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SATOPANTH EXPEDITION: 1st - 29th Sept 2010: Our expedition to this iconic 7000er in the Gangotri massif of the Garhwal Himlaya was plagued by the tail-end of one of the most severe monsoon seasons in living memory. The rains had already wreaked havoc across the Indus flood-plains in Pakistan. Our 13-man team comprised leader, Martin Moran, deputy and field assistant Alex Moran, David Bingham, Steve Foster, Steve Greenhalgh, Andy Hemingway, Arun Mahajan and Steve Matterson, liaison officer Dhruv Joshi, high-altitude porters Sherpa Thukpa and Govind Singh, cook Sharan and kitchen-boy Manish. Flooded roads at Rishikesh, as we entered the foothills confirmed our fears that the monsoon was still in command of the weather. A huge rockfall blocked the Gangotri road just a couple of hours before we arrived in our coach, necessitating early disembarcation and transhipment of our kit. We commandeered two jeeps to take us to Dharali where the team dismounted and enjoyed a peaceful 25km road-walk through the pine-filled Bhagirathi gorge to Gangotri village. The next day we took a beautiful acclimatisation walk up the Kedar Ganga valley towards the spear-headed peak of Thelay Sagar. On the way back disaster struck! Steve F slipped off a muddy slab at an awkward stream crossing, plummeted down the slab for 10 metres and sustained a huge gash which stretched over 4 inches across his knee and penetrated through to the bone. Fortunately he had not severed tendons or ligaments and could bear weight on the knee. Even more fortunately Steve is a doughty character. Rather than whimper and faint - as the rest of us felt like doing - he declared himself fit to walk. With support from two sticks and close supervision he limped 800m down the exposed path to Gangotri and stitched up the wound himself (his first suturing since becoming an anaethetist). Sadly, this was a premature end to his trip and we arranged his evacuation by jeep the next morning. Our trek to base camp was enlivened by the rescue of a young porter who was knocked off the path by a falling stone and was found clinging to the edge above a 100m vertical drop to the raging Bhagirathi river. We were then dampened by a day of continuous rain as we scrambled over the endless moraines of the Gangotri Glacier. Then our spirits were redeemed by a magnificent morning when 6543m Shivling appeared through wreaths of residual mist. Our base camp was established at Vasuki Tal - a remarkable moraine-dammed lake at 4930m altitude above the Chaturangi Glacier. The rain-snow line was above 5000m and we were able to make rapid progress establishing Camp I under the north wall of Satopanth at 5400m. Above us an Indian military police team were struggling with deep snow, strong winds and poor visibility at 6000m. As they admitted defeat after two weeks of fruitless effort, we made a load carry up to Camp II at 5960m on the north ridge. We left the gear and food stashed and returned to base for a rest only to receive a dire weather forecast on our sat phone, which predicted 10 inches of rain falling over the coming weekend. Alex and Dhruv made a vital mission to retrieve our mountain boots and snow shovel and mothballed Camp I in readiness for the storm.

During 48 hours of non-stop snowfall we had to worked round the clock digging out the tents to save them from burial and collapse. When the skies cleared on Sept 20th we had four feet of powder snow at base and our plans for a summit bid lay shattered. We had a single pair of snow-shoes, and with their support we spent three days breaking a trail the 8km back to Camp I, watching a multitude of avalanches and dodging fresh debris cones. The route had only taken 4 hours before the storm! Thankfully a tiny section of marker wand was still showing, enabling us to excavate five feet of snow and salvage some 130kg of kit. Sadly the gear dumped at Camp II was declared inaccessible. A huge slab avalanche had obliterated the route and we couldn't justify the risks involved to our team in trying to reach it. We then enjoyed a magnificent trek back out. With the weather at last improving the stunning scenery was displayed to its best. Our disappointment was mitigated by the fact that our failure was totally outside our control. We had all worked well together as a team and had worked tirelessly to clear snow, drain campsite quagmires and break trails. An Austrian team took our place and used our tracks to move up for their summit attempt. They made the top 6 days after our departure but one of their team fell and was killed on the descent. We rued the fact that had we gone out two weeks later we also might have succeeded, such is the lottery of weather and conditions. However, in the face of tragedy feelings of relief and pride in a safe evacuation were uppermost in our minds on returning home.

We also owe our safe return to the Indian staff of Himalayan Run & Trek who performed superbly in difficult conditions, and dealt with all manner of adversity and discomfort with stoic good humour. Our high-altitude porters Thukpa and Govind showed immense courage and strength – digging out our mess and kitchen tents again and again during the storm. Govind proved to be a magician, gently massaging the leader's lower back muscles into life and then bringing 17 porters to our base camp within two hours of setting out on a mission that was expected to take two days! Despite threats that all our communications equipment and supplies of eggs and whisky would be confiscated at National Park and Police checkpoints our Indian staff go us through without any problem. Sharan and Manish performed heroically in the kitchen tent through the bad weather. They produced superb meals, always served well on clean plates – even though the conditions were appalling with snow, mud and water slopping around in the cook tent. How on earth did they produce light and fluffy birthday cakes and huge piles of crisp finger chips on a couple of belching kerosene stoves? It is easy expect that everything will be done efficiently and quickly on these trips. We often don’t appreciate just how much effort, skill and time goes into the logistics. We were delayed by no more than half a day on our journey home whereas other parties had been stuck by anything up to a week waiting to get transport past landslides. HRTPL director, Mr Pandey, has selected only the most resourceful and loyal staff and has trained and disciplined them to a very high standard. Even when we have a difficult and unsuccessful trip like the Satopanth expedition, I am personally so awed and emotionally moved by the duty and love shown by our Indian staff and porters that I always want to come back to India. They are wonderful human beings – showing resourcefulness, fortitude and a nobility that puts us Westerners to shame. And of course, we now have the magnificent views in our photographic collections to add to the human memories......


Alps 2010 Alps 2010

ALPINE 2010 HIGHLIGHTS Left- David McMeeking and Ian Parkinson enjoying a morning view of the Matterhorn from the Tete Blanche (3724m) 14th July 2010. Right: Sandy Scott reaching the summit of the Ober Gabelhorn: Aug 18th 2010

Our summer course season started with heatwave conditions. Temperatures between 32 and 35degC were recorded in Sion on many days in early July, freezing levels hovered above all but the highest summits and the mountains were quickly stripped of their heavy blanket of spring snow. Thankfully, these conditions ended by July 20th and cool unsettled weather ensued for the next 6 weeks. This meant that weather conditions were often difficult but snow conditions gradually recovered and were intermittently excellent in the latter part of the season.Our Mont Blanc groups both succeeded, with 7 climbers making the "three cols" ascent from the Cosmiques Hut. The Swiss Big 3 and Eiger-Matterhorn groups had more mixed fortunes. Only four out of 13 made the top of the Matterhorn, several attempts being cancelled due to snowy conditions, and the Eiger remained snow-bound and elusive all season. By contrast the 4357m Dent Blanche - our local "giant" - proved a worthy alternative and was climbed by 20 clients, mainly in tricky snowy conditions where crampons had to be work throughout the ascent. Other notable successes for our Intermediate and Grandes Courses teams were the N Face of the Gran Paradiso (AD+), Dent du Geant (AD), Ober Gabelhorn NE Ridge (AD+), Schreckhorn SW Ridge (AD+), L'Eveque Traverse (AD), Central Pillar - Pte de Tsalion (D), W Ridge - Dent de Tsalion (AD), MBlanc de Cheilon Traverse (AD-) and Triftigrat on the Breithorn (D).Our first year of running Performance Alpinism courses for our most experienced climbers faced some disruption from the weather but the three teams still managed the Schreckhorn North Ridge (D) (Martin and David Horwood) - a 19 hour day from Gleckstein to Schreckhorn Huts, Schreckhorn S Pillar (D+), a highly impressive 14 hour round trip (Andy Teasdale and Jonathan Richards), Vaucher Route (Aig du Peigne) (TD) with its brutish grade V and VIa cracks and chimneys (Martin M and Ian Carey, Jon Bracey and Richard Cooper), Kuffner Route on Mont Maudit (D) in splendid virgin snow conditions (Martin with Ian and Richard) and the "grande classique" of the East Face of the Grepon (Anthony Franklin, Stuart Mechie and the evergreen 65 year old Bill Shaw).It was delightful to have two fully booked Swiss Trekking Peaks courses this year and they achieved some fine climbs and tours. Staying at the cosy Bouquetins Bivouac Hut was undoubtedly a highlight as were ascents of the Weissmies, Wildstrubel and Pigne d'Arolla. The two week course went on to complete the Italian Haute Route with Graham Frost, crowned by a night at the 4554m Margherita Hut on Monte Rosa.Equally rewarding as the climbs achieved were the gains made by all our guests in skills proficiency and technical confidence, especially all those who took oiur one week Introductory Alpine course. The Ferpecle Glacier, though still retreating, provided an excellent "ecole de glace" with ice walls, crevasses and ravines aplenty for ice climbing, crampon techniques and crevasse rescue. Several of our clients enjoyed pushing their leading skills on local rock climbs at Arolla and Bramois and on the beautiful 13 pitch Miroir d'Argentine. Evolene's "via ferrata" tested the fear thresholds of beginners and experts alike.As always Judith was there at Chalet les Maures at the end of the day to replenish calorie deficits with a wonderful spread of cakes and scones, followed in the evening by a delicious 3 course dinner. We simply couldn't offer the high quality of holiday without the hard work and talent of Judith and our expert guiding team who showed determination and imagination in providing exciting but achievable itineraries in face of difficult weather and sometimes dangerous conditions on the mountains. Well done to you all:- Guides: Tim Blakemore, Jon Bracey, Hannah Burrows-Smith, Anthony Franklin, Graham Frost, Matt Helliker, Neil Johnson, Dave Kenyon, John Lyall, Andy Perkins, Walter Phipps, Jonathan Preston, Andy Teasdale and Ewen Todd, and to Aspirant Guides: Mark Walker, Pete Rowlands and James Thacker.

