Monthly Archives: October 2014

Red Bull White Cliffs

Alum Bay and the Needles. You can just about pick me out on the cliff. Photo - Jon Griffith

Alum Bay and the Needles. You can just about pick me out on the cliff. Photo – Jon Griffith

I’ve never been very much into competition climbing; something about it never quite matched the pure enjoyment I got from climbing outside and to be any good at competitions nowadays you have to sacrifice a lot of your time to training rather than venturing into the great outdoors. It was with some trepidation then that I accepted the invitation from Red Bull to compete in an unusual sounding event to speed climb some chalk cliffs on the Isle of Wight.

Our first glimpse of the cliffs really showed us just how impressive they were and the rigging teams had put in a huge amount of work to even make this event possible. The cliff we would be climbing was at Alum Bay, just beside the famous Needles of the Isle of Wight. It was over 100m tall with slightly overhanging to vertical climbing the entire length and Scott Muir had placed some Warthogs to help keep the ropes in place on the initial cave section.

Scott Muir preparing the line. Photo - Calum Muskett

Scott Muir preparing the line. Photo – Calum Muskett

My first go felt very embarrassing; I was lowered 40m down to get the initial hooks in place and swiftly encountered a major problem – the chalk was bullet hard! This wasn’t what I expected and every placement took a minimum of ten swings to get in place leaving my arms completely wasted despite numerous rests hanging from the rope. After one day and all ten of us competitors putting in efforts to chisel out hook placements things were looking much more positive and Alexey, the Russian speed machine, had already top roped the entire route in 25 minutes by simply hooking in the now established ice axe placements.

The team that Red Bull had co-ordinated to take part in the comp was a very varied one. There were current and previous world cup competitors of the like of Markus Bendler, Gordon MaCarthur, Dennis Van Hoek, Israel Blanco, Alexey Tomilov and Yves Heuberger as well as the better known outdoor winter climbers like Will Mayo, Jeff Mercier and Greg Boswell. I felt like a bit of a fraud to be amongst these names being almost entirely a rock climber. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy winter climbing, but I’ve never really got stuck into it in the past and the mixed climbing I’ve done in the Alps has mainly been as a result of there being too much snow about!
The competition rules were finalised and this was to be a speed competition – the fastest time wins and if you fall off before reaching the top you effectively DNF. This put us all under a bit of pressure as it was quite likely that at least one placement could break off due to the friable nature of the chalk.

Dennis racing up the central section of the route. Photo - Calum Muskett

Dennis racing up the central section of the route. Photo – Calum Muskett


Greg climbing the huge cliff! Photo - Calum Muskett

Greg climbing the huge cliff! Photo – Calum Muskett

It came as no surprise that Alexey set the time to beat with a staggering 16 minutes spent climbing the 100m+ route. Will Mayo and Israel Blanco proved that age and experience came ahead of youthful power by putting down strong times and when I headed down I just had my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t fall off! Other than a minor technical issue low down, where I spent a while unable to even pull myself off the beach, I set off steadily and just plugged away through the steep section, my forearms beginning to really feel the burn! Fortunately the angle soon eased and as I began to recover I started to gain time up the less strenuous part of the route pelting the bell to stop the clock below the finishing platform in a reasonable time which placed me 5th overall after the aforementioned climbers and Jeff Mercier who was the final climber to go with seemingly never ending supplies of stamina!

Out of all the comps I’ve done this has got to be the craziest and best and it was so fun to finally get the opportunity to climb on the chalk. Thanks to the Red Bull team for inviting me to the event and to the rigging team and Scott Muir in particular for putting in so much work to make this project become a reality!

The podium. Photo - Calum Muskett

The podium. Photo – Calum Muskett

Gabarrou-Silvy

Tom Livingstone approaching the Gabarrou-Silvy. Photo - Calum Muskett

Tom Livingstone approaching the Gabarrou-Silvy. Photo – Calum Muskett

Whilst checking my facebook feed in Yosemite I couldn’t help but notice that all my friends in Chamonix seemed to be running laps on the Grandes Jorasses in what some described as “the best condition I’ve ever seen it in”. Now I’m not one inclined to jealousy but I was jealous; FOMO (fear of missing out) had kicked in and I wanted to join in on the fun! Fortunately for me Tom Livingstone had been trying to persuade me to go to the Alps and with one week free I decided to commit, flying out to Geneva the day after my return from Yosemite.

