Monday, 19 December 2011

The Verdant Tube (III), Dover

With a free day but no partner I headed to Dover to solo one of the easier routes called the Verdant Tube. The start of the routes appears to have collapsed, therefore I started further left from the original line. I climbed a short slab to a ledge between some large roofs near a rusty drive-in ice screw. A committing tricky (tech 5) move out left over one of the roofs, and then up onto easier ground. 

Dover port
The start (with reference to the ladder in the background)
After this exhilarating start the route quickly descended into bashing through bushes and dirt. The top tube section was a good finale though as it wasn't stepped out like similar routes at Dover such as the Tube and The Real White Cliffs Experience, although the tube section was a little less dramatic and short in comparison.

Looking down the top tube section

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Auricle (VI,7) - My first Scottish VI

Ryan was having problems with his shoulder so I climbed Auricle with Dan Moore and Robert Durran. Dan put in a good lead on the crux second pitch and I was more than happy with my lead contribution on the third pitch. Excellent conditions in Coire an Lochain today. A perfect day to score my first Scottish VI.

Robert leading the first pitch (photo by Dan Moore)
Dan leading the crux corner
Me leading the third pitch

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Waiting for Winter

With still no sign of winter arriving in Scotland Mike and me headed to Saltdean for a third Sunday in succession. Having climbed all the bolted routes in the Western half of the cliffs over the last two weeks our focus today moved to the Eastern half, which is generally steeper.

We warmed up on Slab Route. This gets C2 in the CC guide but it is now harder due to the bottom of the route having fallen off since grading. Since climbing it last year even more of the lower slab has fallen off with a 5m wall needing to be climbed in order to gain the slab proper.

Slab Route - Not C2
With the warm-up complete, we up'ed the anti and tried S Club 7 (C7)  on the Six of the Best wall. All the routes on this section of cliff are overhung by about 10 degrees and therefore test the grip strength a bit more. The routes on the Six of the Best wall are the oldest at the crag. The axe placements are deep pockets from many years of ascent and the bolts are more weathered. The low shingle made for some tricky first moves in order to properly plant the feet. With no natural resting place the best policy was to keep climbing. With four bolts clipped I allowed myself a brief pause beneath the crux which involved a strength sapping move out left to an overhang that needs to be breached directly. I thought I had the strength, I was wrong. I moved out left but didn't have enough strength left for the overhang. I quickly retreated ack to the fourth bolt and took a proper rest. Second attempt I managed it albeit in poor style. Mike had previously cleaned the route first attempt. I'll be back to clean this myself at some point.

We next climbed Everyman (C5) on the Seaward Face which was more amiable but exposed with the upper half of the route proving good value for the grade. The lower-off carabiner was in a poor state so we replaced it was a mallion. 
Mike leading Everyman (C5)
Mike was keen for another route on the Six of the Best wall. We climbed Split Personality (C7) using the direct start as for Schizophrenia. The name refers to the contrasting two halves of the route. The lower half consists of of steep overhung chalk, the top half in contrast is an easier but more delicate slab. There is a traverse right between these sections meaning half ropes would be more sensible (but we managed ok with a single rope). I was happy to second the route but at least I managed it clean. My favourite route at Saltdean to date.
Mike leading the start of Schizophrenia before breaking right into Split Personality (C7)

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Winter Training Continues

With still no sign of winter approaching Mike and me returned to Saltdean fore more bolted chalk. We met Steve Melvin and fellow LMC member Rob Marson at the cliffs. It may be warm in Scotland but at least the weather were perfect for chalk.

My confidence was improving with the medium. I onsighted a route with no name (C5) between Back in Time and Day Dreaming. I followed this up with Back to the Future (C6), and The Strangeness and the Charm of the Quark (C5). Having dogged Fulmar (C7) on my last attempt I was happy to second the route behind Mike, who looked pretty gripped on lead. Another productive day.

Steve climbing Back On Back Off (C5)
Back to the Future (C6), left & Strangeness and Charm of the Quark (C5), right
Rob climbing Strangeness and Charm of the Quark (C5),
Rob climbing Fulmar (C6/7)
On a negative note, we watched a group break pretty much every rule in the bolted chalk book today. It's mandatory when climbing the bolted routes at Saltdean to use existing axe placements. Adding new placements will reduce the grade and undermine the original sequence of moves intended by the first ascensionist. It's also important not to swing axes too aggressively. The chalk at Saltdean is hard, by chalk standards, which makes it ideal for bolts (relatively speaking) however aggressively swinging will lead to fractures. The one exception is when a large horizontal surface is encountered. Rain will soften these horizontal breaks leading creating a softer gooey consistency which requires a little force in order for the axes to safely bite. Needless to say it is also not advisable to hook both axes over the lower-off rope and heave hard as this pair did.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Winter Training Begins

With the winter season fast approaching but with no sign of its imminent arrival it was time to forget about rock climbing and focus on bolted chalk in order to get strong. Mike and me headed to Saltdean. I put a message out to climbing partners and my London Mountaineering Club forum. To my surprise I managed to muster up enough interest for a total of nine climbers to park up at the Badgers Rest. To put this into purspective this is more people that I have persuaded to go climbing anywhere.