Arctic Norway: 29th May - 12th June 2010: Lyngen Alps: Our group of 9 set up camp at Svensby on Lyngen in glorious sunshine. Sadly, the good weather was due to break in 18 hours, so after 3 hours sleep the teams were up at 2.30am ready to snatch a climb before the fronts arrived. Jonathan Preston took Katherine Henderson, Neil Lindsey and David Sandham to Trollvasstinden (1440m), which they despatched in a 16 hour round trip at PD+ standard. Martin Moran and Robin Thomas took on the impressive peak of Stortinden (1512m) by its NW Ridge with Richard Ausden, Richard Hampshire and Keith Horner. This rock route proved long and engaging with a committing abseil off the forepeak. In thick fog they could find no way to get back up the forepeak on their return save for aid climbing back up abseil line! A bedraggled but triumphant party arrived back 22 and a half hours later.Stortinden is undoubtedly one of the toughest Norwegian peaks (AD+). After 36 hours of rain and snow a window of fine weather emerged on Tuesday evening and the whole group climbed up the beautiful valley of Steindalen in southern Lyngen to explore the range of undocumented peaks around the Steindal Glacier. Robin and Martin's teams ascended a 600m 50deg couloir on the south face of 1595m Nallangaisi (AD) while Jonathan took his charges on a peak-bagging venture that ended on 1511m Steindalstinden. Both groups emerged from their climbs close to midnight in piercing cold and blinding sunlight with hosts of hazy snow-wrapped peaks on all horizons, an unforgettable experience. More bad weather allowed for another respite until Friday when a hopeful forecast sent everyne out towards Istinden (1495m), just north of Lyngseidet village. Another glacier climb led into fog, wind and blowing snow and the final climb up the SE Ridge was a grand winter climb, much in the Scottish mould (PD+ or Scottish grade II). The three ascents took a total of 50 hours, emphasising the adventurous nature of Norwegian mountaineering, all a far cry from the busy Alps. We never saw another soul on the hills all week. Mountain exertions were sustained by a spacious and luxurious cabin accommodation and excellent campsite, replete with sauna, down at Svensby

Lofoten Islands: We arrived at Svolvaer in heavy rain showers but the weather promptly dried up and gave us generally fine but cold conditions all week, making campsite evenings rather chill but keeping all insect life at bay. The "Magic Isles" fully lived up to their reputation and we had an exceptional week's climbing. On Sunday we all limbered up with some single pitch rock climbing from 4 to 6- standard on the gorgeous sea-washed granite at Paradiset. Jonathan, Richard H and Neil then took off to Loftoen's second highest peak, Geitgaljern (1085m) (PD+), while Martin, Katherine and Bill Shaw enjoyed 7 magnificent pitches of fissured slab on the classic Bare Blabaer (5) at Djupfjord, one of the best VS routes anywhere. On Tuesday Jonathan's team stuck with a mountaineering theme and climbed the grade IV Pedersen Ridge, while Martin, Katherine and Bill were tempted by the majestic 400m prow of Presten, despite obvious grade 6 difficulties. The famous West Pillar (6, 11 pitches) tested the team's resolve and sense of humour to its absolute limit but they emerged unscathed in mellow sunlight at 11pm after a 12 hour ascent of one of world's great rock climbs. They then declared a rest day and took a boat trip up the Raftsund, viewing Tolkienesque peaks, sea eagles, rainbows and several dozen cruise-ship tourists bedecked with long-lenses. Meanwhile, Jonathan took Neil up the classic Piano Handlers Route (4). On Thursday we all joined forces for an excellent scramble to the top of 943m Vagakallen, the dramatic craggy peak which dominates the climbing area of SW Austvagoya. The final day saw Jonathan, Richard and Neil traverse the grade 4 Short Man's Ridge while Martin, Kath and Bill climbed the beatiful slabs of Solens Sonner (6, 4 pitches). The late evening drive back to Tromso was broken by a stop for massive pizzas and burgers and an encounter with a plain-clothes traffic policeman. Our social pleasures were enhanced by the presence of young guns - Alex Moran and Robin Thomas. Alex removed most of the skin off his ankles leading the 6+ Vaganrisset jam crack while Robin led a spectacular on-sight first ascent up a 4 pitch overhanging crackline near the Migan Pillar at 7+ standard (sustained E5, 6a), the Risset Rider, in their inimitable words, a truly "amazing" climb and a contender for the 51st best route on Lofoten! It was a privilege to hang with these dudes over a beer at the Henningsvaer climbers' bar. They even did something useful, bought a rod and caught some fish for our last dinner. In fact our only cultural disappointments were missing the "Goat Jazz" concert in Lyngen and the Lofoten "Codstock" music festival which sadly had finished the previous week.

April 18th 2010: A Magical Day on An Teallach: I was lucky to pick a stunning day of cool weather and perfect Alpine conditions to do the An Teallach traverse with Jamie Emberson and his 15 year old son Ollie. It seems that this winter simply doesn't want to end.

We climbed the access gully ftom Tollan Lochain then tackled the terminal buttress of Corrage Buidhe direct by the grade III wall and chimney. Our decision not to wear crampons was vindicated on the pinnacles where many of the rocks were dry and exposed, but coming off Sgurr Fiona we badly misjudged how frozen the snow would be and I had to kick and then cut many steps to get us down without crampons. We descended into A'Ghlas Thuill and reached the road at 8pm after a memorable 10 hour day. Ollie is much too young to have been gifted a day of such perfection!

Amazingly, we had Britain's finest mountain entirely to ourselves.


Jamie and Ollie Emberson stepkicking up neve snows on the An Teallach traverse


On the pinnacles looking across Strath na Sealga to the Fisherfield peaks

Early evening on the descent of Bidein a'Ghlas Thuill looking across Ghlas Mheall Liath to the Fannaichs

March 9th 2010: Last Day in Paradise: 5.20am. We were the first to leave Aberarder for the 6km trek to Creag Meagaidh and the dawn glow was already rising in the east. Pete Macpherson was sporting a brand-new pea-green shell garment which rendered him even more sickly than our last meeting when he was jammed to his toilet seat with a dose of gastro-enteritis. Since then Pete had become "man of the moment" with his ascent of the grade IX SuperRat on Creag an Dubh Loch with the lugubrious Guy Robertson. Perhaps I should say "man of a few moments" because very soon after Dave MacLeod had grabbed back the headlines with his winter ascent of an E8 on Ben Nevis! Huge slab avalanches had recently swept down the slopes from Carn Liath leaving a swathe of debris across the path for several hundred metres. Soon the regal splendour of Coire Ardair hove into view, surely Scotland's second most beautiful corrie, which comes close to the graceful elegance of Beinn Eighe's Coire Mhic Fhearchair. Our plan was to attempt a second ascent of the grade VIII Extasy - a super-steep climb up the Pinnacle Face achieved by Dave Hesleden with French ace Bruno Souzac in 2005. To our disappointment we quickly saw that the face had been stripped of much of its snow and ice by the sun, and any claim to a winter ascent would be deemed unacceptable by the desk-bound troglodytes who infest the forums on UK Climbing.

So we wandered up Raeburn's Gully devoid of real purpose until we saw the face to the left of Smith's Gully - white, icy and tempting. Clearly, there was no existing route here. The wall's main feature is a huge smooth slab. The top half was iced. The bottom was bare of adornment save for a scattering of grass tufts. The slab was protected by significant overhangs and we attacked at the only weak point, where a tongue of ice had formed on the lip of an accessible bulge. I led the entry pitch and Pete disappeared across an overlap to tackle the slab. We expected little or nought by way of protection, but Pete's lead was accompanied by a constant tapping of his hammer, and the ringing response of sound pitons. I emerged on to the slab to be informed that there were three good pegs in place to protect some delicate moves from tuft to tuft. This was not ideal news for a man who was using Petzl Nomic tools. In their wisdom the French manfucturers designed these without a hammer-head, no doubt thinking only of pretty-boys posing on steep icefalls and not a couple of ugly brutes trying to whack their way up a Scottish mixed climb. I had bashed the back of my shafts close to oblivion by the time I had removed the ironmongery and swung nervously across to Pete's stance.

I tried initially to traverse back left to reach the bottom of the ice smear on the upper slab, but the rock was hideously smooth and protectionless. Mindful of pendule potential (see Feb 5th below!) I shrunk back and opted to tackle an overhanging corner of pink quartz which was helpfully cracked. My head was cooking in my helmet when I reached a resting niche and after brief aeration I swung left on to the stub of an ice fang and hurried up left to regain the edge of the slab where the ice was usable. A perfect crack materialised in the wall for a secure belay. Pete was up in a few minutes in his usual ebullient fashion. "Do you ever second slowly?" I asked. "There's not much point in hanging around", he replied while delving into our climbing sack for rations. It came as something of a shock to discover that Pete was enhancing his already manic energy levels with a diet of Red Bull and Haribo "Tangtastic" pastilles. It was less of a surprise to learn that he had cancelled a dental appointment to make today's climb.

