Category Archives: Winer Climbing

A Mixed Few Months

It’s been quite a while since I last posted a blog (in fact, it’s been half a year!) and the reason for that is mostly down to not prioritising writing time rather than being completely inactive. My last post was about climbing in Norway last August which is when I first picked up a shoulder injury, likely a Slap tear, which has been plaguing me over the last few months. It’s had quite a big effect on my climbing and has led to spending some rest and recuperation time away from climbing. At its worst it’s painful and awkward putting a jumper on and at its best it doesn’t really affect my climbing and only feels sore. Because of this I thought I’d start doing a less shoulder intensive activity for a while – white water kayaking!

Unfortunately, as you may have suspected, I soon discovered that river kayaking wasn’t that great for my shoulder either. About one month into my paddling renaissance I capsized in some boisterous rapids and nearly tore my shoulder off rolling back up – this almost certainly put my shoulder recovery back by a couple of months! Despite that and considering that Wales had the wettest Autumn and Winter that I can remember, taking up river kayaking was a great excuse to get outdoors where I’d otherwise almost certainly be drinking tea and eating cake in front of the fire at home.

Wales has some classic white water kayaking and part of my reason for getting out again was to paddle two stretches of river that had evaded me when I was into paddling years ago. These were the Aberglaslyn Gorge below Beddgelert and the Afon Ogwen, which runs through my home town of Bethesda; two classic stretches of Welsh river paddling.

It’s pretty interesting coming at kayaking with plenty of climbing experience. Climbing is perceived as a risky activity and trying to put the same risk management/fear control in place paddling white water just hasn’t worked very well for me. It seems that kayaking, like downhill biking or steep skiing, is about commitment and knowing your limitations; little skill is required to land yourself in a whole heap of trouble and if you’re not up to the job then your fate is in the lap of the Gods! Climbing does of course have similarities but you do need some level of competency to get started, you have a lot more time to try and get yourself out of trouble and you have a rope to save your skin if all else fails. On top of that I guess my regular exposure to height and plenty of lead falls have expanded my comfort zone in climbing, whilst with kayaking I have an extreme fear of being stuck upside down in my boat! I find kayaking truly gripping!

Well outside of my comfort zone, mid-way down Ogwen Bank Falls above Bethesda. Photo - Gabby Lees

Well outside of my comfort zone, mid-way down Ogwen Bank Falls above Bethesda. Photo – Gabby Lees

My first bit of river paddling after a six-year hiatus was the Abberglaslyn Gorge, a sustained class 4 rapid descending swiftly from the quaint tourist village of Beddgelert. This was to be my hardest river to date and I was fortunate (?) to be with two particularly good paddlers who could keep me safe(ish). By some miracle I got to the end of the gorge in one piece having rolled only once at the very end (which was a fluke as I’d not rolled in six years!). Buzzing with adrenalin the guys got me psyched for a second run where I promptly capsized at the top of the rapids, failed to roll, and took a hideous swim down the river losing one of my favourite crocs along with most of my dignity!

Quite severely put off, but also strangely encouraged, I got a bit more paddling behind me and finally plucked up the courage to paddle the Ogwen, which was both terrifying and incredible. Although it’s not a river that I’ll be paddling all too regularly, due to me being rubbish at kayaking and a scaredy cat, it truly is one of the wildest outdoor experiences that North Wales has to offer and an amazing gem to have on the doorstep. Shortly after this I crocked my shoulder again, so kayaking play has been put on hold.

In the meantime, I have also begun the British Mountain Guide scheme with a great bunch of guys (where are the girls? It’s a bit of a sausage fest!) and along with the rest of the team, have passed the summer climbing, Scottish winter climbing and ski induction, which now makes me a trainee guide. I also passed my Mountain Instructor Certificate (MIC) at Glenmore Lodge which will open up some fantastic opportunities for work next winter in Scotland.

Making the first ascent of 'Ginger Ninja' E7 6c on Craig y Clipiau. Photo - Adam Booth

Making the first ascent of ‘Ginger Ninja’ E7 6c on Craig y Clipiau. Photo – Adam Booth

Amongst this, I’ve been out rock climbing, the highlight being a cracking new route, if I say so myself, on Craig y Clipiau in the Moelwyns, which I dubbed the ‘Ginger Ninja’ E7 6c, the neighbouring route being the ‘Crimson Cruiser’. Work and a bad shoulder has got in the way of climbing since the New Year and my first winter route of the season was the Welsh test-piece ‘Cracking Up’ IX 9 on Clogwyn Du – a route that I have wanted to climb for a long time. I foolishly thought that I wouldn’t get that pumped hanging off jug handles and my four days of climbing wall sessions leading up to trying ‘Cracking Up’ hadn’t been the best preparation. After a big tussle with the initial steep crack I was eyeing up the resting niche and victory only to be stumped by no hook placements in the rounded crack above me. I hung on as long as my puny arms could manage before finally slumping on the gear above my head; unfortunately, I’d missed out on a bomber choc-stone in the back of the crack below where I’d been reaching with my axes, I’m sure I’m not the only one to have made that mistake though.

