Kentallen Glencoe

View from the forestry track

The Oban to Fort William Cycle trail seems to be one of the best kept secrets in Scotland. I only found out about it because we were staying at Kentallen right next to it. It is supposed to be a flagship trail, but there was almost no information available locally, or on the web. The trail isn't complete, but the section between Kentallen and Ballachulish is finished.

We started our ride next to the Holly Tree Hotel in Kentallen. The trail winds its way along the shores of Loch Linnhe. It emerges next to Ballachulish bridge, where you can cross over to Glenachulish. There are great view over the lake to Ardgour and Glencoe. From the end of the track it's possible to follow a forestry track from the car park in Glenachulish towards Ballachulish. The track climbs up into the glen. There are two alternatives, depending on how far up the glen you want to cycle. The track is stony in places, but quite navigable on ordinary road bikes. Be warned that the "easy" variation involves some 400ft of climbing. However, the views more than compensate for the climb!

Pap of Glencoe

We had to cycle back to Kentallen and I was a bit concerned that the children wouldn't want to go back up the forestry track. However, they had enjoyed the descent so much, they were happy to climb back up the track again.

A Walk In The Berwyns

I have wanted to visit the Berwyns for some time. Although we live quite close and I have been to Snowdonia many times, I have never walked in there. Reading through the Nuttall's book the Cadair Berwyn horseshoe seemed to be the best walk.

Although the weather had been quite sunny for most of the week, it was raining as I drove past Oswestey. I arrived at Llanrheader y Mochnant and spent some time looking at the map trying to work out exactly how to get to Cwm Maen Gwynedd. Eventually I worked out that I needed to go back into the centre of the village and take a sharp right past the pub. A short distance further on I had to reverse back to make the very sharp left turn onto the road leading into Cwm Maen Gwynedd.

I drove up the valley on the look out for the farm called Tyn y Ffrid where the walk started. I hadn't realized that there were two farms with that name in the valley. Eventually I worked out that the walk started at the second farm near to an old red telephone box. There was a large "No Parking" notice next to the farm and I ended up driving all the way along a dirt track at the end of the valley before find somewhere to turn round. There is a small layby by the stream and close to Tan y Fridd farm where I managed to park.

It was almost twelve o'clock by the time I set off and the weather was far from promising. Cadair Berwyn was covered in cloud and there was a cold wind blowing.

I made my way past the telephone box and along the track through Maes farmyard. I slogged up the slope along the edge of the wood to the summit of Mynydd Tarw. I paused at the summit shelter by the corner of the wood to take some photographs. There were good views over Cheshire and Shropshire, but since there was a very cold wind blowing so I didn't stop for long. Part way along the ridge towards Foel Wen it started to sleet, so I stopped to put on my cagoule. The ridge was clear of cloud, but even in mist the route finding would be easy - just follow the line of the fence.

I passed the sharp rock crest of Foel Wen South top and made my way over to the flat main summit of Foel Wen. The path wasn't too wet and the ground hardly eroded by the passage of walkers. However, I imagine if these mountains ever became a s popular as Snowdonia or the Peak District the ridge would soon turn into a quagmire.

I plodded on up to the summit of Tomle, which was marked by a small white quartz cairn by the corner of the fence. The cloud over Cadair Berwyn had begun to lift as I continued walking along the fence and began the final pull up towards the summit ridge.

The cloud was just clear of the ridge as I walked along towards the trig point. I couldn't pick out the Snowdonia mountains, but could see the Arenings and Rhinogs. As I passed the new top, I saw a couple of people sheltering in the huge windshelter. The cloud had begun to descend again as I dropped down to the col between Cadair Berwyn and Moel Sych. I followed the fence to the summit of Moel Sych, which is just beyond a couple of styles. Unfortunately, the clag had really descended and I couldn't see the view. I retraced my steps back to the col and began descending the gully towards Llyn Lluncaws. There was a small patch of snow at the top. Below I could see the two people from the summit shelter.

I followed the fence over to Moel yr Ewig and then on to the North West top of Godor. There is a faint path, but it was very wet so I had to take to the tussocky grass. There were a couple of peat groughs, which reminded me of the Peak District. The going improved as I got towards to summit of Godor.

From the top the way down isn't obvious. I walked down over the fields through a series of open gates until I reached the track at the bottom. It seemed a long way along the track back to the road, I would have been better descending more to the west. However, it was only a short way back down the hill to the car, where I changed my wet socks and trousers while boling some water for a cup of hot chocolate.

First Pinnacle Rib Tryfan

Base camp at Gwern y gof Uchaf.

After the wettest June and July that anyone can remember the sun finally came out in the last few days of July. I had promised John and Ella that we could camp go climbing in North Wales. We didn't set off from home until after six o'clock, so by the time we had eaten at the Bryn Tyrch in Capel Curig the sun had begun to set. We camped at Gwern y Gof Uchaf just beneath Tryfan. We were surrounded by clouds of midges as we put the tent up and were glad to get into our sleeping bags.

On Tuesday morning there was hardly a cloud in the sky. I cooked some bacon on the Trangia and started to pack the rucksack. Looking into the rucksack I realized that my boots, harness and gear weren't in there. I '''always'' leave them there, so I won't need to think about having to pack them. However, I vaguely remembered that on our last trip to the Lakes I had packed my gear into a different sack.

Tipping everything out, I found John and Ella's harnesses and boots and Anne's harness. I tried Anne's harness and managed to get it on with a bit of a squeeze. There were three Rocks and a couple of quick draws clipped to the outside of the rucksack, which would have to do. The most annoying thing was not having any rock boots. I hate climbing in big boots and even worse the only footwear I had with me was some ill fitting trainers.

It was obviously going to be hot, so I packed plenty of drinks and we set off over the back of Little Tryfan to climb up to Heather Terrace. When we arrived at the Terrace there was no one else climbing, so we sat down to eat an early lunch. Just as we had finished eating a couple and their daughter arrived and announced that they were going to climb First Pinnacle Rib too, but they would be happy to let us go first.

Finding the start of climbs on Heather Terrace can be tricky. Luckily FPR is just the other side of ?? Gully from Gashed Crag, which is easily identifiable by the "Gash". To make life even easier the route has IPR scratched into the rock. This "feature" was there when I first climbed the route in the early 1980's. I suspect that someone must have renewed the scribblings over the years, or it would have weathered away.

Just as I was getting ready to climb a third group arrived, but seeing that FPR was going to be rather crowded they moved off to another route.

The first pitch goes up a slabby corner and round under an overhang. In sticky boots this is easy, but in bendy trainers and carrying a heavy rucksack it proved to be a bit tricky. I managed to get in one of my three Rocks, which I hope would slow me down a bit if I fell off. The children haven't yet been taught how to belay, so at the moment all our climbing is strictly of the "Leader must not fall" variety. Luckily, one of the other party offered to belay me up this section.