I warmed up on Day Dreaming (C5) again in order to get comfortable with the chalk medium. With confidence growing in both the protection and my climbing technique, I proceeded to lead Back Off Back On, Back in Time, and Back Up (all C5). Rick, another climbing pal of mine, further heightened my confidence in the protection my taking a decent whipper on a route further left called Back to the Future (C6). The route climbs through a short roof to gain a steep 10m wall. Rick was above the difficulties by the time he popped off but then often the transition from steep chalk to sloping chalk requires care as the latter is never as solid.

I was happy with my efforts today however Back to the Future looked a bit too steep for me and still lacked confidence in my grip strength. Mike had no such fears and made efficient work of the route. By 5pm we were ready for the mandatory drink at the Badger's Rest.

Noah (left) climbing Strangeness and Charm of the Quark (C5) with Mike (right) climbing Back Off Back On (C5)
Laurence climbing St Jerome (III), Saltdean
Mike climbing steep hooks on Back to the Future (C6) 
Mike climbing steep hooks on Back to the Future (C6)

Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Real White Cliffs Experience (IV), Dover

After our loose grassy slope climbing exploits on Loose Living Kirill was surprisingly keen for some more chalk. I wanted to climb a route called 'The Real White Cliffs Experience' which I had spotted a month ago whilst reconnoitring the cliffs. The route is only a short distance North of the St. Margaret's Bay car park and appears largely unchanged since its first ascent in 1992. It is one of the easiest to locate on the cliffs due to it's distinctive upper runnel which also forms the upper section to Better than the real thing.

The Real White Cliffs Experience climbs directly up 1/3 from the left of the photo to gain the obvious traverse to the runnel
We initially tried a new route between the start of the Real White Cliffs Experience and Better than the real thing. I gave up a short distance above the ground upon realising the section of chalk I was on was semi-detached. The moral of the stay was stay away from cracks as where there are cracks there is loose sections of rock.

We started further left at what we presumed the normal starting point for the Real White Cliffs Experience. I surmounted the initial bulge, continued up the short pitch on good chalk, then smashed some warthogs in for the belay. With only a regular claw hammer Kirill had his work cut out removing the warthog runners on second.

Kirill seconding the first pitch
Removing a warthog
From here it was a long two pitch rightward traverse to the runnel crossing increasingly loose and grassy slopes. With few sections of quality chalk there was little in the way of sound protection, which included belays. The CC guidebook states the route is 118m however I think this route is at least 150m given the length of the traverse.

Kirill traversing grass
Kirill on the first pitch of the traverse
The runnel provided a grand finale, climbing easy stepped out chalk to the top. It felt easier than the Tube given no steep crux but equally adventurous. 

Kirill on the final runnel pitch
Kirill at the top of the runnel pitch
View down the runnel

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Loose Living (III), Dover

Today was Kirill's first day climbing chalk so I thought we could try the Great Escape, a grade III climb described as 'straightforward and safe - for chalk' in the CC guide. We walked a long way North from the St Margaret's Bay car park before we located it. It turned out that the bottom of the route appeared to have fallen off.

I think this is the Great Escape. The bottom of the route has collapsed if it is
It was already 5pm and we needed a quick replacement. We opted for another grade III called 'Loose Living' that was close to the car park. The clue was in the title with regards what sort of climbing conditions were to be expected. The few patches of decent chalk near the start of the route quickly turned to choss chalk on the lower half of the climb. Higher up there were small bushes to clamber over and the top half of the route largely involved climbing loose turf and dirt rather than chalk. We disturbed a fox near the first belay, which gives some indication of the quality of the terrain. There was at least the stunning scenery of the white cliffs to keep us happy although it was dark by the time we did the top pitch.