Pete led straight up the ice smears, showering me with ice chips and Invernessonian exclamations such as "Bloody excellent man!" and "An absolute belter". He disappeared on to the Apollyon Ledge. From below the pitch had looked about grade IV. In the flesh it was a scary sequence of ice scratchings at 75 deg angle. A fierce final barrier reared up above the Ledge, capped by a roof band with a turf-smeared lip. I teetered up poorly protected moves to the roof and followed a single horizontal pick crack out left to a vertical dribble of ice on the left edge. With a reasonable peg in the crack I could blame only my own febrility for failure. Torquing off one pick I reached high to the ice with the other and swung my feet up to the first usable ice blobs. After three or four moves I was 20 feet above the peg, barely in balance and utterly exhilarated. I managed to get a short ice screw lodged to protect the last moves to the easy ground at the top of the buttress. The climb had exceeded every expectation we'd had of the day.

As we wandered over the Meagaidh plateau amidst a resplendent sunset I sensed that this might be the last great day of the greatest winter of my lifetime. We settled on "Last Day in Paradise" is an appropriate name, although "Tangtastic" was an early frontrunner until I choked on another handful of Pete's cannonfodder. While I was looking forward to several days of guiding work and a gentle wind-down from the winter Pete knew no such peace. Barely had we coiled the ropes and the Robertson texts were flying in - "Minus One Direct... Mort next week...ground-up..on-sight...no deviations...diamond-hard...only grade IX...". There are times when you long just to feel the patter of warm rain on your face and see the daffodils in bloom.

Climbing across the big slab on the 2nd pitch of "Last Day in Paradise" (VII, 8) on Creag Meagaidh

Leading steep rock to gain the ice fangs on pitch 3

Pete Macpherson enjoying the Meagaidh alpenglow after the climb

Massive slab avalanche trail on the approach to Coire Ardair

Norway: Feb 18th 2010: Vettisfossen: At 275 metres (900 feet) vertical height the Vettisfossen is claimed as the highest single-plunge waterfall in Northern Europe and is certainly the most famous of all Norway's falls. Due to its relatively low altitude (400-700m) and the high volume of its feeder river Vettisfossen very rarely freezes completely. The three month freeze of 2010 coupled with relatively dry autumn could produce the necessary conditions for an ascent on ice. The Vettisfossen was first climbed in 1978 by Americans "Hot" Henry Barber and Rob Taylor in one of the most astounding feats of ice climbing of all-time given the equipment and protection of the day. It remains a certain grade VI and has only been repeated 12 or 13 times, the last-known being in 2006. If there is one ice climb you want to do before you die the Vettisfossen has to be it. The only problem is that it may be the last ice climb you do before you die given the objective dangers of its multitude of hanging ice fangs. Any sudden change in temperature can render these monsters dangerously unstable.

Despite potential negatives I had more than a sneaking interest in this frozen colossus. Vettisfossen lies well-hidden 6km up-valley from the roadhead in Utladalen; so while Martin Welch guided our clients on the Avdalsfossen I took a walk to check out the conditions. There was no indication of the coming drama as I wandered through the birch woods past Vetti farm, but quite suddenly a remarkable rock canyon opened in the east flank of the valley, revealing vertical rock walls split by the silver plunge of several thousand tons of frozen water. My guess was right - Vettisfossen was in! The base of the canyon was peppered with the debris of fallen icicles. A base cone 90 metres high reached up to the lip of a cavern where the tendrils of ice from above dropped over to make a delicate curtain. An ominous and persistent splash of water was audible to the side of the joining curtain where the residual water flow still drained through. The "kark,kark, kark" of the resident raven echoed round the enclosing walls. Otherwise there was a terrifying silence. Truly, this place is the hall of the mountain kings.

I reckoned that the curtain looked thick and dry enough at one point to enable a direct ascent of the overhang and on my return had no difficulty in co-opting Mr Welch to the plan. Five days later on our next day off we rose hideously early, drove round the Sognefjord and past the giant smelting works at Ovre Ardal to reach the gate of Hjelle in Utladalen at 4.45am. The parking lot was empty - we would have the climb to ourselves. The two hour approach walk was one of peace and quiet confidence. At first light we scrambled into the amphitheatre over the swathe of fallen ice blocks and prepared to tackle the initial cone. Then came the big shock. I peered up to the overhang through the morning murk and realised that my crucial curtain and its linking icicle had disappeared in the intervening days since my last visit. Presumably, we were now standing in some of the debris of the collapse. I was completely spooked. I had been so sure that the ice curtain was solid and would only grow with time. In that instant my resolve shattered.

Thankfully Martin got the bit between his teeth and took the initiative. We soloed 30m up the cone and I belayed under the shelter of an ice umbrella while Martin forged quickly upwards to escape the imminent threat from those daggers that were still stuck to the overhang. His lead took us into a massive cavern behind the cone. The upward view was sobering. The water poured from two circular drainage chutes which looked like the thruster cones of a space rocket. Perhaps the growing pressure of blocked water had caused the curtain to collapse. At least, there was not even the slightest temptation to climb there. However, there was a chance that we could by-pass the overhang using ledges on the rock walls to its right side. A long ramp of glass ice led to a point level with the roof. Above the roof a series of snow-covered ramps and ledges led 30m back to regain the ice. If only we'd brought some rock protection gear!

Once again Martin stepped into the breach and led a hair-raising pitch across the rock wall, linking blobs of snow-ice with very limited protection. Amazingly, the pitch was no more than Scottish grade III in technical standard, but definitely the most stupendous of its grade I've ever done. Now the climb was back on track. I led a long pitch of WI5 to gain a cave on the right edge of the fall where I thought I could escape the threat of a gigantic claw of ice that hung overhead. This appendage was attached to the icefall by a slender horizontal arm and had no right to be where it was. My efforts were to no avail. The cave stance was directly under the claw. I lengthened my belay rope and planned a desperate dive to the back of the cave if it snapped. With the passing hours a sense of resignation to danger prevailed and a cautious enjoyment of our remarkable situation took root.

Martin now led us leftward up ramps and through a squeeze-box behind an icicle to gain the centre of the upper fall, where the ice narrowed and steepened into an 80 metre series of columns and grooves, split here and there by overhangs. I guess this was where "Hot" Henry reputedly hand-jammed up the icicles with his leather gloves on the first ascent. Martin's arrival at his belay was greeted by an alarming cracking sound that reverberated down to my stance. His stance had a hanging bosse of ice fangs as a canopy and even sported a glass window, through which he could see the water flowing down the central drainpipe of the fall just a couple of feet away. Why he was so anxious to continue leading on the next pitch through the roofs I couldn't imagine! Having spent two hours standing under the "claw of death" I was more than eager to get out in front myself.

The pitch above overhung about three metres but sported grooves and lips which allowed for dynamic bridging, the sort of moves that ice climbers call "funky". Any ice splinters that I kicked off now fell uninterrupted for 150m to hit the bottom cone. The Vetti raven wheeled overhead then settled on a pine tree at the lip of the fall to watch the outcome. After 25 metres I reached a tight standing stance, wound in three screws to the hilt and relieved Martin of his miseries under the fangs.

We reckoned there were 70 metres to go, and although the angle was relentless the threat of a wipeout from above was steadily diminishing. As Martin led through I could relax and even enjoy the plunge of the abyss beneath and the wider views over to Stolsmaradalen and the Hurrungane mountains. I contentedly hummed my tune of the day, which inappropriately enough was Dougie Maclean's "Solid Ground". Martin's pitch sported a 10 metre wall that overhung gently and wrung much of the strength from my upper arms as every move required a lock-off. He was "on fire" today. What on earth had got into him? Perhaps it was his new diet of Maximuscle powder and malt whisky. Despite never having been seen to do a single pull-up in his life he was unashamedly consuming gallons of Maximuscle each day. Previously he had survived on malt whisky alone.

The light was fading as I took to the final pillar on the left of the icefall. The angle stayed at vertical but the ice was solid and the axe nicks of a previous party materialised in the ice. Place an ice screw, bottle up some courage, climb 6 metres, hang straight armed on a tool, and place another one. The drain on muscular resources was unyielding until I drew level with the fringe of trees crowning the canyon and pulled into balance at the very lip of the fall. I felt a brief pang of reluctance to leave the vertical world. For years I had dreamt of climbing Vettisfossen and now the dream was all but over. Then a manifoldly greater urge took hold to propel me to safety. I stepped on to the level river bed and lashed myself to the biggest birch tree within reach.

Any thought of descending the icefall induced renewed panic. However far it was and however long it took we would walk down. Within a few hundred metres we struck the trail back to Vetti farm, and we skipped down its zig-zags floating in a euphoria of relief. Neither the 4km return walk back to the base of the fall to retrieve our sacks nor the 5km slog back to Hjelle dented my energies. For those brief hours in the darkness I felt boundlessly strong and indestructible. We were both back to the car by 9.30pm. Sadly, the feeling was short-lived. Two very different characters staggered out of bed at 7am next morning to face another day's work!

The Vettisfossen from below (with the curtain intact!)

The ice overhangs and top of the cone with the curtain missing

The big traverse pitch back to the ice

Martin seconding above a 200 metre free-fall

Leading through the roofs high on the climb

The two protagonists, much relieved, at the top!

Norway: Feb 11th 2010: Ardalstangen's "Double Whammy": The Sognefjord is the greatest glacial trench in the world, its waters dropping to 1000 metres in depth and its enclosing walls soaring to 1400m in a dizzy sweep of vertical birchwood and overhanging rock scars. Streams tumble off the plateau and plunge into spectacular canyons on the sidewalls. Arrival in Western Norway always induces conflicting senses of intimidation, oppression, awe and wonder. The scale is far beyond anything in Scotland and the ice climbing potential is simply mind-boggling. All estimates of lengths and difficulties of the icefalls prove woefully inadequate. If the ice-climbing is exacting and thrilling it is equally exciting just to explore some of the valleys by car and spy out new waterfalls, gullies and clefts - the majority of which must be unclimbed.

