rubbish night and an early flight we were soon at my parents' home in the Écrins, a southern part of the French alps. Rose, being the never-tiring, ever-energetic machine that she is, fancied doing a route that afternoon, so without further ado we headed off for 'Two Hot Men', an 8-pitch 6-something route. Arriving on top it was quite nice to think that less than 24 hours ago I was still sat in an exam hall! A short walk down and we were soon revelling in the delights of home food.

 

The morning of Tuesday 9th was a little more relaxed - so as to reduce costs and faff, I'd said that Rose could borrow anything that couldn't fit in hand luggage (or wasn't allowed). So, axes, crampons, harnesses, etc. In the afternoon we headed up to the Glacier Blanc hut with Mum and Dad, a pleasant 90min walk from 1800m to 2500m. The next morning, we all set off for the Cinéastes - Rose and I to do the Vieux Piton and my parents to do the classic traverse. Our route, TD 6a, would take us up the S face of the first point. From here, we would have the choice (weather depending) on either continuing the classic traverse or descending via the normal route. In good spirits and after an enjoyable climb we thought we'd push on. However, soon enough we realised that the weather was indeed coming in, forcing us to retreat down the E slopes only one point from the end of the ridge. Oh well! By the time we got down into the cwm the snow was coming down good and proper, but at least the way out was now only an easy walk. All in all, a good outing to get the week started.

 

The next morning, after a quick look at the weather forecast, which was essentially saying 'most afternoons you're likely to get some precipitation, but we don't really know when, nor where...', we decided that big routes were out. It would have to be shorter things that we could hope to be off by lunchtime. So, off we headed back up the Glacier Blanc, but this time continuing as far as the Écrins hut. The intention was to do the Barre Noire couloir, a classic 50 degree snow route. Alas, we couldn't see it from the hut and it had been described by another party as a thin film of snow on top of poor quality ice. Instead, we opted to go and do the Barre des Écrins by one of the N face (normal) routes. On seeing the Barre Noire it looked in good condition - 'what had they been on about?!' we thought! Still, onwards and upwards, at least as far as the long traverse beneath the rimaye. Here, I saw that the bergschrund was passable, and had memories of seeing an appealing line in the guidebook heading directly to the summit - the 'Couloir Coolidge', 200m of 50-60 degree snow with a mixed exit. We each had only one axe; the conditions looked good, so we went for it. Retrospectively, it would have been good to have had two, but we coped!

 

That evening Mum and Dad joined us at the hut, with all of us intending to do a traverse of Roche Paillon, Émile Pic and Neige Cordier. A nice little outing I thought, marred only by Rose's loss of her camera! As opposed to the Vieux Piton, a route on good rock, or the Barre des Écrins (purely snow) this was much more chossy mixed terrain - classic 'rocher type Oisans' as Chamoniardes kindly refer to it as. Whilst Rose might climb hard, the oldies with free bus passes and the like showed her (and me) up on the mess! Experience I guess...

 

That brought us to the end of a good, albeit short week away. Now for May Week, which in truth has already started...

 

Tom Hare


Albula ski touring

This report served as an entry into the Eagle Ski Club yearbook, and has been lifted straight from it. No CUMC members other than myself participated in the trip.

Convening at the Hotel Post, Bivio, during the afternoon of the 22nd March, we sat and watched the sky darken, the ensuing snowfall lasting approximately forty-eight hours. Bivios lift systemstruggled with Sunday mornings power cut, though we were told that eventually some electricity would arrive from Zurich- not enough to run more than one teleski though, it would seem. Perhaps the highlight of the various Sunday excursions was the groups descent of a black run: never had any of us descended a piste of this grade without putting in a  single turn! Rather, we resigned to an iterative process, each individual using the tracks of the person in front to gain speed, departing prior to collision, and coming to a standstill a few yards in front.