Embracing the steep mixed climbing of 'Cracking up' IX 9 on Clogwyn Du. Photo - Steve Long

Embracing the steep mixed climbing of ‘Cracking up’ IX 9 on Clogwyn Du. Photo – Steve Long

Corsica

Punta d'u Corbu in Corsica, home to some of the best granite climbing in the world. Photo - Calum Muskett

Punta d’u Corbu in Corsica, home to some of the best granite climbing in the world. Photo – Calum Muskett

Back in November I booked a climbing trip to Corsica with Shropshire’s fifth strongest climber Ed Booth. Ed’s been going from strength to strength in recent years, probably due to his state funded climbing career as a fireman. I was hoping that his recent marriage might have slowed him down, but there was no such luck on this front. We were heading to Corsica to pursue my ambition of failing on all of the hardest multi-pitch routes in Europe, I can now proudly add ‘Delicatessen’ to that list!

We arrived in Corsica on the 9th of March with a week-long trip planned to sample Corsican climbing. I’d walked the incredible GR20 trail with my parents when I was thirteen and remembered the amazing granite rock architecture and my memories didn’t disappoint us. Our first route was ‘Jeef’ a 7b multi-pitch of some renown. The climbing was incredible with perfect quality granite and funky featured rock. Unfortunately climbing ‘Jeef’ was also the coldest rock climbing experience I’ve ever had – I thought rock climbing in the Mediterranean would be a little warmer in March!

Ed Booth enjoying the funky rock of 'Jeef' 7b on a very cold day. Photo - Calum Muskett

Ed Booth enjoying the funky rock of ‘Jeef’ 7b on a very cold day. Photo – Calum Muskett

The main event of the trip was our attempt of ‘Delicatessen’, a multi-pitch 8b first climbed by Arnaud Petit and rumoured to be one of the very best routes of its grade in the world. Our first impressions were very positive. Amazing technical climbing on perfect rock, well bolted and in an amazing setting. The crux first pitch of 8b could be split into two sections: a strenuous lower wall which is about 8a in difficulty, followed by a 7c slab which is all too easy to fall off after the climbing below. We quickly started to piece the route together and were fairly confident of success.

It snowed the following couple of days which rather put a dampener on our climbing aspirations and it was freezing cold when we finally got back on the route. I managed to wrench my shoulder, inflaming my old injury on the powerful lay back moves at the bottom of the pitch and took some time figuring out a way to chimney past the hard section, whilst Ed went full charge and managed to red-point the pitch.

The snow arriving in Bavella... Photo - Calum Muskett

The snow arriving in Bavella… Photo – Calum Muskett

After another rest day, spent mostly looking at the thin skin on our fingertips and willing it to grow back, we had our final day on the island before catching the ferry back to the mainland. We knew that we didn’t have enough time to finish off ‘Delicatessen’ in full, but it was a good opportunity for me to try and red-point the crux pitch and I was fortunate enough to pull the lead out of the bag first thing in the morning. It was a shame to leave the route uncompleted, as I suspect climbing the rest of ‘Delicatessen’ wouldn’t have felt too difficult over the course of a day, but it was also great to have salvaged something from a trip that we nearly called off after viewing the weather forecast. The Corsican multi-pitch we sampled was brilliant and I’d thoroughly recommend it to any climber operating from 6a upwards. It has the best granite I have ever climbed on and its location, in the spectacular Bavella region of Corsica, is second to none. I’m sure I’ll be back in the not too distant future, but most likely at a warmer time of year!