During one such scouting mission in 2009 Martin Welch and I spotted an astounding double pillar of ice in the forests above the metal -plating town of Ardalstangen. Although just 300m above the main R53 valley road it could only be seen from a 200m section of the minor spur road to Seim. There was fair chance that these slender pencils had never been climbed when we returned this year. After just 30 minutes of bushwhacking up the approach gully we stood abreast of the first pencil at dawn. The angle was unbroken at 85deg and we guessed its vertical height at 100 metres - later revised to 120! We led through on three pitches of 45m, 50m and 45m at an unyielding WI5 standard. The time was already past 1pm as we cramponned round a corner in the streambed and into a miniature rock amphitheatre to be confronted with the upper pencil, which was both higher and steeper with a free-standing pillar near its exit. We were going to have raise our game to get up this in the four remaining hours of daylight.

The first wall proved twice as high as expected. I attacked with intent placing no ice screws until the angle turned vertical and the ice broke up in cauliflower formations 15 metres up. Leaving strenuous but straightforward wall-ice I now had to bridge and jink my way from cavity to cavity pulling gingerly on hooks over the flowers and placing ice screws wherever a solid runnel materialised. Forty-five metres up the ice reverted to a smooth homogenous consistency. As Martin climbed up and led through I said scornfully, "Hah; 30 metres of grade 4 and we'll be at the icicle". An hour later and with just 5 metres of rope left Martin made a belay, still 20 metres under the crux pillar. I seconded in mute humility. The standard hardly dipped below WI5 (which means "all but vertical!"), and now it was rapidly getting dark, the orange glow from the smelting factories at the fjord-head offering the best available light until we switched to headtorches. I hurried onwards under the icicle which was guarded by a triple-layer of giant sundew formations. We had envisaged skipping from one to the other in neat steps but each was four metres high and formidably overhung. So instead I skirted round to a cave refuge to the left and behind the ice pillar.

We had to face work the next day. It was already 6.30pm, the barren night frost had clamped on dampened clothes, gloves and ropes. Descent would take at least three hours. There were reasons enough to retreat without even considering the hollow screen of glass ice that formed the pillar; and yet, we would never be here again, on the cusp of a memorable victory of freedom over common sense. So I led out of the cave, placed an axe in the ice screen above and swung out on to the front face, my heels pivoting above a 500 foot free-fall into the shadowed gulch below. The pillar was composed of a fragile assemblage of organ pipes. I squeezed and bridged between the pipes, then placed a screw which produced a deep hollow creaking in the ice. For a moment I regretted my folly. There was no way back from here and no hope of an early rescue if anything went wrong. However, hanging icicles do generally get thicker the higher you climb. With that crumb of comfort I nervously squirmed upwards for another eight metres until I found solid blue ice, which offered better protection and positive progress. After another ten metres of verticality I reached an easement. We were still 40m from the very top of the pillar but the angle was considerably less from here onwards. By the time Martin joined me the first Abalakov thread was already in place, and any scruples of incompleteness had been subordinated to the practical needs of a safe descent. We made five rope-stretching 60 metre abseils to reach terra firma. At 7 full pitches this had been a medium length route by local standards. How on earth do they do the really big ones on a day? Double Whammy seemed a good name because we felt pretty hammered when we stumbled back to the car at 11pm. There was deep satisfaction that we had discovered, enjoined and consummated a line of true aesthetic beauty.

Left: Martin Welch gets started on pitch 1 of the lower column; Right: the hidden beauty of the double pillars


With Norway enjoying its longest and coldest freeze for 20 years, conditions in Aurland were amazing right down to sea level with every major watercourse frozen. So an excellent ice climbing fortnight was enjoyed by our 10 clients with guides Tim Blakemore, Matt Helliker, Martin Moran and Martin Welch. Weather conditions were excellent throughout with temperatures rising to -2 or -3 degC by day and dropping to -7 to 14degC by night. There was very little snow to hamper the approaches and many routes began at the side of the road.

From Feb 7th-14th Allan Clapperton and Des Hajdu climbed the 120m column of the Boafossen in Laerdal (IV, WI 5/5+). Des did a probable new climb with Martin Welch in Gudvangen - Kjel Corners - a very Scottish line of ice ramps featuring caves and columns (IV, WI5, 250m). Meanwhile Allan and Martin M did the lower icefall of "Into the Wild" (one of the longest ice routes in the world which continues to an altitude of 900m from a sea level start!). The lower section gave 4 pitches of sustained WI5 ice in a narrow canyon and makes an excellent grade IV climb in its own right. The remaining 12 pitches can be conveniently postponed to another day!. Allan also did the Tverrafossen in Aurlandalen (III, WI 5). Allan and Des led through on the Turlifossen (II, WI3) in Aurland and the 180m Avdalfossen (II, WI3+) in Utladalen.

In the week 14th - 21st Feb Nick Owen, Tim Dawes and Tim Blakemore climbed Kjel Corners, Tverrafossen, Turlifossen and the Storefossen (WI5+) in Undredalen. Dee Elnanjjar, Willie Munro, Tamsin Mayberry and Kai Ren Ong explored the unchartered icefalls of Flamdalen and climbed a real beauty - the 300m Tunnhellsfossen (IV, WI5) with the two Martins, which gave three 60m pitches of sustained WI4 then two harder finishing pitches of WI5. It was a lovely day climbing above the forested valley in total silence save for the hourly passage of trains on the famous Flam to Myrdal line.

This 13 hour effort was trumped by David Horwood and 63 year old Ron Crowe who tackled a narrow gully above the Aurland roundabout with Matt Helliker. We had all noticed that this gully was choked with ice. It took the threesome all day and a bit of the night to climb 19 pitches to the top of the gully, with lots of WI4/4+/5 and a crux pillar of 5+ at the top. They started 50m above sea level and finished at an altitude of 625m. The torchlit abseils were noticed by local residents who called the police, who then called the Norwegian Red Cross Search and Rescue Corps. As a result the final abseils were accompanied by green strobe lighting, reminding David of his all-night rave days. The descent was completed close to midnight, and the rescue team disbanded. As a result David has ventured the name "12am Eternal" for the climb, recalling one of the electronic thumpers he must have pogoed to before he became an insurance underwriter!

Feb 5th 2010: Swinging through the night on the Pale Rider: Despite a warm cloudy night and a slow thaw Robin Thomas and I ploughed up the snowy back-slopes of Beinn Eighe, hopeful that something would be in condition to climb over on the Triple Buttress. On dropping into the headwall of Coire Mhic Fearchair we were amazed to see a thick coating of rime ice on the upper half of the cliffs, and headed over to the centre of the Eastern Rampants where no winter routes have yet been recorded in the vicinity of the Pale Diedre. Our choice was the summer E1, 5b of Pale Rider which takes a crackline 15m left of the diedre. Pitch 1 climbes a big left-facing corner. Looking up there was little to suggest credible winter conditions. Robin took ages to warm up and climb this 4c pitch, convincing me that all was not as it seemed! Sure enough, when following I found many tenuous and desperate moves with all the ledges covered in snow and thin verglas smears in the corner. The summer crux is the diagonal crack-line of pitch 2, which was decidedly white in appearance as the surface layer of rime thickened. I quelled inital trepidations by noting that the cracks looked thin and continuous, so that I would have a steady supply of axe hooks and locks to mitigate the prevailing verticality. Despite co-operative placements Robin followed my lead with surprising caution and slowness, arriving at my stance protesting that it had been desperate and that he was wasted.

"Shall I lead on?" I asked. "No I'll do a bit of leading" he replied. Looking up at the rime-crusted walls above there was more than a bit to do! Night was setting in. Robin had forgotten his headtorch but fortunuately I had a little Petzl Tikka light as a back up. His first moves were not encouraging. He slithered and scraped on a snow-covered slab, all but falling off the initial moves, but then he seemed to switch into a different zone which we might call "Robin's world"! Progress came by panther-like stealth. There was no macho-hammering of axes, just prodding and probing. Robin's torchlit shroud appeared to prowl across the befogged skyline of the wall. "It must be easy" I thought and settled into relaxed mode on my belay, chewing peanuts, sipping sweet tea, then all but dozing off a couple of times. A sudden yelp and snatch of rope jerked me awake. Robin was dangling 20 foot down the wall. "I'm sorry, a hook ripped". He pulled up the rope and then silent progress resumed, but from now on his belayer was somewhat more attentive. Finally Robin made a long right traverse and disappeared up a chimney to gain the final snowslopes. Little did I know but I'd just been witness to one of the finest on-sight winter leads.

By the time I started I'd been standing motionless for nearly 3 hours, but even allowing for being cold and burdened by sack and belay jacket, the climbing was patently tenuous. An excruciating foot traverse with axe picks on a single 5mm hook led to a narrow ramp without footholds. Somehow Robin had banged in a peg perched half-way up this, at which point I was clinging desperately to my axe at waist height off a shallow blade torque. Wih my other axe I patiently tapped out the piton, then arched into a layback for another huge reach to a poor hook with foot braced on a miniscule knobble. More tenuous climbing took me to a hammered warthog and the final traverse! I was proud to have teetered up the whole pitch without falling. On removing Robin's last runner I realised the rope was stretching horizontally for 30 feet without any runners. I edged across the last traverse, stretched for a thank-God turf placement, then skipped my feet across. As my weight came on the axe it ripped and I set off on a massive crashing pendulum, which ended with me dangling 30 foot down a smooth wall. Half an hour of desperate prusiking on iced ropes followed. "I couldn't find any runners. I hope you didn't fall far", was Robin's comment as I clambered up to his stance!

After struggling over the top sans map and compass in dense fog, we relocated out sacks and ski sticks then bumslid the south side into Coire Dubh only for me to discover that one of my axes had become detached from my sack. This meant reclimbing 1500 feet up the slope to find it, and delayed return until nearly 1am!