I flopped onto the first ledge and brought John and Ella up to me. We climbed in fairly short pitches of about 25 metres, partly because I was climbing on a single rope doubled and it makes it easier to keep an eye on the children if you do short pitches.

Difficulties can be avoided on much of the route if you wish. However, tackling the ridge directly maintains the interest of the climb throughout. When I have climbed FPR in the past, I was climbing regularly and was much younger and fitter. In the past I had rushed up the route as fast as possible and not taken enough time to enjoy it. Climbing much more slowly with the children, in perfect weather, allowed me to appreciate the route.

Eventually we arrived below the Yellow Slab. This is a lot harder than anything else on the route. There are a couple of balancy steps on very polished rock, leading to a huge jug. Definitely not the sort of thing you want to do in bendy trainers with a big sack.

Luckily you can sneak round along a ledge to the right and climb a short groove (graded Severe) to avoid the Yellow Slab (a mere Diff). The groove wasn't too easy either. The bottom few feet were damp and devoid of many footholds that bendy trainers would work on. Fortunately, there is a nice finger jamming crack in the back of the groove and a few stiff pulls with slithering feet brought better holds in reach.

Ella on the final pitch.

The final pitch is superb. A long airy rib with big holds just where you need them. If you haven't had enough, you can finish up Thompson's Chimney to the summit. This isn't anything like as horrible as it looks. However, we decided to avoid it anyway and scramble up to Adam and Eve. This was John and Ella's first three thousand foot mountain - what a great way to get to the summit.

We descended to Bwylch Tryfan and then straight down a horrible scree slope to the Cwm. By now my feet were really painful and I hobbled back down to the camp site, while John and Ella strode off in front.

Summit next to Adam and Eve.

We chucked everything in the back of the truck and went back to the Bryn Tyrch before driving home. Just to prove that my trainers were really uncomfortable, both my big toe nails turned black and dropped off after a month or so. At least the trainers were cheap, so I didn't mind consigning them to the dustbin where Anne immediately took them out as they had plenty of wear left in them.

Benighted on the Ben.

It was early January when six of us travelled up to Scotland in Mark’s Sherpa van. Arriving in Glencoe in the early hours we crept into the bunkhouse at the Kingshouse and collapsed on the floor, intending to make an early start. Inevitably we overslept but we still managed to leave without paying, creeping past Big Ian who was watching breakfast TV in his house.

There was the usual chaotic sort out of gear at the golf course before we began the slog up to the hut. Inevitably I put my foot through the frozen crust of peat at the start of the path which resulted in a cold wet foot.

Initially I managed to keep in front of the super fit Caveman, but as we approached the dam, he got in front and left me trailing. It had been a cold, clear night with a fine dawn but a storm was forecast later in the day. Reaching the hut I collapsed outside and waited for Andy Platts to catch up. Fortunately, he was even more unfit than me, so I had a good rest.

When Andy arrived it had started to cloud over and flakes of snow were falling. Caveman and Martin to set off for Vanishing Gully. After some discussion Andy and I decided that we would go for Glover’s Chimney. Neither of us had done it before and it was a relatively short route, albeit with the crux at the top.

We geared up next to the hut on the pretence that gear you are wearing always weighs less than the same gear carried in your rucksack. It had been freezing hard for a couple of weeks without thawing. As a consequence the way up into Coire na Ciste was a wallow in deep powder. This was Andy’s first route since the last year (another epic in Crowberry’s Left Fork) and he was feeling the strain. Despite numerous pleas to be allowed to go down, on the pretext that he was totally knackered, I cajoled him to the bottom of the route, where he collapsed into a mini bergschrund.

I uncoiled the ropes and stuffed Mar’s bars into Andy's mouth in an attempt to revive him. My observation that although we had not yet started climbing, we were almost at the summit and so could not go back to the hut, was not well received.

Leaving Andy to sort out the ropes I wallowed over the bergschrund and managed to get established on the first pitch. The ice was very brittle and I despatched a few dinner plates down the hill to keep Andy awake. Confident that this first obstacle was only about 100 ft long I was puzzled when I ran out of rope about 30 ft from the top and was forced to belay on a couple of poor ice screws. Andy had recovered a little and made short work of seconding this pitch.

The next few hundred feet looked straightforward, but devoid of belays, so I asked Andy to start climbing when the rope went tight. The weather had closed in and there was a constant stream of spindrift pouring down onto us as we climbed. At the top of the easy section I went too far left and had to teeter back across a rib of rock to regain the gully.

Eventually, I arrived below the final chimney and began to look for a belay. Finally I noticed the peg sprouting from the gully wall right next to me and hurriedly tied on. I had just managed to arrange the Sticht Plate as Andy arrived. "That was a very long pitch", he said. "Yes", about 300 ft. I had to stretch the ropes a bit", I replied.

"We’ve only got this little chimney to get up and then we are at Tower Gap", I said. The crux chimney proved deceptively awkward, not helped by a lack of ice on the vital bits. I spoilt the illusion that I was confident and in control by performing an energetic mantleshelf to get onto Tower Gap and then falling down the far side. Luckily the rope drag stopped me after only a few feet.

Andy used his secret weapon, the Alpenstock, to overcome the crux. Not possessing any axes of his own he had only been able to borrow a couple of very long axes. These proved ideal for the route enabling him to reach right past the crux section and plant them firmly in the good ice at Tower Gap. "Can’t see what all the fuss was about, why didn’t you just reach up to the good ice on the top", he said as he joined me.

It was by now almost dark and speed was essential. I set off up the top section of Tower Ridge in a hurry, impressing on Andy the awful consequences of a slip into the unseen void from the ridge. There were no further difficulties and we got to the top of Tower Ridge just as it got completely dark.

"It’s O.K. I have got all the compass bearings written down in the front of the guidebook, I said. If we go to the summit we can go down the tourist track from there". Setting off on the right bearing we counted the paces but failed to find the summit. Retracing our steps on a back bearing we failed to find our way back to top of Tower Ridge, so were now totally lost.

"Oh well, never mind, if we just keep going West we should get down to the col eventually", I said cheerfully. We felt our way along the summit plateau, but eventually ran into steep ground. Mindful of an accident to a couple of friends the previous week in similar conditions we decided to bivvy.

"Let’s just dig a ledge by this boulder and sit it out till morning", I said.

"What do you mean, you have forgotten your bivvy bag!", I exclaimed. "Oh well, if I empty my sac into yours you can use it to bivvy in, it’s got a bivvy extension".

Some time later after everything was sorted out we settled down and ate the last remaining chocolate.

"Your rucksack doesn’t meet the bottom of my cag and the spindrift is blowing up my shirt", moaned Andy

"It’s incredibly boring sitting here", I muttered through my frozen beard.

"I’ve just found my hip flask and it’s half full of Grouse", I exclaimed.