Ed Booth seconding the final tricky slab of the crux pitch of 'Delicatessen' 8b. Photo - Calum Muskett

Ed Booth seconding the final tricky slab of the crux pitch of ‘Delicatessen’ 8b. Photo – Calum Muskett

Planning for the Future

Ally Swinton heading along the ridge from the summit of Castor in the Pennine Alps. Photo - Calum Muskett

Ally Swinton heading along the ridge from the summit of Castor in the Pennine Alps. Photo – Calum Muskett

It’s been a long time since I last posted on my blog, mainly because I’ve had very little of interest to write about. The last few months in particular have been taken up with work and getting my life in order. It’s been frustrating at times with much less free time than I’ve become accustomed to but I can now see that I’m nearing the end of this road and my time is beginning to become my own again. That said, I’ve had some great work following Christmas; multiple weeks based in Scotland running winter mountaineering courses on the East and West coast with evenings spent ski touring by head torch. I’ve been giving quite a few lectures for a mixture of audiences and alongside my good friend Steve Long we ran this year’s BMC Alpine Lecture series across England and Wales – these were skills based lectures but with an emphasis on them being inspirational as well as informative.

Gabby and I also survived a winter in the smallest cottage in Nant Peris without suffering from frostbite or hypothermia and we’re now buying our first house together in the comparatively Mediterranean town of Bethesda – this house even has insulation and running hot water so a bit of a step up in quality for us! More recently I’ve also been completing the final pre-requisites for my application to the British Mountain Guide scheme. Before last month I’d been accumulating my pre-requisites purely through going climbing and skiing on my own terms, but with only a few boxes left to fill in the application form I’ve taken a more targeted approach so that I can submit the form for this year’s deadline. This has meant a lot of ski touring and a very productive last month in the Alps.

Jamie ploughing through deep powder whilst navigating on a compass. Photo - Calum Muskett

Jamie ploughing through deep powder whilst navigating on a compass. Photo – Calum Muskett

Jamie and I arrived in the Alps to a sub-optimal weather forecast and after some deliberation decided to head ski touring south of Switzerland’s Rhone Valley on the Tour de Soleil. Unfortunately its name didn’t live up to the weather we skied into. On the second day of the tour our visibility was down to zero and we were skiing on compass bearings. On the third day not only was there no visibility but there was also a very high avalanche hazard on all aspects after nearly a metre of fresh snow. The avalanche hazard was so high that we couldn’t even ski down into the Rhone valley and instead had to descend via the opposite side of the mountain range leaving us with a very long commute back to the car via a bus journey and two trains!

Two small skiers in the amazing landscape of the Gran Paradiso National Park. Photo - Calum Muskett

Two small skiers in the amazing landscape of the Gran Paradiso National Park. Photo – Calum Muskett


The summit of Gran Paradiso

The summit of Gran Paradiso

After a fairly unsuccessful first tour we scanned the forecasts in search of the best weather in the Alps and the only area not being buried under inches of snow was the Gran Paradiso National Park in Italy. We spent six days skiing across the range from East to West starting from Valnontey and finishing in Valgrisenche. The highlights included a fantastic day heading up to the summit of Gran Paradiso itself as well as an incredible powder day as we descended to Valgrisenche. This was also one of the low points as when Jamie and I reached the final col ahead of all the other teams we were greeted by several teams of heli skiers who had just beaten us to the first tracks – we were well jel! I couldn’t recommend this ski tour enough and it was great to visit an area that otherwise I’d have been unlikely to explore.

Heading up Mont Blanc via the Gouter route. Photo - Calum Muskett

Heading up Mont Blanc via the Gouter route. Photo – Calum Muskett


Gabby skinning up Mont Blanc with Aiguille du Midi in the background. Photo - Calum Muskett

Gabby skinning up Mont Blanc with Aiguille du Midi in the background. Photo – Calum Muskett

Gabby took a week off work to join me out in the Alps and we did loads of ski touring together. Skiing with Gabby always reminds me of just how poor my technique is as she hurtles down past me on a pair of toy skimo racing skis. Fortunately I was well acclimatized though which brought our relative standards a little closer together. We had an aborted attempt to ski Mont Blanc where we got a few hundred metres above the Vallot hut before turning round due to strong cold winds. We then headed to the Pennine Alps with Ally Swinton. It was my second visit to the area but the first time I’ve had an explore of the hills and it’s a truly phenomenal mountain range. Our first day included the popular and possibly/definitely easiest 4000m peak in Europe the Breithorn with only a short climb up from the ski lift. From there we traversed round beyond Castor and Pollux via a very high level route. Unfortunately after a few days the weather started to move in and I began to suffer from a cold which had a pretty stark effect on me at this altitude!

