Thursday, 10 April 2008

And That Was The Winter That Was

Paradise: Sam Loveday on Kipling's Groove, Gimmer Crag, April 2007.

It's still buried, the Ben. The snow just refuses to budge and climbers are still ticking the classic ice routes that streak those hallowed walls. Despite this, however, I've pretty much taken the decision to hang up the tools for another year. I say 'pretty much' because if some routes that I'm hankering for come in I'll head up, but I just can't be bothered with the continual condition checking anymore.

I've got a circuit of websites that I constantly check whenever I go online: the SAIS avalanche forecast, MWIS weather forecast, BBC weather forecast, UK Climbing winter forum, Abacus Mountaineering, Highland Guides, Mountain Plan, West Coast Mountain Guides. What routes are in? Will it be frozen? Will the slope release when we try to get to the route?

After four and a half months of it, I've lost interest. I just want to climb rocks in the sun. It's so mush simpler. In a way, I feel a bit guilty. I think it's because the Ben is just above town, and I'm constantly reminded that I could still be winter climbing with a passion. Maybe I'm a soft-cock. Just a half-hearted winter climber, whose running for the convenient option as soon as it shows itself, but hey. I've done most of the routes that are getting done now anyway, so there.

Rapping in to In The Pink, Ghursey Mor, Mingulay
(photo: Rik Higham)

Last year was my third winter season, and I ticked loads of the classic V,5 ice routes during the uber fat ice-fest of February and March, so I had hoped to do a load of the classic VI, 5s this time round. However, the ice hasn't been as good this year (yet) so I've had to be content with lots of mixed climbing. Don't get me wrong, mixed climbing is great, but I'd rather blat fat ice in the sun any-day.
Konrad Rawlik: Ice Jedi at work on Observatory Buttress, March 2007

So, the winter that was: a low down

Best route?
A tough one that. Maybe Menage a Trois on Beinn an Dothaidh. It's a stonking line that I'd been after for a while, was my hardest lead of the season and was climbed with a good crowd. Minus Two Gully with Sam was also a great day. Easy enough to be fast, efficient and fun, but tough and long enough to be a challenge.
Me on the crux pitch of Menage a Trois
(photo: Becky Stedham)

Worst route?
Sadly, thats an easy one. Number Three Gully Buttress is well regarded as a great grade III, but when Chris and I did it in early March it was banked out with bomber neve, was pissing snow, graupel and windy as hell. After breaking trail into Coire na Ciste in knee-deep freshies we got amongst it. Excluding belays I think I placed two runners in four pitches. It was the easiest III I've done, and because it was minging I wanted to get off the hill as soon as possible so just legged it up the route. Oh well.

Best day?
To say climbing the Old Man of Hoy in February kind of takes the piss when I'm talking about winter, but it was incredible. Once again, the people you climb and explore with make or break the whole experience. Taking Jones out on the hill and seeing her turning into a gnarly alpinist has been great too. For me, our best day out was when we climbed The Skraeling on Beinn an Dothaidh. It's a route I had fancied for a while and at IV,5 was quite the undertaking for Jones' fourth winter climb. I thought it was a great route, with some fairly meaty climbing in the crux corners for IV,5, making Jones' maneuvres all the better. Climbing 'new route style' on Number Four Gully Buttress with Gaz Davies was also great. It has to be said, climbing into the unknown is the ultimate feeling. When you know the grade of a route you have a fair idea of how you're going to get on. With no grade comes no expectation, and, for me, with no expectation comes confidence - it'll go or it won't.
Gaz Davies on Poseidon Corners, No. 4 Gully Buttress, January 2008

Worst days?

Being cheesy, they say there’s no such thing as a bad day. To an extent I guess that’s true – there’s always something to take away, even if it’s that you should have stayed in bed. There were a few times this season when I’ve been sat in a car park as the rain lashes down or the wind howls, and in my heart known that leaving the warmth of the car is pretty daft. I guess there’s a time for optimism, throwing reason to the winds and ‘avin it in the heart of the maelstrom. There’s been a few times too when it’s gone the other way, and we’ve had to jack it in on the walk in. Those are always the worst days.

What did I learn?
Go leashless! This year I went leashless for the first time and it made a huge difference in all aspects of climbing, especially on mixed ground. Using leashes just seems daft now.

So, with about 15 routes in the bag (not counting a few days playing), 3 bailed attempts, a days skiing and 5 days avalanche service work, that is the winter that was. Bring on the summer.

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