“Only Brits climb in the Alps in October.” – Dave Rudkin

Although not entirely true, this comment by my friend Dave is not meant as a compliment to Brits. What it really means is that Brits are the only people stupid enough to climb in the Alps when nearly all the cable cars and trains are closed. I couldn’t have planned to come out to the Alps when more of the cable cars were closed. This means long walks from the valley – very long walks. Although I’m not alien to the idea of long approaches to alpine routes I really didn’t want my climbing trip to turn into a Duke of Edinburgh walking expedition.

The forecasts were looking promising when we arrived in Chamonix. There were about five days of reasonable weather forecast and most importantly there was no precipitation due. The winds were forecast to be a little on the strong side and all the locals were warning us about the dreaded foehn winds – they had such a bad reputation you’d have thought they were strong enough to strip the skin from a person rather than the snow from a rock face!

Although the weather wasn’t optimal, we hadn’t come to Chamonix to sit in Elevation shooting the shit, so made the grim hike up to the foot of the Grandes Jorasses on the first day of good weather we had. We felt like we’d pulled it out of the bag. Conditions were perfect. We were bivied 50m from the base of the ‘Desmaison-Gousseault’ and the winds were having negligible effect on the north face. We zipped ourselves up for a good night’s sleep and awoke at 5am to spindrift avalanches coming down the face – it had been snowing heavily for the last four hours and we could barely see the base of our route.

The Grandes Jorasses looking very wintery after all the fresh snowfall. Photo - Calum Muskett

The Grandes Jorasses looking very wintery after all the fresh snowfall. Photo – Calum Muskett

We were left with no choice but to descend back to Chamonix feeling tired and annoyed. To make things worse we saw that our only other chance of climbing in the mountains would be if we headed for the hills again the following day with tired legs. We came to Chamonix intending to try one of three routes. Two of these were on the Grandes Jorasses and I didn’t fancy walking back to the base of the same mountain – as they say, variety is key.

Tom descending the Mer de Glace. Photo - Calum Muskett

Tom descending the Mer de Glace. Photo – Calum Muskett

Instead we headed up to the foot of the Aiguille Sans Nom next to the Dru; our goal, to climb the ‘Gabarrou-Silvy’, a classic mixed test piece which goes free at M8+ in winter conditions. We were also joined this time round by Jon Bracey a mountain guide based in Les Houches. I’d heard a bit about how fit Jon was after Gabby had talked about his impressive performances in the ski mountaineering races when he participated a few years earlier. It was great to have him on the team and would make for a sociable ascent.

Once again, the approach to the bivi was a painful state of the affairs with already aching muscles from the previous days walking. Once there we were treated to a particularly pleasant sunset and even had some running water to fill our bottles from as well as a sheltered flat area to put our mats down. I managed to persuade the team that there would be no need for an alpine start (I hate early starts) and that 8am would be a pleasant hour to wake up and approach the foot of the route.

The hour came, as usual, unpleasantly earlier than expected as I felt like I was beginning to finally shed the lingering jetlag from my recent trip to America. We walked to the base of the route and Tom got us started up the first three mixed pitches to the foot of the harder climbing which was a good warm up for what was to come.
I was the only member of the team with a pair or rock shoes and having heard of an earlier ascent using mixed tactics of rock shoes and ice axes it seemed only logical that we should also attempt the route in this highly unusual manner. Unfortunately, it was chuffing cold to be wearing rock shoes!

Changing into rock shoes in unreasonably cold weather. Photo - Tom Livingstone

Changing into rock shoes in unreasonably cold weather. Photo – Tom Livingstone


Leading the first sustained corner pitch of the Gabarrou-Silvy. Photo - Jon Bracey

Leading the first sustained corner pitch of the Gabarrou-Silvy. Photo – Jon Bracey

Having cut myself a ledge in the snow at the foot of the first difficult mixed corner I made the transition from warm mountain boots to freezing rock shoes. I then proceeded to batter the hell out of the cruddy ice in the corner crack so that I could get a good torque with my ice axe and set off up the strenuous pitch. Although strange, I adapted to this new style fairly quickly and on reaching the belay pulled my boots off as quickly as possible – I had a very sharp feeling of hot aches for the next five minutes in my toes whilst they began to thaw out in my warm socks!