Beinn Eighe, Coire Mhic Fhearchair, Eastern Ramparts

Pale Rider VIII, 9 ***

The winter ascent climbed thin cracks to gain the main corner from the right side on pitch 1. The summer crux (pitch 2) was sustained but highly co-operative. The 3rd pitch moved right from the summer line after the left traverse and thin ramp, climbing a vague crack rightwards then traversing delicately right along a footledge to gain a terrace. A short easy chimney at the right end of the terrace led to the final slopes (50m, serious and sustained with big swing potential for the second). Pitch grades 8, 8 and 9.

M.E.Moran and R.Thomas, 5th February 2010

Jan 21s 2010: Return to An Teallach: After a week of milder weather and a general thaw it would have been easy to abandon our new route project on An Teallach's awesome Hayfork Wall. However, on Wednesday chill continental air returned and collided with a weak Atlantic front to produce a couple of hours of gentle snowfall on the hills. Would this, coupled with a night frost, be sufficient to coat our wall with ice? It was a gamble to which we would not know the answer until we rubbed our noses against the wall at 3000 feet altitude. That required another 4am reveille and a dark walk over the Dundonnell moors. A troubled dawn rose above isolated towers of grey cumulo-nimbus and briefly fired the ridge crests to a bloody red as we cramponned into the cleft of the Hayfork Gully. Wind scouring had turned the gully bed into a serpentine sculpture of graceful snow ridges. The snow itself was rock-hard neve of the most desirable variety.

Pete was labouring with a neck injury sustained by walking into a children's swing bar at the Aviemore fun house. How the mighty are slain! Nonetheless, he was up ahead in the gully as usual. We passed black and snowless walls but on rounding the final bend Pete called down that we had conditions. We could barely believe it? Our wall was varnished in verglas and the fresh snow had stuck to the ice to give a white veneer thicker than we had encountered 10 days earlier when there was a foot of snow at sea level. When verglas is abundant the difficulty usually increases and protection options always diminish.

With these thoughts in mind I squared up to the big first pitch that Pete had led so well on the first attempt. The boulder-problem start was now somewhat more serious. Whereas last week's landing was a friendly soft drift, I was now faced with the prospect of cracking an ankle on landing and then shooting headfirst past Pete down the ice gully, thereby doing no favours for my self-esteem or enhancing our chances of getting up the route. Thankfully, I hit the crucial placement in the strip of moss that adorns an otherwise blank wall and quickly cranked up to the turf on the first ledge. There is undeniable pressure in having to lead a hard pitch, already mastered a week previously, merely in order to get my leader into position to tackle the crux above. The climbing becomes a job of work. There is no room for flair, no room for error; and yet, once I warmed to the task, progress came steadily and I sensed a reserve of strength even on vertical or overhanging moves. Having done so many routes in the last month were we getting complacent, overestimating difficulty, or were we just getter better, stronger and more competent in our footwork? The stress level only rose once when a crucial cam placement started walking down a verglassed crack. The fall potential here was over 10 metres, but I was able to hammer in a hex nut as a back up.

With grateful relief I reached the peg belay of last week and brought Pete up, while watching two golden eagles at play over the Glas Thuill on a rising southerly wind. A sizeable overhang barred access to the upper crack. A direct route was mossy and crackless. Happily, Pete acted on my silent prayer that he would try the arete to its right where visible flakes offered hope of a positive outcome. The result was more surprising than we had ever imagined. The sandstone layers, hitherto bulbous and obstinate, now opened to offer cracks and footholds aplenty. Within an hour Pete was chomping his way to the top on magnificent snow-ice. Instead of a pitch of hideous VIII we had a sensational VI, 7 where every probe with the axes produced a solid placement.

We were on top by 2.30pm, a wonderful VII, 8 in the bag, which Pete wanted to call Silver Fox, the nickname of Inverness geography teacher Will Wilkinson who had died in the recent avalanche on Ben Nevis. Our rewards were an exhilarating view over the pinnacles of Sgurr Fiona and a daylight return to the Scots Pines and rhododendron of Dundonnell.

Verglassed rock on pitch 1 of Silver Fox (VII, 8)

Sgurr Fiona and the Corrag Buidhe pinnacles from the top of the route

Jan 15th - 17th: Our first weekend courses of 2010 coincided with a general thaw, and the snow and ice shrunk significantly over the three days. Nonetheless some good climbing was achieved - Beinn Bhan A'Chioch Ridge with Direct Finish (III, 4), Fuar Tholl Access Gully Ice Exit (III), Forcan Ridge of The Saddle (I), Flakey Ridge on Creag Coire an't Slugain, Glen Shiel (III, 4) were all enjoyed and Sunday brought fresh snow and renewed frost to the higher ridges.

CUILLIN TRAVERSE ATTEMPT: 6th - 7th Jan 2010: Mike Coppock and Alex Moran (pictures by Alex)

Below: Sgurr Fionn Choire and Bruach na Frithe from the Tooth; and Right: Dawn over Sleat and the mainland

"Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves. Have we gained success? That word means nothing here. Have we won a kingdom? No and yes. We have achieved an ultimate satisfaction...fulfilled a destiny. To struggle and to understand- never this last without the other; such is the law..." (George Mallory)

Am Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean from An Caisteal

The Bhasteir Tooth and Sgurr nan Gillean

Mike approaches the summit of Bruach na Frithe in virgin snow

The long walk home: dusk over the Glen Brittle moors

Mon Jan 11th: Crag X with Pete Macpherson: Today was the day for our big new route attempt, a line I had attempted two years previously and had obsessively desired ever since. Many a sleepless night had been spent visualising the contortions, theatrics and raw courage that might be needed to climb this thing, and our armoury included our Camalot 6 and a 32 foot sling for imaginary chockstone belays. An ominous south-easterly wind had sprung up overnight and the sea level temperature had risen to the dizzy height of zero degrees C, heralding the beginning of the end of the 24 day freeze. After two hours of vigorous snow-shoeing in the dark we reached the corrie floor and Pete declared himself sufficiently weak to open up a giant tupperware of pastries. After swallowing four of the same, the Macpherson clan battlecry echoed round the corrie. "Come on, sausage rolls, do your stuff!" He led up the approach gully with renewed vigour, swinging his tools like the claymores of old. This route could never withstand the coming onslaught....

We rounded the last corner and met the most profound denouement. The enemy had simply disappeared. In place of a soaring 50 metre chimney there was an enormous fresh pink rockscar. Over half the climb had collapsed since my last visit. An estimated 500 to 1000 tons of rock was buried somewhere in the gully bed. One of God's more endearing attributes is a profound sense of irony, and here he had played his hand to perfection, mocking the arrogant posturing of humanity. "The last great challenge" was no more.

A distinctly spooky feel gripped the party. Was our Heavenly Father waiting for our arrival somewhere up in the rime-coated galleries ready to hurl more scorn and another few hundred tons of rock on our pretensions. After some procrastination and involuntary emptying of bowels, a thorough survey was taken of the rest of the cliff and two new routes were attempted. I spent two and a half hours climbing 20 metres of fantastic but exceedingly thin wall-climbing before falling off. At one point an overwhelming sense of weakness forced me to attempt a figure-four on a horizontally torqued axe but the shaft bent so alarmingly that snapping seemed imminent, so a teeth-grinding crank had to suffice instead. The line was diagonal so when I retreated after my fall and stripped my gear, removal of the last piece of protection left me with an alarming swing and "Toni Kurz-like" plunge as the slack in the rope was taken. Luckily I was fetched tight on the rope two feet off a hard landing.

Although it was now 1.30pm the hibernating Macpherson was prodded into action and prised out of his duvet jacket in order to try another line. Fuelled with a handful of my jelly babies the boy responded with characteristic brio, yarding up a thin mossy wall to gain a deep crackline that continued skywards to tackle some depressing overhangs. As darkness gathered I expended my last reserves of arm strength to follow this 40 metre tour de force and found Pete hanging off two pegs and an inverted cam, his feet braced on near a vertical slab covered with grass tufts. This was not the most reassuring of belays. More roofs and a fierce finishing crack loomed overhead. Now out of sausage rolls, Pete was mute and despondent but I exhorted him to have just one look, for this line, if completed would be a absolute stonker. His first placement ripped and he tumbled on top of me, hooking my headtorch strap and nearly garotting me on its stretched elastic. At least this mitigated the factor 2 fall. As it was, one of the pegs had bent 45 degrees under the load. The retreat was sounded and after much effort to insert a third peg we spun nervously down the impassive walls to regain the sacks.

With snow-shoes we blasted out 5km to the road in just an hour and a half. Without them we would probably never have even reached the cliff. Backed at the car one of us who shall remain nameless reflected that the mountain had been "untamed, spicy and untouched by anyone else - just like the wife!" Squash, crisps and, much to Pete's annoyance, a blast of Will Young's greatest hits sustained us on the homeward drive. More wild dreams and sleepless nights await until the day we can return.

Just another day on the hill: Sausage-roll machine Pete MacPherson hard at it
What was left of our much-vaunted new route mission

Fri Jan 8th: Sgurr an Fhidhleir, Coigach: What climb can be worth getting up at midnight, driving 2 hours on snowy roads and walking for 3 hours in inky darkness? The Coigach Fiddler is one such place. This precocious horn of layered sandstone projects from the northern corries of Ben More Coigach and is one of the country's finest venues for adventurous winter climbing. Remoteness is one of many challenges here. The cliff is only ever in condition after heavy snow, which means that the 6km walk-in will always be a trial. The cliff has a huge curving corner-line in its left face, the fiddler's bow by which the mountain was probably named. Guy Robertson had a project here to climb the bow direct all the way. Previous summer (Boysen and Patey) and winter (Cartwright and Richardson) ascents had traversed right out of the bow half-way up, deterred by the steep and slabby corner above. Expecting a long day the Robertson summons to a midnight start was ungodly but wise.

