Sunday 30 December 2012

No success like Failure

A not very good picture of Iain (he can just be made out in Blue) on the first pitch.

Last Thursday (27th) myself and Iain Small had a wee wander up the Ben. Iain fancied trying a new route on the buttress left of Italian climb. Given the good forecast we were quite surprised when it started snowing on the walk in. After a cup of tea or two (an essential part of the day when climbing with Iain) and a blether with people staying there and some friends who turned up, the weather had cleared up a bit.  Wandering up into the Ciste there was not too much fresh snow about, and after gearing up by a big boulder we got to the base of the route without too much trouble.

Iain leading the second pitch, during a brief clear period.
As Iain seemed to know where he wanted to go, I let him lead the first pitch. However, progress was not rapid, and I could tell from the way he was climbing it was hard. Then the snow started again. The wind was from the South-East, blowing the snow over the top of Tower Ridge down onto us. At first it felt like a little light spindrift blowing about, but as Iain slowly inched his was up the intricate and technical first pitch, the snow got heavier and heavier.

 I was belayed roughly below Italian climb, and at first I enjoyed watching the way the spindrift danced up and down the gully, the patterns cause the the opposing forces and gravity and the up draft. At first the fresh snow quantities were quite small, and it did not feel too threatening. However, as time went on and the snow got heavier, the spindrift avalanches got bigger, and I started to get a bad feeling. It all started to get a bit too reminiscent of events of almost 12 years ago when, young and foolish, I had stood at the bottom of a gully watching the spindrift dancing down wards. I was just about to walk away when the whole slope above the gully released naturally. I had time to take a couple of steps before hundred of tonnes of snow hit me at high speed, and I rag dolled downwards in the midst of the avalanche. I had been lucky that day, and limped away, a badly sprained ankle being my only injury.

What it was like most of the time.

Since then I have spent a lot of time studying snow, both formally and informally.  As anyone who spends a lot of time in an environment does, I have developed a better feeling for it, and at that time the base of Italian route felt like a bad place to be, especially given some events that I knew of there long before I was born. I shifted myself into as sheltered position as soon as possible. By this time Iain was close to the belay. He made himself safe, and it was my turn to climb. I am not sure how the pitch would have felt in better conditions, but that day it felt utterly desperate. I struggled to second what must have been bold and committing as well as technical to lead. Eventually I reached his semi hanging belay in a corner. Above the ground looked difficult, and with it still snowing heavily, I had lost the psych to climbing hard. I offered Iain the lead, suggesting that he would be quicker and more likely to get up the pitch. At first he made good process up into the blizzard. However, under the overlap he soon slowed down, and then stopped for a while. There as a bit of hammering going on. The light was beginning to fade, and it was still  dumping with snow, was he going to bail off. A whoosh made me turn round, a substantial airborne avalanche came down Chute Route, clouds of snow billowing through space. It was all beginning to feel a bit full on.

Iain stepped back down, and launched across the right wall of the corner and soon was on some ledges.  The original plan had been to regain the corner above the overlap, but that looked even harder and bolder than what had gone before. Therefore he stepped right to gain Rogues Rib, a route that he had climbed last winter, and quickly scampered up that for about 20 meters to a big ledge. By this time the snow had eased, and I managed to second about half the pitch before I needed to get the head torch out. Above that Rogues Rib continued up onto the crest of Tower Ridge. However, given the darkness, and the requirment to get down safely to our bags which were near the base of the route we decided to abseil off. Abseiling off after the hard climbing always seems slightly disapointing to me, but given the conditions it was the best thing to do.  One long abseil took us into Italian route, and then another to the base of the route. We wallowed around in deep powder, staying on the rope as long as possible until a quick traverse took us back to flat ground, our bags and what felt like safety.

Setting up the abseil at the top of the route. 

From there it was an easy walk back down to the hut, and then on down to the carpark. As we got down the path a bit the clouds cleared and a full moon lit up the snowy landscape to the point that head torches were not needed.  We discussed what sort of a day we had had. Iain had not climbed the line that he had originally envisaged, I had not climbed well, and we had abseiled off.  On the other hand did do a fair bit of new climbing, had not been avalanched and had had a proper full on winter experience.  It made me think of some lyrics by Bob Dylan; "There ain't no success like failure, and failure ain't no success at all." I am not quite sure what the lyric means (is anybody), but then again I am not quite sure about the days climbing we had just had.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

New route on the Ben

I realise that it has been a while since I wrote anything on my blog. Since my last post I had three weeks sports climbing in Spain which was pleasant, but perhaps did not make particularly inspiring subject to write about. Since Spain I have been busy finishing off my summer job (modelling oil and gas flow), and starting with my winter job (avalanche forecasting). I have however, managed a few routes, but have either not had the time or not been inspired to write about them.

Myself on the first pitch our our new route. 

The most interesting thing that I did during that period is a winter (first ?) ascent of Blue Nosed Baboon, a V-Diff on Gardh buttress. This went at about grade V,5. While belaying I had looked over to Trident buttress, and seen an obvious ramp on the lower tier. I had assumed that was the line of The Minge, a summer VS, which was the only route in that area in the guide book.

Helen on the second pitch. From where she is the route stepped leftwards and pulled onto a series of hanging slabs. 

Yesterday (Tuesday 18th)  myself and Helen Rennard wandered up the Ben. The night before when having a flick through the guide I realised that The Minge took a steep crack, and so it seems likely that the line I had spotted had not been climbed. Helen and I had originally planned to do a route high up in the Ciste. However when passing below Trident Buttress the route that I had thought about looked to be in good nick. I suggested that we went and had a wee peek.

Myself on the steep crack that formed the crux of the route. There was some good ice which helped a bit here.

I led the first pitch, a bold but relatively straightforward icy ramp line. Helen then led the second pitch, which climbed a short groove and traversed diagonally big rightwards over some slabs . She belayed below an obvious icy crack. This proved to the crux of the route, steep with poor feet, but some positive hooks and  good ice. Above the crack the climbing remained quite technical for another 10 or 15 metres before easier ground was reached. A couple of easier pitches then led to the top of Trident Buttress. A long traverse then got us back down to Number 4 Gully.

As yet the route is un-named and went about grade VI,7 or maybe VII,7.