Thin hooking up the 6th pitch. Photo - Jon Bracey

Thin hooking up the 6th pitch. Photo – Jon Bracey

I still haven’t worked out whether I pulled the long or the short straw by taking my rock boots up to the route. Having the boots meant that it made sense for me to lead every pitch whilst slowly losing sensation in my toes and getting very pumped, but it did mean that I managed a free ascent and Tom and Jon kindly pulled my rucksack up for me. The climbing was very sustained in difficulty and I only took my gloves off for a short 4m pendulum traverse which would only go free to some technical smearing moves whilst pulling on small crimps.

Jon Bracey seconding the first technical groove pitch. Photo - Calum Muskett

Jon Bracey seconding the first technical groove pitch. Photo – Calum Muskett


Jon seconding on some thin hooks half way up the initial rock wall. Photo - Calum Muskett

Jon seconding on some thin hooks half way up the initial rock wall. Photo – Calum Muskett

I was absolutely exhausted by the end of the first day but really happy to have free climbed everything up to the mid height snow slopes. All the mixed climbing had inflamed an infection in the knuckle of my ring finger and I had a great big pussy growth sprouting out from it which was beginning to make it difficult to grip my axe.

Despite the good forecast it proceeded to snow for around twelve hours overnight and into the following morning. Fortunately Jon is made from sterner stuff than us youths and led us up the snow slopes to the base of the icy couloirs in the headwall. Spindrift was pouring down at regular intervals and visibility was down to around 50m. We made the decision to give the headwall a crack despite the conditions and fortunately the weather improved almost immediately. Several hundred metres of very good ice climbing led us to the summit ridge line, just as my calves began to fail me from all the front pointing on ice. The final section to the summit of the Aiguille Verte was particularly painful for me as I’d had too little to eat or drink and I was hitting the wall quickly. Jon and Tom dragged me upwards and a couple of energy gels and some water were enough to revive me enough for the very long descent down the Whymper couloir to the Mer de Glace and thereafter Chamonix.

Jon leading some steep ice up the headwall. Photo - Calum Muskett

Jon leading some steep ice up the headwall. Photo – Calum Muskett

It was my first visit to Chamonix in October and it’s nice to appreciate the area and the mountains at a quieter time of year when the temperatures are a little less scorching. That said – I am a fan of cable cars and there convenience so might check when the seasonal closures are next time!

Yosemite

What it's all about - El Capitan. Photo - Calum Muskett

What it’s all about – El Capitan. Photo – Calum Muskett

On my first visit to Yosemite when I was sixteen years old I remember being in awe of the huge walls of the valley. It’s difficult to comprehend climbing such massive chunks of rock until you actually get started and even then, half the battle is a mental one of not being disheartened at how far you still have left to go. This was my third visit to the valley and having climbed some great routes here in the past I was really happy to have a more relaxed trip with Gabby combining climbing with more tourist related activities such as visiting the giant Sequoia’s at the Mariposa Grove.

Gabby racing up 'Snake Dyke'. Photo - Calum Muskett

Gabby racing up ‘Snake Dyke’. Photo – Calum Muskett


A busy day coming down the main trail of Half Dome. Photo - Calum Muskett

A busy day coming down the main trail of Half Dome. Photo – Calum Muskett

On one of our first days we climbed the fantastic Snake Dyke up Half Dome on a scorching hot day. This has got to be one of the best routes I have ever climbed and one that we both enjoyed immensely. It’s a long walk to and from the route and well worth setting off early to get back in good time for a pizza in Curry Village.

Andy Kirkpatrick was out in the valley as well for a talk he was giving at the Yosemite Facelift event. I suggested to him that we should go and climb El Cap together in a day. He laughed at me first thinking I was joking but soon realised I was being deadly serious and started coming up with excuses. After a few hours of persuading I think he realised it would be easier to climb Lurking Fear with me than think of fresh excuses and off we set!

I think Andy was slightly thrown by my unique approach to aid climbing with only a single etrier and a standard double set of cams and wires. I also don’t think he’s going to be changing his far more efficient system of aid climbing either. We made reasonably swift progress up the route – which looked like it would be an incredible free climb and I swapped leads half way up with Andy who led a three pitch block to give me a breather.