A drunken couple of hours passed by as the contents of the hip flask were consumed.

"What time is it", I asked.

"About seven o’clock", said Andy.

"Oh good it will be light in a few minutes", I said.

"No it’s seven in the evening", replied Andy.

At this point I threw a wobbler and declared I was not going to sit here another 12 hours freezing to death. Andy was also really cold and readily agreed to another attempt at descent. We repacked all the gear and after a short conference decided to set off on a bearing of due South.

Staggering along by the light of the head torch we remained roped up, in the best tradition to ensure that we would both die should one of us slip. Eventually we dropped below the cloud and saw that we had emerged at one end of Glen Nevis (the wrong end).

Sometime later we reached the road. I wasn't looking forward to the five mile trudge to Fort William. However, luck was with us and a Landrover gave us a lift to the Nevis Bank Hotel where we had arranged to meet the others. Inevitably there was no sign of them but after a couple of pints the bar maid came over. "Are you two supposed to be meeting someone here". We replied that we were indeed. "Oh, good they’ve left this note for you".

Unfolding the note we read the following: "If you aren’t dead please can you go to the Police Station and tell them. We have gone to the Red Squirrel in Glencoe". Trudging round to the police station we informed them that we were still alive and then went to the chip shop. A failure to get a lift to Glencoe at midnight lead us to get a taxi and we arrived at the Red Squirrel somewhat dispirited and tired.

The others were pleased to see us and we were forced to relate our story. "Did you tell them at the Police Station you were back safely". I replied in the affirmative. "When we went to report you missing they were really good to us and made us all. cups of tea". There’s no justice.

Zero And Point Five Ben Nevis

When I first started climbing Zero and Point Five gullies were still regarded as serious and committing climbs and still had relatively few ascents. However, by the early 1980's they were being climbed regularly.

I climbed Point Five with Marian and Pippa from Sheffield. I was staying at the Inchree bunkhouse with my friend Andy and we had walked up to the CIC hut when Andy discovered that he had forgotten his crampons. Luckily for me we bumped into Marrian and Pippa who were off to climb Point Five and asked if I wanted to join them.

I agreed, but was a bit worried as I wasn't sure if I was up to the route. Marian wasn't feeling too well, but Pippa persuaded her to keep going. The first pitch was almost banked out and Pippa and I climbed un-roped to the peg at the top. Pippa then threw down a rope and brought Marian up.

Pippa disappeared up the steep second pitch and lead out a full 50 metres of rope. Marian and I followed climbing together. Although it was very steep, the ice was good and my worries diminished as I progressed upwards. Marian was busy being sick at the belay when I arrived, but Pippa insisted that she should carry on!

I lead the second pitch and got all the way to the bottom of the overhanging corner pitch before I ran out of rope. It wasn't as steep as the first pitch, apart from the initial section. We hadn't got any ice screws and I don't remember finding any placements for nuts on my way up, so I was pleased to arrive at the pegs below the crux pitch.

Pippa lead up the overhanging corner and belayed just above, normally regarded as the crux. I didn't find it too hard as I was able to bridge wide and take most of the strain off my arms. However, I was glad that I hadn't had to lead it!

I lead the pitch above, which was about Grade III and after that we moved together. The weather on the summit was perfect, with no wind and hardly a cloud in the sky.

Pippa had parked her car at the end of the forestry road and by the time we got back the gate had been locked. However, we managed to find our way back through the old quarry tracks. before we started we had to change a wheel on the car as it had a flat tyre.

The next day Pippa and Marian went up to do Castle Ridge on the Ben, while Andy and I stayed at Inchree.

I climbed Zero with Mike Lea from Sheffield. I had driven up with Andy Cave and a crowd of other people from Sheffield. Mike was a very good rock climber, but hadn't done much winter climbing.

Knowing that the climb didn't have much in the way of belays or runners, we were climbing using a 100 metre 5mm rope doubled. I remember starting up the initial groove feeling quite apprehensive. At the top of the groove was an in situ peg. I think that most people probably belay here, but it was only about 70 ft from the start, so I decided to keep going.

The next section was a traverse right. This was probably the hardest part of the route, as there wasn't much ice on it. However, I had the peg above my head, so I shuffled across without too much trouble. After the traverse I moved up again and reached a very rounded bollard, where other people had obviously belayed. However, it looked very insecure and I could see a peg belay just below the crux ice bulge some distance above me.

About 10 feet short of the belay the rope went tight and I couldn't get any more slack. I shouted down to Mike, but he couldn't hear me properly. Unbeknown to me he had started climbing as I had reached the end of my 50 metres, which was somewhere around the very insecure looking bollard belay. Mike had now reached the peg at the top of the first groove. I kept the rope very tight in case he slipped as I was only belayed to my axes, thus he couldn't un-clip from the peg. We were now effectively soloing as, I hadn't got any runners other than the peg. Luckily there were two people at the peg belay just above me and I managed to throw them a couple of long slings, which they clipped into the peg for me. I could then let out a couple of feet of slack so Mike could un-clip from the peg and continue climbing.

Mike arrived at the belay in due course and lead over the bulge. This was short and not too hard. Above the bulge me moved together for the last thousand feet, following the two climbers who had clipped my sling through the pegs. It was a perfect day with no clouds in the sky and the slope above the bulge was perfect neve. Taking great care not to make a mistake we eventually emerged onto the summit.

Western Gully Black Ladders

"This is going to be a straight forward climb with no epics or benightments. I’ve done the route before, it’s grade IV and we are going to make a really early start, so there is no chance of getting benighted." Knowing grins were exchanged by the others.

The route in question was Western Gully in North Wales. The climb is on a crag called The Black Ladders in the heart of the Carneddau. Next morning I kept my resolution about making an early start and we were away from the hut by 5.00 am. Also, I had a very strong partner in the form of the Caveman, so success and descent before the pubs closed seemed assured. We drove round to Bethesda and began the long walk up Cwm Llafar.

The first setback happened when we arrived at the bottom of the gully at about 7.00am, to find everyone else had also got up early. I suppose the route’s inclusion in "Cold Climbs" accounts for its popularity as people add it to their tick lists. Two parties were already established on the first pitch with numerous others waiting their turn at the bottom and we could hear sounds of others above. Andy and I geared up surreptitiously to one side of the crowd and when we were ready played our trump card. Cheating outrageously Andy lead up the steep frozen turf to the left of the first ice pitch. The crowd fell silent and stared at us, amazed that we should manage to outflank them by this simple subterfuge. Andy reached the first stance having successfully overtaken two parties and I climbed up quickly to reach him. We were now near the front of the queue and moving together in the easier section that followed, we overtook all but one pair.