At Garve junction I collected Pete Macpherson, who was somewhat deranged from lack of sleep and a morbid fear that he'd simply drown in the drifts without snowshoes, and we met Guy at a lay-by on the Achiltibuie road. After some blundering with gorsebushes, a deer fence and an ice-covered creek we struck out over the moor towards a vague mountain horizon. I had the only snowshoes so beat a trail while Pete and Guy ploughed my tracks behind. At times the drifts were thigh-deep. The Fiddler was dimly lit by a half-moon when we pitched up at its base at 6.30am. An icefall gleaming at the top of the bow was our guiding light to locate the route. A deathly cold gripped us as we fiddled through a protracted gearing-up operation. The temperature that night dropped to minus 20degC at nearby Altnaharra!

We soloed nervously up a series of ice and heather steps, the angle perceptibly increasing until we felt sufficiently exposed to seek the first available flake for a belay. The twilight lasted nearly two hours and the Coigach and Assynt hills slowly emerged from hibernation like the "frosted cities of timeless sleep waiting for the errant knight" of Winthrop Young's great poem. Pete took the first difficult lead up the first two steps of the corner and for once the boy-racer was slowed to a nervous crawl as he bridged tenuously up a groove of rippled sandstone. Though not especially strenuous this pitch is probably worth technical 8, all too easy to fall off when seconding. The existing routes now traversed right. The corner above was hideously smooth with rock roofs on its left side. Guy had the challenge of forcing a way through this unknown ground. To his delight smears of half-inch ice ran down the slabs. With axes in rock and turf placements in the roofs he could tip-toe up the ice and did a superb sustained pitch of 50m to gain a tiny stance below fierce capping overhangs at the top of the bow. The ice continued right up to the final roof and with its help I swung over one bulge. I then found a perfect thread runner and traversed right on the last plate of ice to find wonderful rock placements for the final swing on to easier ground.

We were surprised and elated that the route had yielded so quickly, having really expected a 24 hour grade VIII horror-show. The climb had taken only 7 hours and we could enjoy a splendid sunset vista out under the Coigach mists and over the sea to the gold-lit Summer Isles and Wester Ross headlands. As climbers we gratefully accept what favours the mountains give. We'd had a fantastic day on a superb route. The grade is VII, 8 with technical grades of 8,7,7 on the three hard pitches. Possible names were bandied about on the walk-out. Bow-Selecter-Directer was undoubtedly popular but The Bow Direct was more suitably formal to such a special place and more appropriately respectful to our predecessors. The final decision was left to Guy.

How wonderful to get home at a sensible time, to toast the toes on the fire and drop into bed for an 11 hour sleep. Early starts are nearly always worth it!

Wed Jan 6th: The Storr, Skye: After another night and day of heavy snowfall on Skye, Martin Welch called to report excellent conditions on the prodigious basalt cliffs of The Storr. He had tried the ramp line on the big cliff behind The Old Man at New Year but was stopped for want of large camming devices on the crux barrier pitch (or at least that's his excuse!). Mick Fowler had climbed some of the deeper gullies here in the 1990's but to our knowledge the 200-metre ramp was unclimbed. With growing excitement we drove the snowy road north of Portree and walked up the forest approach path in pre-dawn light. Above us the Old Man and his cohort of pinnacles emerged from the morning mists like fossilised phantoms, bearded with rime and snow. Rabbits scuttled out from their overnight snowholes as we ploughed the drifted slopes towards our cliff. The mainland hills from Assynt down to Knoydart stretched like a line of slumbering ghosts across the Inner Sound. The morning sun touched the cliffs for half an hour then left us to our frozen scratchings.

The first pitch took us to a cluster of old pegs and an abseil sling, presumably left on a much earlier attempt. Martin was armed with my largest cams, including a giant number 6, and sent up the crux barrier. He fixed the cams in a big roof crack then shuffled left to a smooth wall. Basalt lavas are inherently rotten and crackless. The existence of cracks for axes picks or protection is unpredictable and unlikely. Martin bridged up, scraped at the snow-covered rock and announced that this was a pitch that I would really enjoy. So, within half an hour, I was up at the sharp end, fiddling a poor cam into a flared crack, while contemplating a nasty fall if it ripped. As fear welled I turned to my new secret weapon, a £10 Pecker recently purchased from Macpherson Mountain Sports at generous discount. This hook-beaked little fellow can be hammered into hairline cracks and here it saved the day, tapping nicely into a little crack that no other piton could have fitted. With a little more assurance I weedled my way up the wall to gain good belays at the start of the ramp.

We led through on three long pitches up the ramp. The middle pitch was a wonderful 50-metre grade 5 chimney with good gear every 5 or 10 metres. A snow-squall swept in as Martin led out of the ramp to a short finishing arete and we emerged into a stinging blizzard amidst the weird assemblage of pinnacles and clefts atop the Storr plateau. Although the climbing was a little imbalanced in standard this was a terrific line climbing the centre of one of Britain's most dramatic bits of landscape. We've called the route Storvegen (the big road), and the grade would probably be VI, 8.

Island of Skye: Trotternish, The Storr

Storvegen 220m VI, 8 **
This is the big ramp cutting leftwards across the big cliff behind the Old Man. A compelling line, although the climbing is imbalanced by the short but thin crux section. Start in the subsidiary gully as for Deeply Digestible Gully.
1. 25m Climb the gully to belay at old pegs.
2. 15m Go up the cleft on the left to a roof (large cams), then move left and up the short barrier wall (crux) to ledges at the foot of the ramp (good belays up right).
3. 50m Follow snow and ice ramps to the base of a chimney weakness in the ramp.
4. 55m Climb the chimney line with sustained interest and good protection.
5. 60m Go easily up leftwards on a turfy weakness and climb a gully to the crest of the buttress.
6. 15m Climb rocky steps on the ridge to the top.

M.E.Moran and M.Welch, 6th January 2010

Left: Dawn over the cliffs - our climb takes the obvious ramp and Right: Sunrise over The Old Man of Storr

Left: View over The Storr and Inner Sound to the Torridon Hills from the route; Right: Martin Welch tackles the crux pitch

Dec 30th - Jan 2nd: New Year Stravaigs: Our New Year courses chanced on some of the best conditions we've had for years. An ascent was made of Spidean nan Coire Clach on Beinn Eighe on an ominous windy day. We then broke trail on the round of Beinn Alligin (I) and enjoyed a good slide down Coire an Laoigh on newly-packed drifts. New Years Day saw ascents of Mono Blues Gully (II) and Turquoise Gully (III) on Meall Gorm which each gave excellent wee ice pitches. Finally we traversed the Forcan Ridge of The Saddle (II) which sported long sections of snowy arete and superb easy mixed climbing.

Danny Shayler, Eva Groenveld and Chris Crowle on the Forcan Ridge of The Saddle, Jan 2nd 2010

Dec 27th: Sundance on Beinn Eighe: Of all the great routes I wanted to do in the North-West Highlands, the fantastic corner line of of Sundance on Beinn Eighe's Far East Wall was top of the list. I'd been there with Blair Fyffe in 2007 to try the first winter ascent, but Blair's brain was working in the 7th dimension of astro-physics that day and he retreated from halfway up the first pitch. The problem with this wall is that anyone who hasn't climbed there before will be deterred from trying the climbs, unaware that the sheer quartzite is improbably helpful for axe picks and toe holds. Ian Parnell and Guy Robertson did the winter first in 2008 and gave it the obligatory four stars. Not only does Sundance take an inspiring natural line but during a freeze it develops two bizarre icicles from its upper roofs and dribbles water ice down the face below, giving the potential for a true mixed climb.

Our appointment with Sundance commenced with greasy fried eggs at 4.15am. Alex and I drove up to Achnasheen where the Macpherson machine was stuck in a snowdrift, but after short delay to dig him free we continued to Glen Torridon. Out threesome tumbled out into the night at 5.50am and trudged up somebody's wayward tracks towards Coire Dubh. Any climb on Beinn Eighe's Triple Buttress has added challenge in the steep walk-in over the top of 950m Coinneach Mor, which is especially gruelling in knee-deep snow. I let the youngsters burn some excess calories on the upward yomp, following at a respectful distance and trying to moderate the output of sweat. Leaving our sacks at the top, we plunged down into the head of Coire Mhic Fhearchair. Scotland's greatest corrie was looking particularly sublime in the morning light. The ice sheet on the surface of the lochan was criss-crossed with dark strips like the tracks of a giant skidoo. Maybe Santa had been drunk in charge of his sleigh after completing his Christmas shift.

Pete was already 20 feet up the route and looked set to do a Ueli Steck on the first pitch without crampons by the time Alex and I arrived. We called him down and he was assigned photographic duties to keep him occupied while I made a cautious probe into the iced groove cutting the fist tiers of rock. Supposedly 'easy' introductory pitches need the greatest of care. This one seemed a steady VII,7 and protection was hard-won with the cracks choked in verglas. No sooner was I belayed than the Macpherson machine swung into action, yarding up the groove in five minutes and racking up a massive bandolier of kit ready for the fearsome second pitch. Alex arrived and was sufficiently impressed by the prevailing verticality to require fatherly reassurance as to the strength of the belay anchors, one of which promptly fell out as Pete levered his axe on a loose flake.