Andy hanging out on El Cap. Photo - Calum Muskett

Andy hanging out on El Cap. Photo – Calum Muskett

Andy is very quick witted and has a great sense of humour but I could tell as we got higher his appreciation of my cheese jokes was beginning to wear thin after fifteen pitches and plenty of sweat. We reached the summit of El Cap in 15 hours and thirty minutes, the fastest time for both of us and Andy, who is slightly out of shape at the moment, commented that El Cap had never been climbed so quickly by such an overweight person! What a legend!

Gabby jumaring up to Heart ledges on an ill-fated El Cap attempt.... Photo - Calum Muskett

Gabby jumaring up to Heart ledges on an ill-fated El Cap attempt…. Photo – Calum Muskett


Great weather to spend time amongst the meadows of the Yosemite valley. Photo - Calum Muskett

Great weather to spend time amongst the meadows of the Yosemite valley. Photo – Calum Muskett


Attempting to carry Gabby  up El Cap whether she likes it or not. Photo - Tom Randall

Attempting to carry Gabby up El Cap whether she likes it or not. Photo – Tom Randall

Gabby and I did plenty of nice cragging, swam in a few of the rather stagnant pools of the river Merced and on our final day in Yosemite climbed the Rostrum. Having climbed this route on my first trip to Yosemite I was happy to find it significantly easier this time round now that I’ve learnt how to jam – unfortunately, it probably wasn’t the best choice of route for Gabby who was still learning how to climb on granite never mind jam. By the time we reached the top I think Gabby was quite happy to not have to climb another granite crack for quite some time…

The sensational 'Rostrum'. Photo - Calum Muskett

The sensational ‘Rostrum’. Photo – Calum Muskett

Returning to the valley has reminded me of just how good the area is. There are so many great places to climb around the world but Yosemite has some of the best and most convenient free climbing that can be found anywhere and that’s the reason I’ll be returning for as long as I possibly can to climb some of the best routes in the world.

August in Wales

A stunning sunrise on Crib Goch as we set off on the 14 Peaks. Photo - Calum Muskett

A stunning sunrise on Crib Goch as we set off on the 14 Peaks. Photo – Calum Muskett

August in North Wales can be a very wet month. After four weeks of poor weather in the Alps it came as a surprise to me to be enjoying sunshine in North Wales. The day after my return I finally climbed the classic Lord of the Flies on Dinas Cromlech. I’d wanted to climb this much coveted route for a very long time and had in fact first walked up to lead it seven years earlier. For some reason I’ve never been at the base of this route when it’s been dry and when bouldering down on the roadside blocks that day I noticed the wet streak had disappeared; I grabbed my rack from the car, walked up to the crag and climbed it with Gabby. The route was just as good as I expected – relatively straightforward climbing with reasonable gear but sustained the whole way and made a little more intimidating due to its reputation.

Steve Long setting off on the first pitch of 'Voice in the Wilderness', a Pat Littelejohn E5 on Craig y Bera. This crag is tucked out of the way but there's some fantastic climbing to be had here. Photo - Calum Muskett

Steve Long setting off on the first pitch of ‘Voice in the Wilderness’, a Pat Littelejohn E5 on Craig y Bera. This crag is tucked out of the way but there’s some fantastic climbing to be had here. Photo – Calum Muskett

Dan Mcmanus came over to North Wales for a week shortly after my return – we’d been planning a Scottish road trip but the forecast for the far North was awful so instead we stayed in Wales and headed to the sea cliffs. Gogarth is a crag that just keeps on giving. I’ve climbed there so much over the last four years that I’ve ticked my way through most of the better known routes. Fortunately for me, George Smith has spent a good twenty years of his life finding unusual, grossly overhanging walls, crack and roofs and they’re normally fantastic adventures! With Dan, I climbed the fantastic Billy Bud on the overhanging wall on the far side of the sea arch from Wen Zawn. The climbing on this is fantastic but better still is the swing you have to make on the abseil rope to reach its base across a channel of water. It took me around twenty swings to reach the foot of the route having narrowly avoided dunkings in the sea. Dan, of course, found my feeble efforts at swinging a source of great amusement and I was absolutely sick when he managed the same swing on his first go!