Catching up with the two at the front of the queue just below a steep section, I belayed and brought Andy up to me. The others had managed to get their ropes into a bit of a tangle, so we had to wait while they sorted things out. Looking up at the continuation of the gully, there was hardly any build up of ice with only a veneer of verglas and dusting of powder snow covering the rocks. Eventually the way was clear and Andy set off up the next pitch. This was a narrow chimney, with awkward moves to exit at its top. Climbing in his usual fast and efficient style he had soon reached the next stance. When it was my turn to follow, I found the ground anything but straight forward and struggled on the moves to leave the chimney.

The team in front of us were now at grips with the famous chockstone pitch. The leader had inserted a peg upside down in the roof and was busily knocking all the ice off the steep wall, which is the key to avoiding the chock. Eventually he overcame the chock but took even longer to get up the remainder of the pitch, while we stood in the icy cold of the cave under the chock. His second struggled on the first section out of the cave, demolishing the remaining ice and disappearing into the chimney above. Eventually it was my turn. I climbed easily up to the peg, but several attempts to climb the wall to one side of the chockstone were repulsed by the lack of the ice and resulted in clattering descents to the floor of the cave. Eventually I managed to fix a wire in a crack in the roof formed by the chock and using this for aid I reached over and jammed my axes in the crack over the chockstone and heaved myself up round it. I was now in a very precarious position in a narrow chimney, but a few feet above the chimney widened out and after a few rapid moves I was able to wedge myself in a secure position. It was only then that I noticed a peg below my feet just above the chockstone and which I had failed to see in my previous haste. There was no prospect of other runners nearby so I reversed the previous delicate moves and reached down, managing to clip the peg at full stretch. Regaining my wedged position I contemplated the ground above. The narrow chimney continued with just a glaze of ice on the walls, enough to make normal rock climbing impossible but not enough to allow for the use of Chacals and crampons. I did not fancy tackling any of this without some more runners but the only obvious crack was too small to take my one channel peg. Communicating my sentiments to Andy he asked the two women who had just arrived in the cave if we could borrow one of their pegs. While the peg was being sent up to me I could hear Andy was holding a conversation with the two women; "Do you know Dai Lampard then?" "Yes quite well, he’s my husband."

Their smallest peg proved to be too big and eventually I tied a sling off around a thin icicle, convincing myself that it would hold my weight if I fell. However, there was now another problem. The chimney was too constricting to climb with a sack. Further contortions enabled me to remove it and hang it from the icicle. Struggling to climb above the sack, the ice shattered and all four points of contact parted company at once. I began to slither down the chimney, the icicle thread broke as my weight came onto it and I was heading down over the chockstone onto the boulders underneath. Luckily I managed to hook the crab clipped to the peg above the chock with my Chacal. This arrested my fall but I was now tangled up in the ropes and the sack. After tussling for a few minutes with the tangle of gear, while hanging on with one arm I managed, to get sorted out and was once again wedged in the chimney. A further session of digging out likely looking cracks resulted in a hex hammered into a crack at the back of the chimney. Once again I hung the sack off this and set off up the chimney. This time I was more careful with the ice and reached a better thread round an icicle about twenty feet above. Above this the difficulties eased slightly, the ice got thicker and I was able to rest. At the top of the chimney there was an awkward move out onto a slab but a hairline crack provided a good placement for a knife-blade. There was one final small bulge and I was in a second cave with massive spike belays to which I thankfully lashed myself .

Looking back down the gully I could see all the other parties had given up and were abseiling off. I took in the rope and started to bring Andy up. He climbed up one one rope, whilst I took in the other with the sacks attached.

"You had better get your head torch out," he said as he arrived, "It’ll be dark soon" and looking at my watch I saw it was nearly four o’clock! We had been on the route for eight hours, although it seemed far less 1.

The next pitch was quite short up a slab onto easier ground above. In normal conditions the slab is covered in ice and considred the crux of the route, but today it was just dusted with powder snow, so even harder. Andy balanced up to a peg, crampons scraping on the rock and then mantleshelved onto the peg. A few more delicate moves above this and the climbing was straightforward. When my turn came to follow I was impressed with this lead and I found the climbing very insecure.

By this time I was completely knackered, so Andy offered to lead on. The next pitch was straightforward, with only one awkward boulder to surmount. Above this the climbing became easier and we moved together up the upper section to the top. As I emerged onto the summit Andy walked forward and shook my hand.

It was a starlit night with perfect visibility. "There should be no problem getting off. All we do is to follow the cwm round keeping it on our left and then go down the easy slope to the bottom of the crag," I said. We set off keeping close to the edge, so as not to lose the way. After some time I was convinced that we had reached the point at which we should descend into the Cwm. However, I had nagging doubts, there were lights in the valley below where there had no right to be any and the steep descent that I remembered was an easy angled slope. We kept on going, eventually reaching the bottom, but it did not look anything like Cwm Llafar. After walking down the Cwm for some time Andy shouted that he had found a tarmaced track. Suddenly I knew where we where, we had descended into the Ogwen valley and those lights in front of us were in fact the hut!

Soon we reached the hut and walked in to hoots of derision. This was the second week in a row that I had got benighted and walked off the wrong side of the hill!



Reading the newest version of Welsh Winter Climbs and looking at various web pages, it seems as though I had climbed the direct variation of this pitch, which is now graded VI. No wonder it seemed so hard!

Snells Field Chamonix

For many years impecunious British Alpinists camped on this field just outside Chamonix. It wasn't an official site. The field was owned by M. Snell, who owned the Snell Sport shop in Chamonix. From time to time the Gendarmerie would raid the site and move people on. For a few days people wold migrate to the woods outside Argentiere before slowly filtering back to Snells field. If you had gone off climbing and left your tent on the field the police would sometimes "arrest" your tent and take it back to Chamonix with them. You would then have to go down to the gendarmerie and ask them to give it back to you.

Just opposite to Snell's there was an "official" site called Pierre d'Orthaz. The owner was very nice and just charged what he thought you could afford to pay. A couple of people even got to stay for free.

I haven't been back to Chamonix since the mid 1990's and I understand that Snell's field has now been built over.

Route Major

The Summer of 1986 was a good one in the Alps, with a long period of settled weather early in the season. I was camping at Pierre d’Orthaz opposite to the infamous Snell’s Field. Unlike Snell’s, Pierre d’Orthaz has the advantage of being legal and thus one’s gear is not likely to be transported to the Gendarmerie whilst away on a Route.

I had been in Chamonix for a few weeks so, had already climbed several routes and was quite fit and well acclimatised. I have always wanted to climb a Route on the Brenva Face of Mont Blanc. The meteo was predicting at least two days of good weather, so this seemed like a good time to try. The Brenva Face is one of the largest and most impressive in the Alps. Situated on the Italian side of Mont Blanc, framed between the Brenva Ridge and Eckpfeiler Buttress, it is 1.5 km long and the face itself is 4000ft high. Since it faces directly into the morning sun an early start is essential to get above the seracs, which dominate the lower part of face and to escape the avalanches which sweep this part of the face during the day.