Pitch 2 climbs a vertical wall and enters a narrow hanging chimney. Two blobs of frozen moss and a thin streak of verglas were the only adornments. Pete was soon into Macpherson mode, with bouts of frantic action interspersed by simulated farting sounds. "This looks mental man," he said at one point, but progress continued unabated and his head disappeared up the chimney while feet and knees pedalled and scraped against the projecting walls. Within an hour Alex and I were trying to second with some semblance of grace while Pete took endless photos of our travails. My pride in seniority took a further blow as Alex caught me up on his rope and demanded more rapid progress from his Dad.

The third pitch tackles the icicles of the upper corner. The walls beneath the first roof were thickly smeared in verglas. I felt a sinking feeling - the moves looked desperate, protection marginal and Pete had that expectant look that demands positive lead action. At times like you this you need faith. Pete's pitch had sported magnificent hooks and cracks for axe picks all the way. I had to believe that the same would materialise under the inches of ice on my pitch. I teetered into a bridged rest under the first roof while an uninterrupted drawl of two gossiping men drifted up from below. Climbing as threesome has social benefits for the seconds but the leader can feel decidedly neglected. An eight-foot curtain of ice drooped from the second roof. I gave it one hard tap and the icicle detached en-masse. There was a sudden and satisfying end to the banter as this damoclean missile crashed into the rock and shattered a few feet from their stance. With their attentions duly regained I swung right under the roof to discover perfect blade placements. I then bridged on to what remained of the ice and pulled on to the next belay ledge, to complete a truly awesome pitch.

By nightfall the Macpherson whirlwind swung back into action on pitch 4. The first ascensionists, who happen to be quite good climbers, described this mossy verglassed corner as "bold". Now when I read this I usually ferret around for any available bits of gear. But to Pete "bold" translates as "go for it"!. As he was about to launch himself up this horrible corner, I politely suggested he might find gear in a crack well out to the left. Sideways motion isn't Pete's strongest climbing skill, but happily he heeded the advice and Alex and I were spared the prospect of being impaled by the Macpherson crampon points. After fixing two good wires he swung back to the corner and finished the climb with his usual aplomb.

We emerged into moonlight on the summit ridge at 5.30pm, packed up and then bum-slid down the southern slopes enjoying a panoramic view of the serrated outline of Liathach on the far side of Coire Dubh. And to think that people wonder why we do it. Days like this come as close to perfection in life's experience as one can dare to imagine. The only subsequent route is downward. By midnight, after two beers and a huge meal I was trapped by leg cramps in the sofa of our attic TV room. The rest of the family had turned in, and I grimaced through a whole double bill of Alan Partridge before I recovered sufficiently to stagger to bed.

Dec 24th: Applecross Adventure: With perfect weather and conditions Alex and I secured a day's leave from Christmas preparations with a promise that we'd be back for the evening carol service. Deterred from hoofing through the snow for hours, I suddenly remembered a big cliff low on the flanks of Meall Gorm below the Bealach na Ba - Creag a'Chumhaing (crag of the defile). This is one of biggest and steepest cliffs in the area, nearly 800 feet in vertical height, forming the towering prow that frames the postcard view down the pass. No-one is known to have climbed it. With deep snow and frost down to sea level this crag could, at last, be in prime condition for an ascent. With an approach up the road we could reach the crag in a sensible time. However, we were sure that the Bealach road would still be closed, so planned to snow-shoe up to the base in the hours before dawn. We were pleasantly surprised to find the road ploughed and open when we rolled up at 6.30am, so we could drive to within a 15 minutes walk of the start! This gave us the problem of killing time until dawn at 8am. It was case of either dozing in the van listening to an hour of Sarah Kennedy's drivel on the radio, or else getting out and finding our way by torchlight. Needless to say, it was distinctly preferable to blunder around the snow-covered heather in -5degC.
The cliff has a huge vegetated corner cutting up the first tier. This was easily located in the twilight, and dawn was flushing the mountains with a pink glow when I completed the first 50 metre pitch. Much of the vegetation, upon which we had planned to rely, was entirely disposable, and the veneer of water-ice down the left wall was merely decorative. Happily a crack materialised in the back of the corner, offering improving protection and axe pick placements. Although only technical 5 it was a tiring and stressful lead. Alex led through to find a weakness in the next band, a chimney and corner system which looked ominously straightforward from below. Torridonian sandstone has the habit of flattering to deceive and soon I found myself brushing my nose against a decidedly steep corner groove some 10 metres high. There was a crack in the back for picks and gear, and therefore no excuses for failure. Two and a half pitches and 4 hours had passed. We were now on the spiral terrace just under half-height. The headwall above looked scrappy, but perceptions needed adjustment to the scale. This cliff is fully 150 metres high.
Alex did two excellent leads of sustained technical 6 to bring us to the final tiers of rock at nightfall. Depressingly fierce overhangs reared overhead. Were we to be denied at the last? I traversed to the right end of a ledge and spotted a steep crack-line cutting up to a weird projecting rock gargoyle. This was a rocky road to salvation. Would the gargoyle collapse and take me with it? The moves to reach it were strenuous and committing, and all too quickly I was grappling with a cluster of loose flakes and chockstones. Happily, the gargoyle itself remained motionless and I clambered atop, hoping for a rapid end to the route. However, another 30 metres of steep rock loomed out of the darkness. Our plans to add our singing talents to the Christmas Eve service were now abandoned, apologies were offered by mobile phone and instead we hummed Christmas ditties into the blackness of infinity beyond our torchbeams. Another almighty struggle up a big groove ended with my clinging grimly to another sheaf of loose flakes with my feet pedalling uselessly on a bare slab, wondering which ones to throw down at Alex and which to stack precariously at the back of the cleft.
We topped out into fields of glistening hoar frost at 9pm. The cliffs on either side offered no easy descents. Several gullies cut back down to the road, but most are grade II or III and only one of them is grade I. We had to find the grade I purely by guesswork. The gully we did descend was a foul agglomeration of deep powder snow and loose rocks with an icy step halfway down. We tottered down and staggered back to the road in a confused state of dehydration and elation. We forswore a visit to join the Christmas party at Lochcarron Hotel and drove straight home where Joy was glad to see us back in the fold ten minutes before midnight, and we thankfully indulged the pleasures of hot baths, a giant spaghetti and a warm fire. We'd had a brilliant adventure. There aren't many such virgin cliffs left in the country and there is a primitive thrill in battling a way through the cornices of turf and improbable prows of weathered rock. The grade is VII, 7 and "Peace on Earth" seems a suitable Christmas name.

Meall Gorm, Creag a' Chumhaing: Peace on Earth 275m VII, 7 ***
This grand adventure climbs a direct line up the frontal face of prominent cliff at the entrance to Coire na Ba, and is repulsive and exhilarating in equal measure. Pitch grades of 5, 4, 7, 6, 4, 6, 3, 7, 7 make for an arduous outing, but difficulties are mitigated by the 15 minute walk-in from the road. Fresh snowfall and a few days of sea-level freeze create the required conditions. Start at the big corner, which cuts through the first tier.
1. 45m Climb the open-book corner with sustained interest to belay below the first terrace.
2. 15m Move up to the terrace and traverse right to belay at a detached flake left of a chimney and crack line.
3. 50m Climb the chimney, then move up left and climb a steep corner crack to gain the Spiral Gully terrace. Belay on blocks 10m higher.
The headwall above looks scrappy but don't be fooled!
4. 25m Follow a crackline 5m right of an icefall to a higher terrace.
5. 25m Go up a turfy depression on the left past a tree to belay at a cluster of flakes (ancient abseil sling).
6. 30m Take the right trending line between imposing roofs, traverse left for 3m and ascend a groove to a turf ledge. Belay on the left.
7. 20m Go up to the terrace below the formidable final tiers and traverse to its right end. Belay beneath a crack.
8. 25m Climb the steep crack to a projecting gargoyle and continue up a chimney with chockstone to belay by a large block.
9. 40m Go up then left to reach a right-slanting gangway, which splits the final overhangs and is climbed to an abrupt finish.

A.J. & M.E.Moran, 24th December 2009

Mon Dec 21st: Glen Shiel: Pete Macpherson, Finlay Wild, Murdo Jamieson and I ploughed in to the W Face of Druim Shionnach above Cluanie Inn. The roads were in bad shape. Cunningly, Pete and I arranged to arrive 10 minutes after the youngsters and were able to follow their tracks until they seemed to veer way off route and we made our own trail. Pete tried a new route up a steep crackline. Despite carrying 10kg of hardware including sizings from knifeblade pegs to a gigantic Camalot 6, the crack was of the perfect size for a Camalot 4 - the one piece of kit we didn't have! Pete placed marginal wires instead and continued up some strenuous moves before running out of steam and courage. Luckily, his top wire held and he lowered off. Judging by a bloodcurdling yell from Murdo, there was clearly some exciting action going on over on Bow Peep - an excellent V,6 ** . I decided to try an easier looking new line just right of Cave Gully. This gave two long pitches, following a series of corners and ramps then finishing up a smart chimney that offered a perfect wall crack for the axe picks. Overall grade V,6, and worth two stars. Name? Well Pete had wanted to call his expletive-ridden horror Rage Against the Machine; but I'm a Joe fan myself so threatened to call my route The Climb - a relaxing ballad with a soulful groove. To Pete's relief I settled on The Gruffalo, an aimiable monster with long nose and a crooked smile - a bit like Pete himself! Conditions were 100% perfect - we even had bits of old snow-ice. We walked out in darkness, blundering around for half an hour in knee-deep drifts before fixing our course to the guiding star of a floodlit Cluanie Inn.

Druim Shionnach, West Face: The Gruffalo 80m V, 6 **

This route climbs the line of corners just right of Cave Gully, finishing up a chimney in the sidewall. Start at the base of the first step in the gully.
1. 35m Climb turfy grooves in the right wall, and continue to the base of the subsidiary chimney taken by Cave Gully. Move right and climb to a ledge under an imposing crack-line.
2. 45m Go up the slab corner on the left for 10m then pull up right into a deep chimney, which gives a superb pitch.