Loose Living
At the second belay at dusk

Friday, 9 September 2011

Alpinism in Kent - The Tube (IV)

It wasn't until 7pm that we arrived in St Margaret’s Bay car park following delays (on my part) leaving work and escaping London. My natural first route at Dover was the Tube, a classic grade IV man-made gully descending from the top of the cliff to half height. It was first climbed by Mick Fowler and Pete Thornhill in 1983. By the time we had reached the bottom of the route it was nearly 8pm. Still, the route was only 95m so the remaining couple of hours of daylight I felt would be sufficient.

The Tube - 7.55pm
This was Chris’s first time on chalk and he was more than happy to second the route. Five metres of slightly overhung chalk marked the route's low crux only a short distance above the ground (but high enough to cause injury). Having banged in a warthog at head height, I rehearsed the first few moves, composed myself, and then committed to the steep wall. A line of bucket holds reduced the difficulty and allowed swift ascent, however the section was still certainly capable of providing a shock to any grade IV climbers system. The ground eased back to 60-70 degree slopes above the crux. With it went the buckets. I banged in another warthog above the crux followed by three more before the belay at about 50m off the ground. The chalk became softer, requiring greater care, and grass became more prevalent.

Below the steep section - 8.05pm (Photo by Chris Ellyat)
My belay stance was poor but with three warthogs buried I was happier. Dusk was already upon us by the time Chris started up the route. With no prior practise, removing the warthogs was proving time consuming. With little experience myself I was not much help. Banging the warthog back and forth, in the manner that a peg would be removed, proved fruitless as the chalk dampened the force from the lump hammer. With each successively warthog it became apparent that the only way to remove them was by hammering the head in a 360 degree circle in order to loosen followed by a crowbar action to remove.
Chris seconding the first pitch. It's now too dark for my camera focus. 9.15pm
Darkness had largely descended on us by the time Chris had joined me at the belay. The sound of waves and ferry horns reminded us of our where-abouts though. I racked the warthogs and started up the gully. The route was stepped out making climbing more swifter but this was counteracted by the near darkness that left me feeling my way blind. Unprepared for an after-dark finish in Kent we had left the torch at home. I wasted little time with gear, placing only a hand fall of warthogs on the pitch, and clipping the occasional bit of in-situ gear. Halfway up the gully I struck something hard. It felt like metal sheeting of some sort. Extending the width of the gully it was firmly wedged in place. Reaching high I hooked my axes onto its top edge and precariously bridged around it.

I belayed Chris up. We were now only a short distance from the top with the climbing becoming progressively easier. A delicate finish through a short earthy band offered one more surprise before I was on horizontal ground. It was 10.30pm by now. Unexpectedly late. With little time to rest  with packed our climbing gear caked in chalk and blindly navigated our way back to the care park.

Top of the route. It's very foggy. 10.30pm

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Chèré Couloir (D / II 4, 350m)

Mike and me climbed Chèré Couloir today which was in excellent condition, although stepped out. Surprisingly there was very little traffic. We opted to abseil from the top of the couloir but needed about ten abseils in order to reach the ground as we were foolishly climbing with a single rope.

Mike approaching the Tacul Triangle
The climbing begins
Me climbing the second steep pitch (Photo by Mike Lelliot) 
Mike on easier ground
Aiguille du Midi from the top of Chèré Couloir

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Saltdean: Round Two

With an apparent premature end to the Scottish winter climbing season I was keen to get some more climbing done with axes. I headed down to Saltdean with Mike Moss and Kane Chandler. We all led Day Dreaming (C5) to warm-up and familiarise ourselves with chalk climbing. After this I was happy to second some routes after my exciting finale to my last trip to Saltdean. We climbed Back in Time (C5), The Strangeness and the Charm of the Quark (C5), and Fulmar (C6/7). On the latter I broke away from a small hold at half height. I got back on and finished the route without problems and with a bit more attention I could have cleaned the route. I rounded the day off with a short trad route called St Jerome (III) which finished at the lower-off to Day Dreaming. The climb was easy but it gave me a chance to practice placing some warthogs with my lump hammer in preparation for more committing routes.

Day Dreaming (C5)
Back in Time (C5)
Back in Time (C5)
Back in Time (C5)
Fulmar (C6/7) 
St Jerome (III)
St Jerome (III)

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Waterfall Gully (IV,4), Ben Nevis

Temperatures were above freezing today and generally looked uninspiring for winter climbing. Not a day to push the boat out. Florian and me had a look at the Curtain this morning but it was far too thin for climbing. We dipped down to Waterfall Gully, which we knew to still be in condition. The initial ice pitch was sketchy. My axes ripped through the soft ice, and poor screw protection in these conditions offered little reassurance. A tricky break right on the icefall at half height felt far too gripping for grade IV in these conditions. With no more freezing temperatures forecast, it was safe to safe we would probably be the last to climb the route this season.