Gabby skiing down the Breithorn. Photo - Calum Muskett

Gabby skiing down the Breithorn. Photo – Calum Muskett


Skiing in the Pennine Alps. Photo - Calum Muskett

Skiing in the Pennine Alps. Photo – Calum Muskett

After all that ski touring I’d finally managed to complete my hut to hut touring days for my guides application and had a few final days left to go climbing. I’d had one rather unfortunate attempt at climbing earlier that trip. Jamie and I skied the Vallee Blanche to the foot of the famous Supercouloir on Mont Blanc du Tacul. As we were climbing the foot of the first pitch we heard a scream and looked upwards to see an airborne climber spiralling off the first pitch, inverting and taking a very nasty fall. When he finally came to a stop he was upside down, unconscious and had blood leaking out of his helmet onto the ice beneath him. I headed up to help his partner out and we got a small ledge kicked out in the snow slope for the casualty who slowly regained consciousness. There wasn’t a huge amount we could do after that except wait for the chopper to come and pull him off the mountain. I hope he has a speedy recovery!

My next stop was for an ascent of the north face of the Eiger with Jerry Gore. Jerry is quite possibly the most (over!)enthusiastic climber you’ll ever meet. He’s in his mid fifties, is an ex-Royal Marine and a type 1-diabetic. The great thing about Jerry is that he doesn’t let diabetes get the better of him and lives a very full and dynamic life that would be the envy of many fit men (or women) in their twenties or thirties. He’s also extremely passionate about raising money for ‘Insulin for Life’, a charity that supports diabetes sufferers in third world countries who otherwise wouldn’t have access to the medicine they need to live. Jerry wanted to climb the Eiger for this charity as fast as he possibly could to help raise money for this charity – you can donate directly via this link.

Our first one day attempt ended in disaster. As we reached the first technical pitch of the face, the ‘Difficult Crack’ we got stuck in a queue of four teams. We spent two hours waiting for two particularly incompetent parties to climb this pitch and knowing we wouldn’t be able to overtake them for a couple more hours decided to head down for another go the following day. I’m not often critical of other climber’s decisions but it seems to be a more and more common phenomena to see alpinists trying to climb routes that are far outside their experience and ‘stretch’ zone. Famous and popular routes such as this seem to draw any alpinist with a Facebook account to them and I think people forget just how serious these things are. Without being melodramatic, inexperienced climbers can die on these routes and the rescue helicopter isn’t a taxi service. It goes without saying that a couple of hours after we’d descended from the face we noticed that both these teams were helicoptered off the face!

Climbers on the second ice field. Photo - Calum Muskett

Climbers on the second ice field. Photo – Calum Muskett

The following day the ascent went a lot more smoothly almost uninterrupted by other climbers due to an earlier start. The climb is a masterpiece in route finding with some tricky climbing in places. If it wasn’t for all its fixed protection I think it would receive a great deal fewer ascents, something to bear in mind when you consider it was first climbed in 1938. As I got back down to the station I received a text from Ally Swinton asking if I wanted to head up to the Dru the following day, instinctively I replied in the affirmative not really considering how impractical it was as most of my gear was in Samoens and we wouldn’t get down to Grindelwald until the following morning.

Ally and I just made the last lift up at Grandes Montets and headed down to the base of the Dru for a chilly night’s sleep. The Dru Couloir Direct has claimed classic status in the Alps recently as a modern test-piece mixed climb. It’s a route that I’ve always wanted to do and it didn’t disappoint one little bit. The climbing revolves around five steep icy gully pitches which are all relatively well protected. The climbing is on thin ice or narrow granite cracks and although never difficult all requires some care to climb. The final pitch climbs a technical slim gully before over a roof onto a shield of ice in a brilliant position. It’s up there with the best mixed climbs I’ve ever done and probably about Scottish grade VII rather than its mooted grade of VIII. I felt pretty knackered by the time I’d returned to the lift station and it was nice to see that the Swinton Duracell Bunny was also looking a bit tired! I headed home the following day and am now looking forward to getting back in shape for rock climbing after a month off.

Heading up the second pitch of the Direct version of the Dru Couloir. Photo - Ally Swinton

Heading up the second pitch of the Direct version of the Dru Couloir. Photo – Ally Swinton


Ally Swinton having just climbed the final difficult pitch of the Dru Couloir Direct. Photo - Calum Muskett

Ally Swinton having just climbed the final difficult pitch of the Dru Couloir Direct. Photo – Calum Muskett


Heading up the final section of the Dru Couloir. Photo - calum Muskett

Heading up the final section of the Dru Couloir. Photo – calum Muskett

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

Another Brush with Bad Weather

Blair skinning up Aonach Mor. Photo - Calum Muskett

Blair skinning up Aonach Mor. Photo – Calum Muskett

Having returned from Patagonia I felt like a bit of respite from bad weather was needed – unfortunately though, I was heading straight up to Scotland. Although I’ve been fortunate enough to have spent parts of very sunny summer holidays in Scotland in the past I have only ever experienced heavy rain and snow in the winter time and spent a considerable amount of time shivering in howling winds. Several months ago I booked onto my winter mountain leader assessment with Plas y Brenin who are based up in Alltshellach during their winter season. For this reason I decided to travel up five days early and get up into the hills prior to my assessment.