Dan swinging in to the base of 'Billy Bud'. Photo - Calum Muskett

Dan swinging in to the base of ‘Billy Bud’. Photo – Calum Muskett

Dan and I also attempted George’s wild roof crack called Barfly. When you first look at this route it’s difficult to comprehend any free climb going through such overhanging terrain – it appears to be totally unfeasible. Our first go was closer to aid climbing than free climbing but we soon worked out a sequence of knee bars that made the route possible; by this point our biceps were quivering with effort and the best we could do was escape to flat ground above. It’s certainly an incredible route and one to return for with a tough boulder problem at the beginning leading to sustained and technical shuffling along a flake. Those questioning the E6/7 grade should be under no illusions that this route is certainly E7 and not an easy one at that!

Grappling with the underclings on 'Barfly'. Photo - Dan Mcmanus

Grappling with the underclings on ‘Barfly’. Photo – Dan Mcmanus


Dan taking an unusual no hands rest on the incredible 'Barfly'. Photo - Calum Muskett

Dan taking an unusual no hands rest on the incredible ‘Barfly’. Photo – Calum Muskett

We also spent a couple of days in Pembroke which is a merciless place to climb when you’re not feeling particularly fit. I came with a long tick-list but after on-sighting the brilliant E7 ‘From a Distance’ as my first route of the weekend my arms were finished with. Dan however went on to on-sight Point Blank the following day resting on nearly every hold of the route and never for a moment appearing to struggle. He made it look very easy and although he had previously climbed ‘From a Distance’ it was still a sterling effort.

Back in North Wales Beacon aficionado Mark Dicken for the first time in four years was enjoying the first few days of his kids being in primary school. To celebrate we headed to Twll Mawr together and made the first ascent of an old Joe Brown project that he’d been eying up for quite some time. Whilst not the best route, climbing chossy slate with occasional gorse bushes sprouting out of holes, it is certainly quite an adventurous outing for the quarries and one that has plenty of character. The following week I straightened out the route with Jeremy Leong to create a slightly more difficult and bolder excursion at E5 6a. For those that have yet to climb in Twll Mawr the atmosphere is very unique and with multi pitch sport routes, adventure slate climbing and some of the best hard routes in the country such as the Quarryman and Blockhead, it really is one of the best crags in the country.

Jeremey seconding the first ascent of the Antiquarian direct. Photo - Calum Muskett

Jeremey seconding the first ascent of the Antiquarian direct. Photo – Calum Muskett


Out for a quick scramble with Gabby on Clogwyn y Tarw. Photo - Calum Muskett

Out for a quick scramble with Gabby on Clogwyn y Tarw. Photo – Calum Muskett

Misadventures in a C1

Boldly going where no Citroën C1has gone before. Photo - Calum Muskett

Boldly going where no Citroën C1has gone before. Photo – Calum Muskett

One thousand miles of driving in a Citroen C1 is enough to leave anybody’s ears ringing. With an engine that sounds like it has several bee hives powering it and absolutely no air conditioning, the car is made more for fuel efficiency than comfort. Despite its compact size, and various other inconveniences, this car was to be our base for the forthcoming five weeks whilst we travelled to some of the best alpine climbing areas Europe has to offer.

For the first part of the road trip I’d be travelling with Welsh ex-pat Wiz Fineron. Wiz and I went to the same school together when we were both in our early teens before Wiz moved out to New Zealand aged thirteen. In the intervening six years Wiz has gone from strength to strength climbing 8c+ routes and 8B boulder problems with seemingly little effort. He’s currently travelling the world, living, in his own words, the ‘dirtbag’ climbing lifestyle, and whilst he was in Europe it seemed like a good opportunity to hook up for a road trip.

Having travelled and climbed in many of the more popular alpine areas over the previous five summers I felt that this year it would be nice to expand my repertoire and visit some new places. The Ratikön held our primary objective for the trip and after a short stop in France we headed across Switzerland and up into the mountains. It was night time when we made our final approach to the Ratikön and neither of our guidebooks made the slightest mention of the road that would lead us to our base camp. For most people, 7km of driving on a dirt track may sound like fun, a welcome respite after hours on the motorway, but in my Citroen C1 – the Corgi of the car world, I began to shudder at every bump or rock that I saw. After 6.5km of driving and only grounding out on several occasions I thought the lion’s share of the driving was behind us; unfortunately that was when we reached the crux.