Monday saw us lose Hare Senior whose already damaged feet, despite a full week's preparatory rest during unbearably glorious weather, proved not to be up to a week’s touring. The rest of us boarded the swish transport network, only to find that our destination, Preda, was cut off by avalanche. On arrival at the train station in Bergun, we were directed across the river to a café, where a complimentary hot drink awaited us - this could only be Switzerland! Arriving in Preda early in the afternoon, we set off for a 300m leg-stretch, which served only to highlight the difficulty we would have in the 2ft of new snow.

Mark 'having difficulty'.

In mixed weather, Tuesday's 1100m ascent to the Kesch hut took five and a half hours, with only a relict set of downhill tracks to help with the trail-breaking. However, the reward was just: the only people in the hut, we were looked after well, with dinner that kept on coming.

Piz Kesch from the Kesch hut.

Choosing a modest objective in cold, fickle weather, we departed for the Fuorcla Viluoch, with the option of lapping it if the descent was good, or potentially reascending to a minor summit further north. Whilst the majority opted to spend the afternoon digging snow pits, Mark and I made an ascent of pt3021. Back at the hut, home and hungry, we would regret our inability to finish the salad course the night before.  This time, in a bustling dining room, we were presented with a disappointingly small bowl accompanied by a rather pointed reference to the previous night's failings.

Mike and Colin on the E face of Kesch.

The final two days were unequivocally excellent. Piz Kesch gave Colin, Mike and myself a mountaineering objective, with 200m of steep snow and a little easy mixed ground. Thankfully, forty aspirant guides had been up beforehand, excavating a trench from the ski depot to the summit as well as laying down beautiful, perfectly equidistant tracks in descent, much akin to accelerated, en masse synchronised swimming. The others having waited for us, we enjoyed skiing the glacier before skinning up to Kesch Pitschen, again to be rewarded with a fantastic descent. All that was required was a little white lie, for there wouldnt be much re-ascent to get back to the hut, would there?

E face of Kesch.

Well fed, and satisfied with a good mountain day, we deliberated over the options for the Friday, settling on returning to the Fuorcla Viluoch, but this time descending northwards. And what a final day it was! Wonderfully remote, with excellent snow and only faunal tracks to contend with, it exemplified quintessential ski-touring. All that remained was a tolerable flog east along a long valley, and a forty-five minute walk to the station at Brail. A well-salvaged hut-to-hut tour, this trip certainly served to whet the appetite for future visits to the somewhat underrated Albula alps.

 

Tom Hare


BMC Winter Meet

This report was adapted from an entry to the NZAT blog, to see the full content click here. Although I was the only CUMC member on this trip, it serves to illustrate the joys of winter climbing in Scotland.

The BMC International meet is held every winter. It's a fantastic event bringing together climbers of all abilities from around the world to experience some of Scotland's finest Mixed and Ice climbing. When I found out about it in August 2013, I was particularly keen to attend on NZ's behalf as I was preparing to immigrate to the UK.

The meet is held in Glenmore lodge at the base of the Northern Cairngorms. We arrive Sunday evening and are greeted with an excellent talk by Simon Richardson 'An Introduction to Scottish Winter Climbing'. We are also assigned a host to climb with. Mine is Simon. Conditions are tricky with strong SE winds, which have left significant loading on North and West facing slopes. Simon asks what I think about climbing somewhere a little 'unusual'. I am intrigued.

Day 1

It dawns gray and blustery as predicted. We drive to the lower Cairngorm car park then walk to the South East facing Creag na h-Iolaire. At 60 – 100m in height it was dismissed by the hard men of the 60's at not worth the bother, but as time has gone by tastes have changed. Simon thought it would be in good condition, and it is. We climb the central buttress (FA) and the right buttress both at III 4. Its great to be mixed climbing again! We return to Glenmore just in time for dinner through a substantially stronger head wind.