Blair digging an avalanche pit to check out the snow pack. Photo - Calum Muskett

Blair digging an avalanche pit to check out the snow pack. Photo – Calum Muskett


Making tea Scottish style. Photo - Calum Muskett

Making tea Scottish style. Photo – Calum Muskett

The one positive part of the bad weather was that the snow was brilliant for skiing on. Great soft powder on top of a good base level of snow meant that all the rocks were covered and conditions were prime for ski touring. On my first day out I headed into the Grey Corries from just above Spean Bridge for an excellent ski tour but one that was also marred by bad weather. I learnt that skiing in a whiteout is difficult and that navigating whilst skiing in a whiteout is even more difficult. I had another couple of days on my skis and then headed out with Dr Snow (aka Blair Fyffe) to learn a little bit more about avalanches.

Blair works for the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) and heads out most days to check out snow conditions and give an avalanche forecast for Lochaber or Glen Coe. It was interesting looking at what information Blair used to help him understand the avalanche risks, especially given that this winter the quantity of snow that has accumulated above 700 metres is outrageous. The CIC hut on Ben Nevis is virtually buried!

After a few days of playing about in the bad weather I started my assessment with Plas y Brenin. It’s funny doing an assessment or training with PYB as I know most of the instructors so well. I worked for the domestic team of PYB at Capel Curig for almost five years whilst at school as well as for a while afterwards and often go out climbing with the instructors and guides who live nearby. The good thing with courses delivered by PYB is that you’ll always get up to date instruction and carefully considered feedback delivered by some very enthusiastic climbers or paddlers.

The first couple of days look at the more technical components of the winter mountain leader award such as the teaching of simple and safe winter hill walking skills as well as looking at how to self arrest and emergency ropework to get out of sticky situations. The final three days of the assessment comprises of a three day expedition which involves lots of navigation and a couple of nights in a snow-hole.

A rare break in the clouds on Stob Coire nan Lochan. Photo - Calum Muskett

A rare break in the clouds on Stob Coire nan Lochan. Photo – Calum Muskett


Building the perfect snowman - an important element of the winter mountain leader syllabus. Photo - Calum Muskett

Building the perfect snowman – an important element of the winter mountain leader syllabus. Photo – Calum Muskett

The first part of the assessment went very smoothly, some poor weather but nothing out of the ordinary for Scotland at this time of year. On the third day we headed into the hills above Bridge of Orchy and dug a fairly large snow-hole which we were quite happy to spend plenty of time in. Unfortunatley by this point the weather had begun to worsen, it was beginning to blizzard outside and snow was being blown into our hole. Our night navigation exercise was cut short after the situation got a little too ‘real’ to be much fun and when we got back to the snow hole the entrance had to be completely dug out. My alarm was set for every couple of hours and we had a rota set up so that somebody would wake up and dig snow out of the entrance. Unfortunately it had been snowing more than we’d expected and there was eventually somebody out digging every 45 minutes and even between those intervals we were being sealed in by the snow. At 3.30am a large cornice began to build up over the entrance of our hole and the ceiling of our hole seemed to be a few inches lower, presumably because of the extra weight above. We evacuated our snow-hole and headed down to the train station at Bridge of Orchy for a couple of hours kip.

The snow-hole. Photo - Calum Muskett

The snow-hole. Photo – Calum Muskett

After another bleary eyed day of navigating and hill walking we were back at Alltshellach for our final course de-brief. We’d both passed our assessment which meant that our horrendous night in a snow-hole wasn’t a total waste of time and I can now try and avoid any more bad weather at home until Spring brings with it some sunshine!

Flexible Plans

Sunrise over Paso Superior. Photo - Calum Muskett

Sunrise over Paso Superior. Photo – Calum Muskett

After consuming many steaks, waffles, brownies and pancakes, Windguru, our weather forecasting website, showed signs of a weather window opening up. El Chalten suddenly turns into a bustling town when the forecast improves. The shops are full of climbers purchasing chocolates and biscuits and people suddenly have another subject to discuss other than how bad the weather is: where are you heading over the next few days?