A short and uneven steepening of the road marked the beginning of our plight and several attempts at upward progress saw the C1 rapidly retreating to the flat area at the farm building. We knocked on the door of the farm and discovered it would cost us 10CHF if we parked here each night. That was the extra spur of motivation we needed. Wiz got out along with a few heavy bags and the throttle went down. The C1 raced its way up the steep gravel track sliding left and right with wheel spin before finally overcoming the steep section and thereafter the parking area. It felt like a miracle that we’d made it up here with an intact car and we knew we wouldn’t be descending for a while!

The Ratikön from the summit of Kirchlispitzen. Photo - Calum Muskett

The Ratikön from the summit of Kirchlispitzen. Photo – Calum Muskett

We had one route on our agenda for the Ratikön, the classic multi-pitch test piece ‘Silbergeier’ which is renowned for its bold and difficult wall climbing. I’d read about Silbergeier in a magazine soon after starting climbing and had of course seen the classic poster of Pietro del Prà standing, one-footed, on a small edge in the middle of an otherwise blank rock face. It seemed like the perfect goal for this trip not only for me but it would also play to Wiz’s strengths as a first big multi pitch route.

The classic poster of Pietro del Pra on an early repeat of Silbergeier

The classic poster of Pietro del Pra on an early repeat of Silbergeier

After a heavy rainfall during the night we awoke to blistering heat and our first views of the Ratikön massif. We had the range to ourselves and after a slow start and a heavy breakfast packed our bags and headed up into the mountains. The climbing in the Ratikön lies on the Swiss side of a knife edge ridge which marks the border between Austria and Switzerland. The final approach up the scree is steep and frustrating until you find a good route and this is followed by a further 200m of scrambling up low angled limestone and grass slopes, all of which provide a good cardio vascular warm up for the first 8b pitch.

Your first attempt at Silbergeier is certainly the most memorable. When none of the holds are chalked up and the bolts look particularly distant it takes some will power to commit to hard climbing – well that, or a younger, stronger and fitter climber to send up first! After Wiz led the first 8b pitch we were all set for one of the ‘easiest’ pitches of the route, a 7c+ which I graciously offered to take the lead of. Unfortunately my plan backfired. Not only was this pitch desperate for the grade, but the bolts were spaced for maximum excitement and on the final moves of the pitch, miles to the side of the last bolt and having climbed myself into a knot, I made a leap for the belay seat hanging just above me!

Wiz seconding the terrifying second pitch. Photo - Calum Muskett

Wiz seconding the terrifying second pitch. Photo – Calum Muskett


Typical Ratikön conditions on our trip. Photo - Wiz Fineron

Typical Ratikön conditions on our trip. Photo – Wiz Fineron

After another tough pitch, followed by a short, run out 7a+ you finally reach the first comfortable belay where you have room to sit down and stretch out in a weather proof cave. We would be spending a lot of time here over the next week and a half as we waited for the weather to improve. Above us lay the final two pitches: the crux 8b+ which tic tacs its way up on small crimps and underclings followed by a tricky 7c+ which boils down to two powerful moves an inconvenient distance away from the last bolt. The route finishes on the jaggedy summit ridge of the Kirchlispitzen and it’s a great feeling ending at the top of something unlike many modern multi pitch routes. From the summit a series of abseils lead you back down to your bags and thereafter the path.

What can be more stereotypically Swiss than the gonging of Cow bells? It’s a sound I have grown accustomed to over previous visits to Switzerland and I even find there effect quite calming. We’d been camping in the Ratikön for about four days when the herd moved in. The smell of pastures new must indeed be strong to be able to draw an excess of 50 cattle alongside our tents at two in the morning. It was like being camped in the central reservation of a motorway!

With diminished sleep we returned to the route several times over the following week to try pitches and get used to the climbing style. Strong Finnish boulderer Nalle Hukkataival was also trying Silbergeier and was making the climbing look relatively easy after a few attempts. He was also staying in the hut which meant he was up and out considerably earlier than a teenager and myself.

One morning we reached the base of the route to find Nalle trying the crux pitch we’d planned to climb that day. Rather than wasting the day we climbed Hannibals Alptraum, an old school classic which was the pre-cursor to Silbergeier. Despite feeling considerably easier than Silbergeier it had some very chunky climbing thrown in on smooth walls that are desperate to on-sight. The bolts are placed at sporting intervals and the moves to reach them are generally very sketchy! On the final pitch we once again endured a hail and a hasty retreat was made back down having not quite repeated this amazing route.