Day 2

Simon suggested we head west of Fort William to a perhaps unknown Crag up Glen Finnan. After an early start, we still only reach the card base at noon after a long drive and walk in. Disappointingly the turf is decidedly unfrozen so we bail to the obvious line up the central buttress. This provides increasingly entertaining climbing, and Rolly Polly Finish (FA) comes in at III 4. Despite being unable to climb our initial objective, I relish the afternoons solitude. A respite from the ever crowded British Isles.

Day 3

Tuesday night we interoperate the weather forecast to give stable conditions about Ben Nevis. Eight hours later as we strip off our soaked layers in the snow and wind outside the CIS hut, we lament the weather and Simon's forgotten key. But we were there, so we would climb. Simon had his eye on a 1908 summer line up the East ridge of the Douglas Boulder. Soon, I was braced against the wind belaying as Simon happily climbed up to a prominent notch. From there, I set off up over two steep but well protected corners before reaching the top of the 'Boulder' IV 5. As Simon put it 'A good route of a stormy day'. I am still looking forward to my first view of the Ben.

Foreshortened view of Simon climbing up to the belay under the notch.

Day 4

My time with Simon had come to an end; I was traded to Mark Stevenson. He was keen to climb the West Ridge of Ben Eighe (300m IV 4), so we joined the flocks heading to Torridon. The weather was great and Ben Eighe was crawling with climbers. The west ridge was no exception with three parties climbing up the wide open first two pitches simultaneously. A few pitches on we had an entertaining poke up the stunning corner system that forms the direct finish before abseiling back down to our spot in line. It was a great route in great condition.

Ben Eighe, Tripple Buttress. From left to right - East Buttress, Central Buttress (Pigott's route) and West Buttress.

The author on P2 of the West Buttress of Ben Eighe

Mark Stevenson topping out pitch 5 of the West Buttress of Ben Eighe

Day 5

The forecast looked grim, and so it was. We joined a van heading NW to the dry tolling Crag, Lochcarron. Its bursting with climbers when we arrive. Here Mark and Patrick Cooke proved to be an entertaining if not slightly terrifying double act. First, Mark caught Patrick's 5m fall on a 6m route. Next route and Mark is on belay again. This time he is tied down. Patrick's tool falls arching viciously toward Mark, who somehow manages to catch it and keep Patrick on belay. There are relieved smiles all round when Patrick eventually returns to the ground.

Praying Mantis invasion

Day 6

The weather was unsettled, but we decided to take a gamble. Mark, Patrick, Martin Cooper and myself set off early for Torridon. We arrived in heavy rain at 6:30. There were already a few other cars idling in the car-park, but they soon buzzed off disheartened. The rain lessened and turned to sleet as we set off. We turned off the track to Coire Dubh Mor on Liathach at dawn as the snow finally stopped, and we were at the base of poachers Ice Fall (V 5) at 9am. On the way up Mark asked about my ice climbing experience. My response of '… I've done two leads: WI 3 and WI3+' must have been less than inspiring. We decide he'd lead the first pitch, and I'd lead the second if I was up to it. Ah hour later, I sit in the belay cave drinking the offered hot cordial and gathering my courage. My pitch is great, but our 50m ropes were shorter than we thought. It's only after 9 ice screws, some rope stretch and a tiny bit of simul-climbing that I reach the 60m belay ledge. From here Mark charges up to the easy summit slopes before we sidle to the decent gully in white-out missing the clear summit views Patrick and Martin enjoyed 30 minutes prior. We all agreed this was a stunning end to a great week.

View of core Dubh Mor, Liathach. Poachers fall is the smear of ice up the centre.

Favourite Quotes

"Scotland’s vigorous weather adds to the overall satisfaction of climbing here" (Paraphrased from Simon Richardson)

"Little Mountains, Big adventures" (Simon Yearsly)

"Often you don't know if a route is in condition till you rub your nose up against it" (Paraphrased from Simon Yearsly)

Lessons Learnt

  • Strong winds can produce significant rope drag.
  • Dancing at belays helps keep the circulation flowing in ones fingers and toes.
  • If the wind if from the east, head west.

 

Rose Pearson