Tuesday, 9 March 2010

It feels like winters nearly over in North Wales, so with the thought that it might be the last chance this season, I took the day off work and headed in to the Black Ladders.
Dropping the kids off at school meant it was 10.30 by the time I started the walk in, but the path was clear of snow and the weather was perfect, so although I had a heavy pack, I was able to make good time and reached the crag at 11.45.
The plan for the day was to back rope solo something, maybe the second ascent of Tora Bora, a new VIII 8 but was I up to it? Standing under the crag I had my doubts, the face loomed over me, everything looking vertical or overhanging.
I emptied the pack.
One 70m single rope.
One rack of gear.
No extenders.
No pegs or turf protection.
In the bottom of the pack a half rope left in from the weekend! No wonder it felt heavy!
So what to do?
Tora Bora was out of the question, with no pegs or turf pro. Anyway I might as well admit, I would probably of bottled it on my own. The excuses were already piling up, too late to start, didn't look in nick, and anything else I could think of.
I decided to go for Gallipoli, a two star V5 that went in the same area and wouldn't be too difficult.
Traversing in from the right I moved up to the base of an ice fall and got the rope out.
I would attach myself to it and trail it behind, just belaying the tricky bits as I needed to.
The ice fall was actually quite steep and seemed to be delaminating at the top, where every axe swing hit rock or useless reed grass. Cautiously I moved up to reach a peg belay and a traverse left. The route starts to feel quite exposed here but I didn't want to use the rope until I reached the gully proper, as its not easy rapping a traverse.
At a large pinnacle I set up a belay and back roped one long pitch that took me into the gully, with some good moves up a steeper section, to the next belay. Then I set up the ab and rapped back down, taking out the gear and dismantling the lower belay before reascending.
This was repeated for one more pitch before reaching easy ground and the top, on a stunning day.
The route length is given as 250m, adding on the pitches I climbed twice, makes 370m. It took me two and a half hours to climb at a steady pace, then back to the car by 2.45 giving a round trip of just under five hours, not bad for a trip to the Ladders.
So if this was my last route of the season, although it wasnt hard, the feeling of independence and complete self reliance you get with back roping something like this, on a big cliff, made it a memorable day.
Now all I need is a week in the alps as the icing on the cake!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

A few pictures of Dave on and off Harvest Crunch, taken by Clive Heblethwaite who was climbing Moss Ghyll.

At the semi rest after the first roof.

Making the hard move left under the second roof.



Monday, 1 March 2010

Went up to the Lakes yesterday, with Dave, Adam and Neil, to attempt Harvest Crunch on Scafell.
After the success of last week we were flying high, but after about an hours work on the route Dave managed some literal flying - backwards off the slab and over the roof - and although he got back up to his high point, the thought of more baffling blankness, whilst moving further away from the gear, saw us retreat.
The climbing up to the high point had looked spectacular. A steep slab/corner, buried in snow, led to the first roof and a good cam. Then a good torque on the lip, allowed a big span right to reach a crack, and with feet on small edges, more good hooks could be reached over the roof.
The next section was the crux. With good gear placed to his right, Dave hooked his left axe in the roof above his head and with feet smearing on the blank slab, reached across and cammed his right axe in an invisible hold in the roof. Next with feet scrabbling for purchase he made the big span left, to a thin crack and brought his right axe across to match. This all looked desperately powerful and the closest thing I can think of to compare it to, would be trying to climb Pincushion at Tremadog, with axes!
Anyway it wasn't to last much longer.
The torquing crack he was using would only hold, while pulling out and pressing with the feet, so while letting go with one axe and trying to place a cam the inevitable happened, feet skidded down the slab, axe ripped and Dave was upside down twenty feet lower!
Reading the description, it mentions pulling over the roof using ice, and although it doesn't say this is crucial ( it wasn't for the move over the roof) it would probably mean there would be ice on the slab and that would have made a massive difference.
With our tails firmly between our legs we thought we'd just romp up Moss Ghyll and call it a day, but that proved to be an under estimation.
The first pitch of the gully we'd climbed to reach Harvest Crunch, had proved to be quite tricky when climbed direct, involving overhanging chock stones - not what you expect on a grade four.
I climbed out of the cave, through the "window" and across the infamous Collie step and up a short snow slope to a choice of exits. the obvious challenge was the direct, Collier's chimney, this gets V5 so it can't be hard, can it?
The chimney slants up at about eighty degrees and the left wall was coated in a thin veneer of verglas, two chock stones are jammed, one at thirty feet - that I could see a nut behind - and one about twenty feet above that. There was no protection until the jammed nut so I squeezed myself in and tapped my way slowly upwards with difficulty. There was little room to swing the axe or kick the feet so the verglas had to be lightly chipped until you had an edge that you could pull on and it was with much relief that I clipped the wire. Above, more straight forward climbing, around the chock stones led to the upper gully and the top.
So Harvest Crunch. VII 9. I'd say hard for the grade compared to other sevens, but with very small cams the gear would be alright, and if the slab had just 5mm of ice it would have made the difference, so maybe just about right.