Dave and I decided that the East face of Poincenot looked like it had some good objectives. Good rock climbs that awaited free ascents and also potential for variations or new routes to their sides. We also had a backup plan of several mixed routes, existing and new, in case the temperature was a bit low on the nearby Mermoz. So far it seems that the most flexible plans will be the ones that have the highest success rate and being prepared for several eventualities might mean carrying more equipment but will also increase your odds of getting up something.

Ally approaching the East face of the Mermoz. Photo - Calum Muskett

Ally approaching the East face of the Mermoz. Photo – Calum Muskett

Our approach was in full view of Poincenot and Fitzroy and provided a stunning outlook despite the fact we could see just how far we had to walk. The trail is also popular amongst walkers and justifiably so as the old woodlands and lakes are lovely to walk through and alongside. We were heading towards the high camp of Paso Superior but when we reached the glacier in the early afternoon it was covered in small, slushy avalanches and we decided to make the longer walk in early the following morning. We also met some climbers descending from Paso Superior and they told us that the current conditions were good if you liked either freezing rock or slushy ice climbing in strong winds. Not what we had hoped for!

East Face of the Mermoz. Photo - Calum Muskett

East Face of the Mermoz. Photo – Calum Muskett

After a brief breakfast we were away at 3.30am and making the long slog up to Paso Superior. It was a sweaty walk with heavy bags and I felt like I was in the worst physical condition I’d been in for the whole trip. Once we reached Paso Superior we were treated to a stunning sunrise but clouds quickly shrouded the East face of Poincenot destroying our hopes of free climbing. We headed over to the Mermoz and climbed up to a long steep gully line that Dave had spotted as being unclimbed in the guidebook. The gully had an almost continuous line of ice down it and looked like an amazing proposition.

Dave heading up the first pitch. Photo - Calum Muskett

Dave heading up the first pitch. Photo – Calum Muskett


Tin opener moves up the very sustained first corner. Photo - Calum Muskett

Tin opener moves up the very sustained first corner. Photo – Calum Muskett

Dave got us underway and unfortunately for me the second pitch was a steep wide corner crack with very little for your feet. A gave the pitch a go, heaving away on tin opener hook placements, but was soon spat off taking a short fall. Feeling exhausted and unlikely to make a clean ascent, I handed the lead over to Dave who made steady progress upwards and reached easier ground and the next belay.

Despite its modest appearance the following pitch was a scary grovel over an ice bulge on disintegrating ice followed by a thin slab and paved the way to a continuous thin ice runnel no wider than half a foot in places. The climbing remained sustained, with strenuous bulges to overcome every so often, but it was absolutely fantastic. We couldn’t believe our luck at finding another awesome new route to try. We were both knackered though, even starting to fall asleep on some of the belays until our energy gels perked us up. Dave knocked a big piece of ice into his face whilst leading one pitch and he then had the misfortune of looking up when I knocked one down on the following pitch.

Leading up some great ice runnels capped by small roofs. Photo - Dave Macleod

Leading up some great ice runnels capped by small roofs. Photo – Dave Macleod


Dave leading a slim ice runnel. Photo - Calum Muskett

Dave leading a slim ice runnel. Photo – Calum Muskett

By mid-afternoon the route was back in the shade and the ice was hardening up again. Dave set off on a clearly desperate but well protected crack and continued up to a steep wall above. After several attempts Dave lowered back down to the belay, not keen to go for the lead without spectres or ice screws to protect him. Both feeling exhausted we decided to descend. When we reached the glacier below we realised just how close we were to easier ground – maybe only twenty metres. If we’re granted another good spell of weather we’re hoping to give the route another shot but given the fact I’m now in bed with a cold, I’m hoping that won’t be for another few days!

Dave torquing up icy cracks. Photo - Calum Muskett

Dave torquing up icy cracks. Photo – Calum Muskett


Go With the Flow

On the road to El Chalten. Photo - Calum Muskett

On the road to El Chalten. Photo – Calum Muskett

Dave and I arrived in Patagonia on the first of January looking forward to climbing some of the best granite towers on the planet. When we arrived in El Chalten though we learnt that the weather over the preceding month had been terrible; very little had been climbed and resident Patagonian alpinists were saying the mountains were looking the whitest they’d ever seen them.