The face was originally explored by T. Graham Brown with various partners in the 1930’s. During this period he climbed the three routes for which the face is famous; Route Major, Sentinelle Rouge and The Pear. All three routes are impressive tackling the biggest face on the mountain and leading directly to the summit. There are no great technical difficulties, but all the routes are exceptionally long, at high altitude and there is considerable objective danger from avalanches. I particularly wanted to climb Route Major which takes the great snow/ice buttress defining the left hand side of the Great Couloir in the centre of the Brenva face.

I had arranged to do the climb with Gareth, a Scot, who had climbed the Brenva Ridge a couple of weeks earlier with some other friends of mine. In fact they had been planning to climb Route Major but after getting lost trying to find the hut had failed to traverse far enough across the bottom of the face (a common mistake) and had ended up on the Brenva Ridge. Near the top of the Route, one of the party who was not acclimatised had got into difficulties and it had taken them a very long time to climb the final slopes leading to the summit of Mont Blanc. Just below the summit they had also come across two other Brits who had climbed the Cecchinel Nomine route on the Eckpfeiler buttress. One of them was in a bad way, had collapsed from exhaustion in the snow and had to be helicoptered off, but that is another story.

We decided that the best way to tackle the climb was to travel light and climb quickly, moving together, to minimise our exposure to objective dangers. We took only one 9 mm rope, two rock pegs and two ice screws. We had plenty of food, most of which we ate at the hut before starting the climb. I took no spare clothes and the only item in my rucksack during the climb was a cagoule. The climb would be a three day trip from Chamonix. An afternoon to reach the hut climbing the face that night, while it was frozen into immobility, followed by a bivouac in the Vallot hut just below the summit of Mont Blanc. The next day we would descend the ordinary route to Chamonix.

Just to gain access to the Brenva Face from Chamonix was quite an expedition in itself. The first stage was to take a telepherique to the summit of the Aig. du Midi (easy on the legs but hard on the wallet) and descend into the Vallee Blanche and traverse it to one of the two huts (the Ghiglione and the Fourche) that give access to the face. Finding the huts was a problem in itself. Both are situated on a ridge which overlooks the Brenva Face, but are very difficult to locate from below. I had been to both previously but I never knew which hut I was going to end up at until I had actually arrived there. Following some tracks on the glacier, we climbed up a steep icy gully to the crest of the ridge and finally arrived on the balcony of the Fourche Hut about six in the evening.

The hut itself was very small sleeping only 8-10 people, but the view was outstanding. Leaving the hut was particularly exciting, an abseil from the balcony onto the glacier below being necessary. It was definitely not a place for sleepwalkers. Standing on the hut balcony the whole of the Brenva Face was clearly visible. The route from the hut crosses the upper part of the Brenva Glacier, climbs over Col Moore and then traverses the bottom of the face until below the large rock tower, the Sentinelle Rouge. Climbing up slopes of snow and ice to the Sentinelle Rouge, the route then traverses the Great Couloir to reach the foot of the great rock-ice buttress which forms the substance of the route. All this section is very exposed to avalanches and must be completed at night. The buttress provides the most difficult climbing, but is safe from objective danger and leads to the summit ridge between Mont Blanc de Courmayeur and Mont Blanc.

The hut was full of Italians who were intending to climb the Brenva Ridge with a guide and also two other Brits who were planning to climb the Frontier Ridge on Mont Maudit. We managed to squeeze into a corner near to the door, next to a couple of inscrutable Japanese. We got our food out and began to cook. This annoyed the Italians who complained that the stove made too much noise and was keeping them awake. Ignoring the protests we carried on cooking and stuffed ourselves with spaghetti and baked beans. Just after we had finished and the Italians had returned to their slumbers, a couple of Scottish lads arrived and began to cook their food further rousing the Italians’ ire. We had a brief conversation with the two Japanese and discovered that they also planned to climb Route Major the next morning.

It was impossible to rest in the crowded hut so we abandoned our plan of staying in the hut until 2.00 am and left at 11.00 pm instead. Someone had kindly left a rope hanging from the balcony of the hut, but it was only after abseiling to the end of it that I discovered that it stopped 30 metres short of the glacier. Gareth was not impressed but luckily it was too dark to see what the consequences of a slip would have meant. Some quite tricky climbing down steep ice and chossy snow lead down to a final leap over the bergschrund onto the glacier.

Roping up we started to plod across the glacier towards Col Moore. A nearly full moon illuminated our progress in the icy cold of the night and we congratulated ourselves on our good luck. However, a few minutes later, as if to spite us, the moon disappeared behind the summit of the Blanc and everything went dark. Switching on our head torches we carried on over the Col and began to traverse below the face across the avalanche prone gullies. Huge blocks of ice littered the glacier, evidence of the avalanches that fell here during the day. At this point Gareth’s head torch went out and we had to stop and take it to bits (not easy with freezing hands in the dark), but could find nothing wrong. We re-assembled it and as if by magic it started to work again. Looking back towards the hut we could see the two head torches of the Japanese as they began their descent onto the glacier.

Gareth was determined not to repeat his previous mistake and so we went what seemed like miles across the bottom of the face until we could see what appeared to be the Red Tower above us. Crossing the bergschrund to get established on the face proved tricky as the upper lip was covered in unconsolidated icing sugar. Burying my axes up to the arm pits I mantelshelved and did a belly flop onto the slope.

Shortly above the bergschrund the icing sugar changed to hard ice and we were funnelled into a wide gully. Rounding a corner we saw some small seracs above. We climbed past these by climbing a small ice ramp which split them. Above the gully became wider and an indeterminate distance above we could see what we assumed to be the Sentinelle Rouge. The climbing was quite tiring because of the hard and polished surface of the ice. Small chips of ice slithered down the slope towards us and looking down we could see the vast piles of avalanche debris at the bottom of the face.

After climbing some distance up the slope it became obvious that the rocks above us which we had thought, in our ignorance, to be sheltering us from possible avalanches were in fact big seracs and highly dangerous. The little slivers of falling ice now assumed a greater significance as we anticipated the really big one which would sweep us from the slope. We were now clearly lost, but had no alternative but to continue and soon we reached the seracs. Luckily we found an easy line climbing them by one long, but quite steep pitch.

We thought that we might be out of danger now, but our illusion was shattered as above us we could see a third even larger row of seracs. Climbing over some smaller stuff we arrived at the base of the main barrier. It was my lead and I was distinctly worried as I began to work my way up the steep ice. The climbing was very steep and the ice hard and dinner plating. I had no way of knowing if I would be able to reach less steep ground and a belay. Fortunately I reached the top of the serac with about 10ft of spare rope. Seconding this pitch was just as nerve racking for Gareth as the belay was a single ice screw, so the rope offered only an illusion of security.