Attempting the tricky third 8a+ pitch. Photo - Wiz Fineron

Attempting the tricky third 8a+ pitch. Photo – Wiz Fineron

As we tried Silbergeier more I began to realise it would not happen for me on this trip. Although fit enough that I could have red-pointed the individual pitches I was lacking the fitness to free the entire route in a day. It was a real disappointment but I was heartened to know that with a bit of extra fitness I know that Silbergeier is a possibility for the future. For Wiz it was a different story though and we headed back up for him to give the red point a shot.

Conditions were cold and crisp when we arrived at the foot of the climb and Wiz shot up the first 8b pitch without a warm up. Following with cold hands I could barely believe that he could feel his fingers on the small crimps. On the third pitch clouds began to roll upwards and embroil us in thick clag and Wiz had to climb the final few moves in a rain shower. We hid in the cave whilst it bucketed down for over an hour – Wiz sitting Monk like in the haul bag to keep warm, myself shivering but reading a book that I’d thrown in anticipating the change in weather. After a couple of hours the rock was once again dry enough to climb and we continued upwards. The 8b+ pitch was barely dry and Wiz cruised upwards until hit by another fleeting rain shower on the bold final traverse. Unfazed, Wiz gripped harder reaching the next belay and shortly after climbed a very wet final pitch in impressive style. I’ve never seen such a smooth ascent of so difficult a climb in such poor weather!

Wiz red-pointing the third pitch. Photo - Calum Muskett

Wiz red-pointing the third pitch. Photo – Calum Muskett


Bad weather moving in high on the route. Photo - Calum Muskett

Bad weather moving in high on the route. Photo – Calum Muskett


Wiz keeping warm. Photo - Calum Muskett

Wiz keeping warm. Photo – Calum Muskett


Wiz atop the Kirchlispitzen. Photo - Calum Muskett

Wiz atop the Kirchlispitzen. Photo – Calum Muskett

Having spent so long climbing and sleeping in miserably cold and wet weather we wanted a change of scene and felt like Chamonix was the next logical place to visit to end Wiz’s trip on a high. He’d never worn crampons before or walked on a glacier so found the whole experience quite different. It was also a good opportunity for the wily older climber to get his own back and take Wiz on a roof crack when he’d never climbed a jamming crack in his life. Ma Dalton on the South face of the Midi is a classic and rarely repeated route that has a Yosemite style roof crack on one of its pitches. Unfortunately it’s rather difficult and having underestimated its difficulty my poorly made jamming gloves soon slid off my hands and thereafter my hands from the crack. Hyperventilating somewhat I returned to the belay for another go and we continued upwards with slightly less difficulty after the awkward roof crack.

The big roof of Ma Dalton. Photo - Wiz Fineron

The big roof of Ma Dalton. Photo – Wiz Fineron


Wiz seconding another great pitch on Ma Dalton. Photo - Calum Muskett

Wiz seconding another great pitch on Ma Dalton. Photo – Calum Muskett


Finishing up Cosmiques Arete. Photo - Calum Muskett

Finishing up Cosmiques Arete. Photo – Calum Muskett

Wiz headed bouldering to South Africa the following day to go bouldering, perhaps a wise change of scene considering the continuing terrible forecast. The same day I picked Dan Mcmanus up from the airport – a man who is always up for an adventure and an adventure we soon enough had.

Above Sixt in the Aiguille Rouge is a little known and rarely attempted limestone face called the Paroi d’Anterne on the Fiz. I’d heard rumours of the quality of climbing up here but had yet to meet a climber that had experienced it first hand. On our way to the Ratikön Wiz and I decided we would first hone our skills at multi pitch climbing on the amazing sounding Djinn Fiz, a 15 pitch 7c. Unfortunately we underestimated not only the approach bur also the afternoon thunderstorms and after a few amazing and exceedingly technical pitches we descended before possible electrocution.