Gemini Direct Start (left) & Waterfall Gully  (right)
Near the top of the ice pitch
(Photo by Florian Urban)
The difficulties were largely over once up the initial ice pitch. Some people abseil off the route once this pitch is completed but we chose to continue up the gully to the top. The climbing was now much easier although snow conditions soft. Climbing was grade II but interesting nonetheless with good views to the ice of Gemini above. The final traverse right to exit the gully onto the broader slopes above was probably far more delicate than typical due to the soft snow.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Indicator Wall (V,4), Ben Nevis

Temperatures were warming up but there was still good freeze-thaw conditions reported high on the Ben. Florian and me headed for Indicator Wall. White-out conditions prevailed as we blindly bashed up Observatory Gully. We couldn't see any crag features and even Tower Scoop went unnoticed. High in the gully we spotted some climbers to our left where we anticipated Indicator Wall to be. We shouted out what route they were on. Satanic Versus came the reply so we were in the right area. We bore left from their stance and soon found our route.

Both the regular and right-hand versions of Indicator wall looked in good nick. We opted for the classic regular line. We swung leads up the ice with me leading pitches two and four. The first pitch felt steady for V. Difficulty increased during the second pitch, which involved a short traverse right in order to gain a weakness through steep ground. The ice was brittle but easy to protect. The difficulties eased back on the third and fourth pitches. The top-out on the summit of Ben Nevis offered a grand finale with me belaying Florian off the summit cairn.

Climbing the final pitch of Indicator Wall
Belaying off the summit cairn

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Hadrian's Wall Direct

Plan A had been to climb Point Five Gully but there was too much congestion. The lead climber ahead of us patiently waited for the first belay to be vacated so that he could make himself safe and bring his partner up. The gully looked like a motorway of concertinaing traffic in rush hour.

We made our way across to Hadrian's Wall, which was now free of traffic after busy start. I led the first pitch up the broad, bulging ice flow. It was typical Ben Nevis snowy ice. Easy axe placements but I wouldn't have wanted to test my screws placements. I placed three screws for the belay and sunk my axes for good measure as well. Time to bring Ryan and Mike up.

Me climbing the first pitch of Haidran's Wall Direct
A yell emanated from Point Five Gully. The lead climber from the group that would have been immediately ahead of us clattered down the full height of the Rogue pitch landing back beside his belayer. Then there was silence. Ryan called up to them. A response came in a low voice. The leader was ok but had broken his leg. We asked if they could abseil back down the route but that was a negative. Ryan rang mountain rescue.

What could we do to help? Ryan suggested I abseil back down our route but abseiling off snowy Ben Nevis ice was a serious proposition. Could I trust an abalakov? Besides what could we then do to help from the bottom of the route when they were too pitches up the route. Even if we climbed up to them there would be nothing we could further offer without a stretcher to help the injured climber down. As the bird flies the climbers were only a short horizontal distance from us but the steep ground between was serious. It seemed uncaring, even selfish, but the best thing for us was to continue up the route and maybe if we could gain the top quickly enough in order to provide assistance from the top down. In the meantime we could could stay in contact with the climbers whilst the mountain rescue teams mobilised.

Soon the Sea King helicopter was on the scene. It dropped off a dozen or so climbers at the base of Observatory Gully before departing the scene. The magnitude of response of the mountain rescue teams was touching. Another team had been dropped on the Western side of the mountain. They would summit and then descend to the top of the route. Eventually to lower the injured climber by stretch to their colleages waiting at the bottom.

Ryan and Mike joined me at the belay. Ryan traversed out left and then pushed on up the steep continuation of ice to easier ground. A tough third pitch ensued up a icy chimney with little gear to speak of. Then easier ground for a number of pitches. Delays with commencement of climbing, followed delays associated with accident now caught up with us. Darkness descended. Some steep delicate climbing led to the top.

The Pony track seemed the obvious route of descent at this late hour. Somehow we lost the trail at some point and were soon climbing through creaks and over loose ground. The temptation was to leave the car in the North Face car park and descend to our guest-house in Achintee. That would mean walking or hitching to the North Face car park the following day though, which didn't overly appeal. With no clue where the pig track now lay we traversed round the mountain to the West side and then descended to meet the path close to Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe. From here wet get across the heather and bog led us to the upper car park. It was maybe 11pm by the time we arrived back at the car. Tomorrow would be a rest day.