Once on top of the serac we could see a rocky ridge up to our left and decided to make for this, thinking that we would be safe on its crest. The slope seemed to go on for ever as acutely conscious of the need for speed we climbed towards the rocks. Eventually we reached the foot of the buttress and found an easy gully leading to the crest. Safe at last we paused for a good look around. Suddenly everything clicked into place as I could see the Brenva Ridge far below us. We had climbed the couloir and seracs to the right of Route Major and were now above all the difficulties and out of danger.

Far below us we could see the head torches belonging to the parties beginning their ascent of the Brenva Ridge. It was two o’clock in the morning and we had managed to climb 4000ft of difficult ground: far from being slow, as we had thought, we had been climbing extremely fast!

Gareth was very annoyed at having got lost on the Route twice in succession and we sat down to discuss what to do next. I was equally annoyed about getting lost but more relieved that we now knew where we were and were finally off the face. It was still quite a way to the summit up a long and tedious snow slope which we both knew was hard going at this altitude. Disillusioned with not having found the correct line, one alternative was to descend the Brenva Ridge back to the hut, enabling us to return to the fleshpots of Chamonix that afternoon. This route would be sheltered from avalanches if the sun hit face before we had descended. We started down and lost height rapidly. Close to the bottom of the ridge I suggested descending a gully on one flank down to the glacier to save time instead of going all the way to the end of the ridge. When we reached the foot of the gully we discovered that we could not get over the bergschrund and were forced to traverse along the base of the Brenva Ridge to a point where the bergschrund narrowed. This lead us directly beneath the seracs over the Gussfeldt Couloir! Jumping the bergschrund we ran down the slope below and out of the fall line to safety.

Plodding back across the glacier we were treated to a magnificent sun rise over Mont Maudit and to complete our catalogue of errors we ended up at the Ghiglione instead of the Fourche hut. Shortly after arriving at the hut there was a tremendous noise and rushing outside we saw a massive avalanche from the Pear seracs sweeping the route we had been climbing. We retired to bed suitably chastened for a well deserved sleep.

Later on in the day as we left the hut to go back down to Chamonix I had a good look at the Brenva Face and saw that while we had been sleeping there had been another avalanche from the seracs above the Gussfeldt Couloir, under which we had traversed on our descent.

The walk back up the Vallee Blanche was extremely tiring and we only just caught the last telepherique down to Chamonix. When we got back to Pierre d’Orthaz the lads told us that two people had been killed on Route Major the previous night and they thought it must have been us! Luckily we had got back before they had sold our gear.

The next day we wandered into the Guides Bureau and looked at the definitive Routes book. It seemed no one had climbed our line before so it seemed that we had done a new route by mistake, although I doubt if anyone will wish to repeat it. We asked about the two people who had been killed. The Guide said that two Japanese had been killed near the great buttress by an avalanche at about the time we should have been there if we had left the hut at the planned time.

Devils Kitchen Cwm Idwal

It was one weekend early in February and I had driven over to Wales alone since I was intending to stay for a week and I had arranged to meet Dave in the Glan Aber Hotel in Betwys y Coed. Arriving at the pub at about 10 o’clock with a thirst it seemed that that there was no bitter only lager or cider. To add insult to injury there were no crisps or nuts and after a pint of fizzy lager I was about to leave when Dave and Suzanne walked in. After another pint we drove up to the Towers Outdoor Pursuits centre where one of Dave’s mates was working. There were no students in residence because of the teachers industrial action and so we were able to stay in nice warm beds for the night rather than dossing on the floor.

In the morning we made a fairly early start and left the Centre at about eight o’clock. The plan was to drive over to Bethesda and do a route on Black Ladders. Our early start had its reward and we managed to squeeze into the last parking space by the waterworks saving a walk along the road. Gearing up we set off along the track but even in the shelter of the valley the wind was quite strong although the chief obstacle to progress was the condition of the snow. Although there had been a big rescue earlier in the week to recover the bodies of two unfortunate climbers caught in an avalanche all tracks had drifted over. This was knee deep with a thin breakable crust which resulted in slow floundering progress. After half an hour it was obvious that it was going to take about four hours just to reach the crag and any route would require a bivouac. Exchanging a few words we turned back towards the car with the intention of driving back up to Ogwen for a route on the Glyders.

Unable to park at Ogwen Cottage we pulled in at the layby below Bochlywd Butress. Our early start had by now turned into our more usual late start albeit after an early rise. However, this was a positive advantage in the present conditions and we were able to follow a well ploughed trail up towards Llyn Bochlywd. Carried away by enthusiasm we found ourselves at the front of the queue breaking the trail by the time we had walked round the lake. A strategic stop enabling a few people to overtake while we munched chocolate soon sorted this out and we were able to follow a well ploughed furrow again.

The rest of the crowd turned off towards Eastern Gully leaving us to break the trail up to the foot of Central gully ourselves. This required an immense effort as we quite often sunk into the waist and snow had to be packed down with hands then knees in order to make progress in places. Even worse another team were following us and to keep in front I suggested soloing the first pitch. Quickly fitting crampons and harness I floundered to the bottom of the gully. Once established on the first pitch it proved to have reasonable ice and rapid progress was possible.

Our rush to be first proved unecessary as the following team seeing the conditions decided to give up and go home. Once above the initial ice step conditions deteriorated again and upwards progress was made chiefly by swimming in the snow. After a short stop to warm lifeless fingers I reached the main pitch and waited on a ledge at one side of the gully for Dave. Often about 40′ high the crux was well banked up and only about 25′ high. Since it did not appear to hard when Dave arrived we decided to carry on climbing solo to save time.

I set off in front and was soon grappling with more unconsolidated sugar. The climbing was fairly easy but very insecure with the possibility of a giant glissade should you slip. In the true Scottish tradition frequent spindrift avalanches poured down on us reaching parts even well known lagers have difficulty in finding. Above the main pitch there is normally a slope of good neve but this time we found only more bottomless powder. Eventually we fought our way to the top of this section from where a narrow pinaccled ridge and short section of mixed ground lead to the top. The rocks on the ridge were decorated with fantastic coatings of ice crystals. Normally this would have been an excuse to stop and get out the camera but with the wind making even conversation difficult there was no desire to fumble with cold fingers to photograph these transient ice sculptures.

Eventually the angle of the ground in front fell back towards the horizontal and we were on top but in the wind and spindrift we could have been anywhere as our frame of reference was confined to the few feet around us. It is in such conditions that local knowledge of the mountains is invaluable. Looking at a map would be virtually impossible as it would have been snatched away and torn to shreds in an instant. However, we knew that by walking South for a short distance and then turning due East it should be possible to contour along the Northern cliffs of the Glyders and either descend alongside Bristly Ridge or if we failed to locate this descent continuing by East we would end up at Bwlch where a descent to the North back to Ogwen should be possible.