Unfortunately, this is bad news for us. Our hopes are to climb the Compressor Route (or South-East Ridge) of Cerro Torre free and on the two occasions we’ve seen the summit the route looks like it’s plastered with snow. In fact, whilst bouldering a few days ago, we bumped into David Lama, the first and only free ascentionist of the Compressor Route who told us “not to bother this season”. This, alongside the negative mood of many climbers in town, is what we’d feared and hoped would not happen. Apparently El Ninõ is in a different place to usual this year and that Patagonia is caught between two weather fronts. This could be true, or it might be the case that after two irregularly good summer seasons the weather has returned to its ‘full on’ normality. Despite all this, the weather in Patagonia is so unpredictable that the Compressor Route may yet come into condition. All it needs is a few days of sunshine to shed its snow…

Fortunately El Chalten is a really nice place to spend time. The pace of life is about as laid back as the internet connection here (I’ll leave you to guess…) and there are plenty of nice cafes and restaurants to enjoy, ‘La Chocolateria’ and ‘La Waffleria’ being my favourite haunts. There’s also some great bouldering, reasonable sport climbing and plenty of trails to go running along.

Ally and Ben approaching the Guillaumet. Photo - Calum Muskett

Ally and Ben approaching the Guillaumet. Photo – Calum Muskett

After about eight days of ‘relaxed living’ windguru gave us a promising weather window and after studying the guidebook we came up with a number of plans ranging from summer lines to mixed routes. We decided to head round the back of the range to the high camp of Piedra Negra which gives access to the back of Fitzroy Guillaumet and Poincenot leaving us with plenty of options.

We ended up finding a bivi spot just beneath Piedra Negra under a boulder and below the snow line. It was blowing a hooly, trekkers were turning back from the Col due to deep snow and we had almost given up hope of climbing the following day. We woke up at a relaxed hour (there’s 18 hours of daylight here in the summer) to blue skies and no wind so began the long slog up to the col. We were intending to climb on the Mermoz and attempt either ‘Vol de Nuit’ or a new line further right but after digging an avalanche pit decided that walking down the loaded slopes would be a bad idea. Instead we looked straight above us and on the right hand side of Guillaumet was an impressive wall with rimed up cracks all over and solid granite. We knew no information about this section of wall having left the guidebook behind but we suspected it was unclimbed.

Dave seconding the superb first hard pitch. Photo - Calum Muskett

Dave seconding the superb first hard pitch. Photo – Calum Muskett


Heading up the steep groove. Photo - Dave Macleod

Heading up the steep groove. Photo – Dave Macleod

After a short and very easy intro pitch we arrived at a thin runnel of snow and ice leading up a corner. Dave took the lead and despite its modest appearance it felt pretty thin near the top, torquing in a parallel sided crack. The following pitch was thin and sustained starting up twin cracks before a thin traverse left to an awkward section of groove. I felt pretty chuffed when I got to the top of this having not pulled on an ice axe since last winter. After another couple of great, sustained pitches, we arrived at what we expected to be easy ground, only for Dave to go round the corner and discover that the route wasn’t yet in the bag.

Dave looking up at the technical groove high on the route. Photo - Calum Muskett

Dave looking up at the technical groove high on the route. Photo – Calum Muskett

Dave headed upwards out of sight and I patiently paid out rope expecting this pitch to take a while but before long, I was following Dave up an amazing pitch. Consecutive moves on stein pulls (wedging the axes in upside down) followed by pulling over onto a thin ice covered slab which only just had enough ice on it to make it possible.

We were very fortunate to have found such a great line. It could easily have been too difficult, or a bit of a pushover, but what we found felt like the right level of difficulty and length for the day. It would be a classic in Chamonix! Altogether the route weighed in at Scottish grade VIII 8 (technical grades: 3, 6, 8, 7, 8, 8). There’s no mention of the route in the relatively new comprehensive guide so we’re assuming we made a first ascent, or at least a first winter conditions ascent.


The line of our new route. Photo - Calum Muskett

The line of our new route. Photo – Calum Muskett

Hopefully the next weather window will bring as good a route!

Amazing clouds above Poincenot. Photo - Dave Macleod

Amazing clouds above Poincenot. Photo – Dave Macleod

2013

2013 has been a great year for me. Lots of travelling, stacks of climbing and amazing weather (with one notable exception!). Rather than writing an account of all the best moments I’ve selected a photo from each month and added a sentence or two with each one as an explanation. Enjoy!

January

Andy Turner ice climbing in Setesdal. Photo- Calum Muskett

Andy Turner ice climbing in Setesdal. Photo- Calum Muskett

I spent the New Year and the first part of January in the Setesdal Valley of Norway; a spectacular ice climbing area although a bit on the warm side whilst we were there!