I was very impressed by this wall though, which is reminiscent of the South face of the Marmolada in the Dolomites. About a mile in length, it only has six routes ascending its flanks and they are all difficult propositions. Feeling confident after my time sliding off crimps in the Ratikön I sold Dan the idea that we should try the hardest route on the face, ‘Les Yeux dans le Bleu’, a 16 pitch 7c+. This time I didn’t make the same mistakes of underestimating the approach or the weather forecast but unfortunately I made the major blooper of expecting the climbing to be reasonable in difficulty. We hadn’t noticed how sustained the climbing was and despite somehow clinging to the crimps and on-sighting the crux 7c and 7c+ pitches we burnt out big time above as 7b pitch followed 7b. A bold 7a+ pitch was the final straw for me and with elbows above my ears and looking as if I was trying to mantel each hold I finally fell off utterly wasted.

Wiz with the impressive walls of the Fiz in the background. Photo - Calum Muskett

Wiz with the impressive walls of the Fiz in the background. Photo – Calum Muskett


Wiz on Djinn Fiz. Photo - Calum Muskett

Wiz on Djinn Fiz. Photo – Calum Muskett

Dan was in a similar state of turmoil and despite putting in so much effort we couldn’t face any more climbing on such tired arms – a rapid descent was made. We both agreed that this was one of the best and most difficult walls we had ever tried and the climbing style really doesn’t lend itself to on-sight climbing. To add insult to injury, when we got back to our bags at the foot of the route, we chased off a couple of Marmots and found that they had been eating our bags! There were gaping holes all over them and much of the padding had been thoroughly chewed.

Dam Mcmanus on 'Les Yeux Dans le Bleu'. Photo - Calum Muskett

Dam Mcmanus on ‘Les Yeux Dans le Bleu’. Photo – Calum Muskett

We returned to Chamonix that evening to do a little comfort eating with friends at a pizzeria near the centre. After an enjoyable meal I thought I’d treat myself to desert and thought I’d ordered myself a cake – when an espresso turned up I nearly cried. That was the low point of the trip.

Back to the high mountains we headed, this time to what I considered to be the safe bet of the Grand Capucin which I’ve climbed five times before. After wading through the recent snowfall to its base Dan realised he’d left his rock boots at the tent and hence another day was lost.

After more dismal weather we decided to give the mountains one last go and approached the south face of Aiguille du Fou. It’s a classic alpine wall that I’d been dreaming of climbing for years. I knew that the approach gully required an early start to ensure all the detritus was frozen in place so Dan and I set off suitably early to facilitate success. After climbing a couple of hundred metres up the gully the sun hit the ridge line above and chunks of ice began showering down upon us. As the chunks got bigger we started to feel like targets at a firing range. Clearly we weren’t early enough and once again retreat was made. We were done with the Alps and its crappy weather and conditions!

When bad weather hits the Alps you are inevitably forced southwards to drier and sunnier climates. The Verdon was our final destination and finally it seemed we had struck lucky. Despite the time of year, conditions were perfect for climbing in the gorge – it was overcast and windy. We also met up with some friends for sociable camp scenes and got thrashed by the locals at table football every evening at the local bar.

Dan and I decided to go for El Topo, an amazing looking 8a big wall in the gorge to the left of the classic chimney line La Demande. After checking out the final few crux pitches we felt well prepared and even quite optimistic about going for a one day free ascent. After a rest day, we awoke to glorious weather and made an early start from the bottom of the gorge. The entire route was in the sun and the forgiving breeze of the previous days had disappeared. To cut a long story short, two gingers, climbing in the sun, in the Verdon, in the middle of summer was a bad idea. After six pitches 6a felt like the living end of difficulty and our feet and hands had were throbbing and swelling with the heat. We abseiled to the ground and made the walk of shame out of the bottom of the gorge, treating ourselves to ice cream to help cheer us up.

Dan climbing the crux pitch of 'El Topo'. Photo - Calum Muskett

Dan climbing the crux pitch of ‘El Topo’. Photo – Calum Muskett


Climbing out of the very bottom of the Verdon Gorge. Photo - Calum Muskett

Climbing out of the very bottom of the Verdon Gorge. Photo – Calum Muskett

Sometimes, weather and conditions just get in the way of climbing, as do high ambitions. After five weeks spent in the Alps and Verdon I could count my list of successful climbs on a single hand. We were on such a losing streak that we expected something to go wrong every time we went climbing and that mentality isn’t useful for making upward progress. On the bright side the C1 had made it through the trip and what’s more I’d only had a single flat tyre. Maybe the weather will be better next summer? Maybe I should just take up bouldering?