Even if we were unable to recognize any of these features walking Eastwards for long enough we would eventually descend to Capel Curig. Stumbling off into the spindrift in our own little world we set off towards the Bwylch. Snow conditions on the summit were completely different to those in the gully. The wind had blown away most of the snow leaving a hard polished surface ideal for cramponing.

Like characters in a cartoon we leaned sideways at an acute angle stumbling accross the summit plateau. Only the occaisional footstep frozen into the snow showed that others had been this way before. After some time the ground began to slope down and it seemed that we must have reached the slopes leading down to Bwylch. When the ground flattened out we began a descent down steep mixed ground to the North hoping that this would take us down into Cwm Tryfan. Dave lost his footing but braked instantly with his axe. This must be a reflex action in such conditions or an uncontrolled slide becomes inevitable. After a few hundred feet of descent we stood above a steep rock step which looked too difficult to climb down in the prevailing conditions. Unwilling to set up an abseil in the whirling spindrift we climbed back up towards the col.

Walking some distance further East we again began to descend the slope to the North. The wind was even stronger now and descending the slope which fairly steep we were leaning forwards at an alarming angle. Luckily the wind strength stayed constant or descent would have been even more difficult (but certainly faster) . Eventually we dropped below the cloud and luckily found a track which we followed for some distance. Even though we were now sheltered from the wind and visibility had improved our exact position was uncertain. If we had gone far enough East before descending it was possible that the road below was the A4086 and we would face a long walk back along the road via Capel Curig to Ogwen. However, a brief clearing of the clouds revealed the snow plastered East face of Tryfan on our left establishing our position in Cwm Tryfan and all we had to do was to flounder down to the road and walk a short distance back to the car.

The next morning we had reverted to our normal late start and I drove alone down to the Devils Kitchen to look at conditions. The snow was still deep and the wind had drifted over the tracks from the previous day, so the walk up was hard going. Just as I arrived at the bottom of South Gully the cloud lifted a little and revealed the crag plastered in crystals of hoar frost. The plan was to solo up Central Route and look at the main pitch of South Gully. Some time was spent wallowing in bottomless snow on Central Route before deciding to go and climb the bottom pitch of South Gully which looked in quite good condition and is quite easy. If the top pitch looked to hard it would be possible to escape into the upper reaches of Central Route or abseil back down to the bottom.

The ice was in good condition with the rubbery consistency which often prevails in a slight thaw giving solid first time placements and I soon arrived at the bottom of the main pitch. This was in a similar condition and although the ice looked quite thin it was good. On this day the best route lead under the overhang out onto a steep wall on the right and over a bulge to easier ground. Although this pitch is only about 80′ long it makes up for its lack of length by its steepness. Feeling very apprehensive I made a few tentatative moves. The act of climbing summoned the necessary commitment to continue and the discipline of stay calm, keep going and do not fall off asserted itself. The degree of commitment needed to climb such pitches on your own (at least for me) is far greater than with partner even when , as in the present situation, protection is non existant . Just the presence of another person seems to give a feeling of security.

Concentrating hard the pitch soon passed and I arrived in the easy upper gully which was full of more of the ubiquitous deep powder. Too lazy to trudge up the remaining easy but long snow slopes I abseiled from an in situ peg and sacrificing a peg of my own I made a second abseil back to the foot of the climb.

There was still plenty of daylight left and time for another climb so I walked over to the start of Chicane gully. Normally this starts up a snow filled chimney but today there was a fine water ice pitch with a party part way up it with another party already on the second pitch. I sat down to wait at the bottom but the leader of the lower party was having trouble with the steep section of the first pitch. Water was running down from a “Sword of Damocles” hanging down from the left side of the gully and giving him a cold shower. Unwilling to commit himself to climb over a bulge he was trying to work how to reverse down the pitch and I suggested that he placed he placed an ice screw to safeguard his descent. Although he managed to place a Snarg the ice was hollow and it was only of limited security but he was able to climb down safely. After he had arrived back on the ground I offered to take a rope up for them.

Tying on I climbed rapidly up to the bulge and placed another useless Snarg. Planting both the axes over the bulge I started to move up. Just as I was pulling hard on both axes one placement pulled out and I got a fine view of Llyn Idwal swinging first one way and then the other as I swung around on the one remaining axe. Sorting myself out and re establishing a few more points of contact I was soon over the bulge onto less steep ice. Somewhat shaken I looked round for some rock protection which of course was non existent. Although the climbing was no longer steep the ice was very hollow with large pieces dinner plating off and I was very pleased to reach the security of an in situ peg and nut at about 100ft. The leader of the party above was dislodging large chunks of ice and as I was partly sheltered I belayed where I was rather than climb the extra 20′ to a more comfortable but exposed stance. With the extra confidence of a rope Pete was able to climb the bulge easily and soon arrived at the belay. I then lead a short pitch to the proper stance and brought Pete up.

Although the second pitch is not hard I could see why I had been bombarded by ice dislodged by the party above. The ice in the initial groove fell off almost as soon as it was touched and progress was made by bridging on the rock underneath. The snowslope above this groove was waist deep in unconsolidated powder but fortunately I was able to follow the trench excavated by the previous party. The guidebook description of poor belays at the end of these pitch was indeed true and a prolonged search revealed only a poor flat topped spike. Pete followed swimming up the final slope and as I stood up to take the gear off him the sling around the spike slid off. The climb normally finishes up a groove above the second stance but not wishing to try this in the present poor conditions I traversed for a long easy but still worrying pitch to reach an easy ramp on the left. This lead into the final easy slopes of South Gully and to the top of the Kitchen. Traversing along the rim of the cliffs we were soon at the cairn which marks the top of the normal path and dropping down we were soon out of the wind and cloud heading for a well deserved tea at the Ogwen tea shack.

Crowberry Left Fork

It was the end of February and the weather had been superb for weeks (if you wanted to go Winter climbing). Taking advantage of these all too rare conditions we were off to Scotland for a week, but there was a slight problem since one member of the team had decided not to come only half an hour before we left. A visit to the local climbing shop (well known source of climbing partners) and a few frantic telephone calls later we managed to fill the spare place in the car with Andy Cave and set off from Sheffield.

After a brief stop in Barnsley to collect some of Andy’s gear, I made the first navigational error of the holiday and got onto the wrong road over the Pennines. Driving around in various directions for a while and finding the roads blocked with snow, we eventually located the Woodhead road. Our late departure meant that we did not arrive in our intended bivi site until 3:00 am on Saturday morning. I shall not reveal the exact location of this three star pit to avoid overcrowding in future 1. It is enough to say that it contains all facilities including free electric heating and hot water.

Reluctant to quit such a comfortable spot despite the perfect weather we did not stir from our pits until 8:30 in the morning and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the Onich Hotel before continuing on to Glencoe. We parked under the Buchaille near Jacksonville. It was now 10 o’clock and it was obvious that we were the last to arrive. The hordes of other climbers heading for the mountain could be seen crossing the moor and dotted around the hill. After a quick glance at the guidebook we decided to go for Crowberry Gully and possibly attempt the left fork as this sounded more interesting than the ordinary route.