February

Mina climbing 'La Cara Que No Miente' 8a+ in Siurana. Photo- Calum Muskett

Mina climbing ‘La Cara Que No Miente’ 8a+ in Siurana. Photo- Calum Muskett

After a great sport climbing trip to Siurana in Spain I headed back to North Wales feeling fit and enjoyed some great days out on the sea cliffs of Gogarth.

March

Skiing down the Vallee Blanche. Photo- Calum Muskett

Skiing down the Vallee Blanche. Photo- Calum Muskett

I spent the whole of March in Chamonix learning to ski and made my first, aborted attempt to climb a very snowy North Face of the Eiger.

April

Skiing in the Carneddau. Photo- Jamie Holding

Skiing in the Carneddau. Photo- Jamie Holding

April was an amazing month. The weather and conditions were just incredible! On one day I went skiing down Glyder Fach at first light, climbed an E6 at Gogarth, did some instructing in the afternoon and then ice climbed by head torch in the evening!

May

Climbing 'Daisy World' E7 6c. Photo- Ed Booth

Climbing ‘Daisy World’ E7 6c. Photo- Ed Booth

With the continuing good weather I spent loads of time trad climbing in the mountains of North Wales and climbed a bunch of routes I’d been hoping to try for a long time.

June

George Ullrich on-sighting  'Authentic Desire' E7 6b, on Cloggy. Photo- Calum Muskett

George Ullrich on-sighting ‘Authentic Desire’ E7 6b, on Cloggy. Photo- Calum Muskett

More time spent climbing in the mountains climbing with James Mchaffie and co and the first trips up to Cloggy.

July

George Ullrich leading the 'Indian Face' E9 6c. Photo- Calum Muskett

George Ullrich leading the ‘Indian Face’ E9 6c. Photo- Calum Muskett

After a great quick trip to Hoy in Scotland I returned home and jumped on the send train for an ascent of the ‘Indian Face’.

August

Leading the crux pitch of 'Paciencia' 8a, on the North Face of the Eiger. Photo- Alexandre Buisse

Leading the crux pitch of ‘Paciencia’ 8a, on the North Face of the Eiger. Photo- Alexandre Buisse

August was spent in the Alps. After some fun climbing around Chamonix I met up with Dave Macleod and we climbed ‘Paciencia’ on the North Face of the Eiger – a fantastic route and a great experience.

September

Dave Macleod on the crux pitch of 'Bellavista' 8c on Cima Ovest. Photo- Calum Muskett

Dave Macleod on the crux pitch of ‘Bellavista’ 8c on Cima Ovest. Photo- Calum Muskett

After our short lived attempt on ‘Bellavista’ at the end of August Dave returned to finish it off in September. Unfortunately I just had lots of work to do!

October

Twid walking down the Bader valley in Patagonia. Photo- Calum Muskett

Twid walking down the Bader valley in Patagonia. Photo- Calum Muskett

I became an MIA at the beginning of the month and then headed out to a very windy Torres del Paine in Patagonia!

November

Twid hanging out on the lower slabs of 'Wall of Paine'. Photo- Calum Muskett

Twid hanging out on the lower slabs of ‘Wall of Paine’. Photo- Calum Muskett

Our trip to Patagonia was thwarted by bad weather but we had a good crack and got to the top of the wall of the south face of the South Tower of Paine.

December

Cerro Torre. Photo- Tim Neil

Cerro Torre. Photo- Tim Neil

December isn’t over yet! I’m off to Scotland next week and then to Patagonia with Dave Macleod on the 31st to attempt to make a free ascent of the Compressor Route on Cerro Torre – really looking forward to this one!

I’ve also made a couple of changes with my sponsors this month. Having been sponsored by DMM for four years it’s with a heavy heart that I say thanks for all the help and goodbye. I’m now joining the Black Diamond team and am really looking forward to working with such a well respected company that have such a great product range. I’m also very happy to be combining two of my great passions – climbing and eating, with my other new sponsor Clif Bar. Hopefully my sweet tooth won’t lead me down the path of obesity! On top of this I’m also really happy to be joining Shauna Coxsey, Fran Brown, Molly Thompson-Smith, Hazel Findlay, Steve Mcclure and James Mchaffie as a BMC Ambassador. The BMC have done a huge amount of work in Britain helping access to the hills and climbing areas as well as improving access to the sport; it’ll be great to support them through 2014.

Here’s to hoping next year will be just as good as this one!