I was resigned to a wait at the end of a queue. However, Andy Cave was very fit and set off across the moor with the snow parting like the Red Sea in front of him. Plattso and I followed gasping in his slipstream. Such was our speed that by the time we arrived at the foot of the gully, we were second in the queue. Conditions were perfect, the gully was filled with neve and the main pitches were well banked up. Unlike normal Glencoe weather there was not a breath of wind. Out of breath and hardly able to speak we caught up with Andy as he paused for a while to put on crampons. This was accomplished all too quickly and we set off up the gully at the same fast pace. The climbing was easy and we were soon at the foot of the Thin Crack Chimney which was covered in perfect neve and easy.

We reached an situ peg belay below a short pitch leading to the Junction. It was decided to rope up and I balanced on the slope trying to extract gear from my sack whilst not dropping anything. Despite being in this situation many times before, I never seem to have learnt to gear up at the bottom of climbs. Eventually the tangle was sorted out and I lead up to a stance below the Junction where the party in front were already ensconsed. The Junction itself looked easy with the traverse well plastered.

Tying on to the in situ peg I was held a brief conversation with the two climbers already hanging from this rusty old relic. The second on this rope revealed that he had done the route once before 35 years ago. The leader was an American who admitted to 65 years and was just in Scotland for a weeks climbing. As he set off his companion mentioned that he was a retired airline pilot who was able to travel anywhere in the world first class. Turning green with envy I thought of spending wet Sundays in Yosemite instead of Stoney cafe. As I brought the other two up to the stance the jet-setting OAP was already up the icy chimney directly above the stance ignoring the easier traverse line and was soon lost to view.

Leaning out on the belay I could see the chockstone of the left-hand branch looming above. In the Cicerone guide book this is simply described as a hard, but well protected technical problem. However, the definitive SMC guidebook gives a much more inspiring description (read it for yourself). The chockstone crux did indeed look formidable and I was glad that it was not my lead. When Andy and Plattso arrived I handed over the gear and Andy started up the first pitch round a small chockstone. By this time several other teams had arrived below us intent, on the ordinary route and at one stage there were six of us suspended from the in situ peg.

One poor unfortunate who could not quite fit onto the stance felt the full benefit of the spindrift which Andy was dislodging from above. One particularly well directed shower going down his neck as he leant forward. Shouts from above indicated that Andy had gone the wrong way around the first chock and that there was a much easier through route underneath. Since reversing down to the stance was difficult, he decided to continue and after some delay was established in the spacious cave below the crux.

Following up the chock it was easy to see what had caused the delay. After an initial nasty little groove which established me a cheval on top of the chock it was necessary to attain a standing position and traverse across one wall of the gully to get established below a small overhang, above which an easy snow slope lead to a cave. The traverse across the wall involved the possibility of a plummet into the depths behind the chockstone should I come off before the overhang.

Communicating this state of affairs in a worried tone to Plattso below, he decided on the much more sensible course of untying so that I could drop the rope down to him behind the chock. Thus he would neatly avoid this section. The snow on the chock and the wall above was like sugar and I had to hook my axes behind small flakes of rock to gain any purchase. Attaining a standing position on the chock was hard and the following move to gain the gully wall even harder. Carefully scraping away snow with an axe to reveal small holds I began to teeter accross. On a couple of occasions a foothold collapsed, but I was just able to stay in balance and finally managed to get into a much more secure bridging position below the overhang. The snow above this was good and with a big heave on well planted axes I was onto the snowslope and trotting up to the cave.

Having cunningly avoided the nasty traverse, Plattso came quickly up the pitch and we all stood in the cave contemplating the crux above. This looked desperate, initially a narrow cleft lead up below the capstone, where a leftwards traverse to gain a strip of thin ice leading the capstone, to what we hoped was easy ground. The initial cleft was covered in verglas and the leftwards traverse appeared devoid of both holds and ice.

However, a large amount of in situ gear boosted confidence as Andy began climbing. Progress could be made initially by bridging up the walls, until an awkward move lead to a good resting place in a niche. From here back and footing allowed a large hold to be grasped with the right hand. Hanging from this Andy tried to reach the ice out to his left, but his crampons scraping in the verglas were unable to gain a purchase. A long sling hung down from one end of the capstone but being ethical (unlike me) he avoided using this. Eventually deciding that a point of aid was needed Andy hooked the sling with one axe and swung across to get established on the ice leading past the capstone. It was possible to rest here in classical back and footing position before the final strenuous pull around the capstone and an announcement that there was only 30 feet of easy snow to a col.

Soon the rope went tight and it was my turn to start climbing. I had decided that the first section would succumb to rock rather than ice climbing techniques, so had parked my axes in their holsters. Although I was able to climb relatively quickly with the security of a top rope, by the time I arrived in the resting position below the final capstone I had lost all feeling in my hands. I stayed crouched like a gnome contemplating my fate while I rewarmed them. Taking my axes out, I shuffled up and managed to hook the sling under the roof. Swinging across onto the ice I attempted to pull up but my rucksack had become entangled on something behind me (modern sacs with side tensioning straps are definitely not made for thrutching about in icy chimneys) and I could move neither up or down. After requesting a tight rope a few minutes of random thrashings followed which eventually dislodged me and the sac and I pulled gasping round the capstone and climb up to the col.

Glad to escape I waited whilst Plattso began to climb. I had left in a few pieces of gear to assist his progress ( being too gripped to remove them myself). Various gruntings could be heard from below as Plattso thrutched up the slippery slot. Eventually we heard a louder grunt and interpreted this as a request for a tight rope. Unfortunately, Plattso was at the wrong end of the difficult traverse to reach the sling with the rope going horizontally away from him round the chockstone. Predictably the tight rope pulled him off and with a loud shout of “You bastards” and an impressive clatter he swung across under the capstone. This manoeuvre had left him out of reach of the strip of ice underneath the capstone and some hefty winching was necessary to bring him over the top. Eventually a pair of axes waving like tentacles appeared over the overhang, soon followed by the rest of Plattso. Like me, interment in the icy slot below had frozen his hands and he spent some time rolling in agony up on the col with the hot aches, while the circulation returned. No sympathy was forthcoming from the rest of the party who produced cameras to photograph the spectacle.

Our knowledge of the topography of the mountain was such that we thought the climb emerged low down on Curved Ridge ( in fact it comes out at Crowberry Tower) and that the summit was still miles away. So we were pleasantly surprised to reach the top after only a few hundred feet and celebrated by lounging around in the sun before ambling back to the car and a well deserved pint.



Some 20 years later I can reveal that it was the station waiting room at the Bridge of Orchy.