P.Macpherson & M.E.Moran, 21st December 2009

Fri Dec 18th: Blasphemies on the Migrant Direct: We had planned a "mission" to do a big route on Lochnagar but wimped out in face of a snowy forecast. So it was back into the Northern Corries for another short day. The weather was windless with gentle intermittent snowfall. Conditions on the Coire an Lochain cliffs were challenging. A partial thaw earlier in the week had been followed by a rapid refreeze, leaving most routes sheathed in verglas. The rime, usually soft and febrile, had melted and refrozen into substantial ice daggers. We chose Migrant Direct, a route that was supposed to be more easily climbable with the help of ice. Worryingly, the overall grade is considered VII, 8 without ice but VIII, 7 with ice. Pete led an enjoyable technical 7 pitch to a balcony under the overhanging corner groove that forms the crux. Sure enough there was a strip of thin ice in the back of the groove but the sidewalls looked so smooth and were so thickly caked in rime that it was pointless trying to excavate any footholds for bridging. Instead, I found it necessary to yard up on the arms, jabbing the axes from nick to nick in the ice, while windmilling my left foot in the groove and bracing the right knee against the rime. Having stripped old scabs off my knee-cap a trail of blood quickly developed down the wall. Protection was left a considerable way behind and strength had drained to the last remaining trickle when it became possible to twist the hips and throw a foot out to a ledge on the left arete. Rarely do I profane the heavens but this was an appropriate moment! Thankfully, the standard eased thereafter although protection remained sketchy. By contrast to all the other routes we've done recently this felt decidedly the most desperate. There are those who try to exclude strenuosity from the technical grade. All I can say is that whoever gave it a technical 7 must be formidably strong! We drove home through steady snowfall. Aviemore is transforming from planning nightmare to winter wonderland!

Fri Dec 11th: Tolstoy's Masterpiece: Pete MacPherson and I did War and Peace (VII, 8) in Coire an Lochain - a Davison/Nisbet route up No.4 Buttress right of Fallout Corner. This was an excellent outing. Any route authored by Brian Davison deserves respect as his strength and ability are legendary. However, we found conditions helpful. There was usable ice in the first pitch. Much rock was showing on the second and a party had done the route earlier in the week, giving away most of the secrets as to where there were useful placements. Nonetheless, the crux overhung was exhilaratingly commiting and strenuous and the exit was problematic with thick rime masking the rock. Weather and ambience in the Northern Corries were once again magnificent. There were a few other parties out doing Central Crack Route, The Migrant, Hoarmaster, Deep Throat and Aqualung. It is a pre-Christmas bonanza for all of us lucky enough to live near the hills, without immediate gainful employment.

Fri Dec 4th: Ventriloquist, Coire an Lochain: Never has it been so easy to get up at 4.30am and drive to the Cairngorms - dry, cold with full moon. The Northern Corries cliffs were plastered in rime and snow with barely a rock showing. The dawn was one of the most splendid I've ever seen. All the Central and West Highlands from Meagaidh up to Wyvis were arrayed in pink alpenglow for 10 minutes, reminding me of the vast expanses of western Norway. Within this breathtaking landscape the Monadhliath windfarms poked up like minute matchsticks, adding dimension and scale and thus enhancing the view. Pete MacPherson and I decided to climb on the least snowy buttress, No.1 in Coire an Lochain. Ventriloquist has a mean reputation at VII, 7 - having spat off several leaders. We climbed it direct with no deviations into Auricle. I was pretty pleased with my first pitch which had a horribly technical sequence with no gear above a big ledge. Pete despatched the crux crack in a couple of minutes and carried on up the final pitch. I guess I got a bit blase and switched off a bit when seconding, but after falling off twice I was cut down to size. Thereafter I grovelled my way to the top with a series of grim laybacks off torqued axes, feeling and looking like a spreadeagled goose half-roasted for Christmas. To think that this route was first done by men with beards, straight shafts and wristloops back in 1990! All I can say is "respect to Nisbet and John Lyall"! Ventriloquist felt like a gritstone E3 6a whereas Sioux Wall was like a steady sustained mountain E4 5c by comparison.

Nov 30th - Dec 1st: Sioux Wall and a Pasting on Tower Ridge: I had two excellent days on Ben Nevis on Monday and Tuesday, The cliffs were heavily caked in verglas, rime and soft ice, making mixed climbing genuine but laborious as every placement had to be cleared of crud. On Monday Pete and I did Sioux Wall, a modern classic, one of the best hard mixed climbs I've ever done. In the evening we enjoyed a dead calm on the summit plateau together with a full moon. The only downer came when we couldn't get the lock to open on the CIC Hut door. That meant an unplanned return to the valley, but thanks to Rich Bentley's hospitality we enjoyed a cosy night sleeping among his cats on his lounge floor!

Then on Tuesday it was back up the track to the hut. Nick Owen and I had a mini-epic on Tower Ridge, which was plastered in snow. We were hit by violently gusty winds on arriving at the Great Tower and completed the route crawling on all fours for fear of being blown into the maelstrom. A steady 70-80mph wind greeted us on the top. The newly erected cairns were a great help in guiding us safely down the Tourist Route. As a guide I shouldn't really say that but at nightfall in a storm it is always a relief to find proof of the correct route.

Sun Nov 29th: Cioch Nose: four of us from Torridon Mountain Rescue Team had a fun day in cold clear weather examining the difficult terrain on the Applecross Cioch Nose. If anyone gets cragfast here the rescue scenario will be highly challenging. Steep vegetated cliffs with narrow terraced weaknesses and a 500 foot clear exposure down the Nose would make a crag-snatch or stretcher-lower a very complex and committing task. We abseiled down the whole route, checked belays and took GPS references. If you do fall off here we are now ready for you, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend the experience! Anyone going here in the winter months needs to be fully equipped with headtorches and basic bivouac equipment.


Our team of 6 spent a varied and rewarding five weeks in the Nanda Devi range of Kumaon in India with the blessings of good weather and a safe return. A beautiful 5 day trek took us from the roadhead at Munsiari up the Gori Ganga gorge, then up the Lawan valley to a base camp at 4280m under the awesome 3000m SE wall of 7434m Nanda Devi East. Base camp was an extensive flat grazing meadow with fresh running water and a carpets of primulas.

The Heroic Poles: A Polish expedition was already camped nearby, in the final stages of their attempt on NDE to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the historic first ascent in 1939. Jan Lenczowski, grandson of first ascensionist Jakub Bujak, was the leader. The 1939 climb of the SE Ridge was the hardest pre-war route in the Himalaya by a considerable margin, and has only been repeated a handful of times, all with extensive fixed roping apart from an impressive Alpine-style ascent by British Guides Roger Payne and Julie-Ann Clyma in 1994. The subsequent story of the 4 Polish engineers who pulled off the magnificent first ascent in 1939 is harrowing. Two were killed by an avalanche on Tirsuli three weeks after the NDE climb. The other two, Bujak and Klarner, were unable to return to Poland due to the outbreak of war. Bujak went to Britain, worked in the war effort, then disappeared in mysterious and unexplained circumstances in Cornwall in 1945, just after the war's end. He never saw his wife or family again after leaving for Nanda Devi. Klarner wrote a book on the trip, returned to Poland after the war, but then disappeared, presumably into one of Stalin's gulags in 1949. His daughter published the book in 1956.

Nanda Lapak (5782m): The whole team (Jim Finnie, Paul Guest, Rob Jarvis, Martin Moran, John Venier and Leon Winchester plus our LO, Luder Singh from Kulu) warmed up with an ascent of Nanda Lapak, an excellent training peak on the ridge east of Nanda Devi. From a comfortable camp at 5100m an AD standard climb was made to the summit, with a section of 80m of hard brittle glacier ice at 60deg angle forming the crux. The views were exceptional, probably the best of the trip.

Longstaff's Col: Meanwhile the Poles gave up their brave attempt on NDE, having fixed ropes to 6900m. They had been hampered by deep snow and strong winds. It was sobering for us to see these hardened climbers (one had summitted Everest sans-oxygen!) retreat through exhaustion. Nonethless, we made our first foray to Longstaff's Col. At 5910m this col is a historic gateway to the Nanda Devi peaks, first reached by Dr Tom Longstaff in 1905. The problem with the col is that can only by accessed by a 40 to 50 deg snow/ice couloir which is no less than 1000 metres in vertical height! Add a 16kg load plus the essential need to reach the col soon after dawn before the sun loosens the snow and avalanches commence, and you have a challenge. We set out at 1am. In fog and light snowfall we took 8 hours to reach the col. John, who was carrying an enormous sack, dropped out half-way. Longstaff's Col would be fine if a nice cosy snow hollow for a secure campsite could be found; but no, the col is a knife-edge with a 900m plunge into the Sanctuary on the far side. We hacked two tiny tent platforms on the crest and prayed that it wouldn't be windy. This is no place to trip over a tent guyline! The day was probably the most exhausting of the trip, but ended with a majestic sunset over the Sanctuary.

Nanda Devi East Pinnacles: Over the next two days Martin and Rob with Leon and Paul explored the route across the pinnacles towards NDE. The Polish team had done a superb job of fixing 8mm ropes to an assortment of old pegs hammered into rotten rock. The pinnacles were snowed up and very airy. The climb across the three towers was totally exhilarating - akin to the Eiger Mittellegi ridge. Martin and Rob continued up the next buttress, looking for a potential campsite at 6100m. However, the fixed ropes ran out and a long exposed snow ridge continued to the next step with no sign of a campsite. Deterred, they returned to the col, and on the evening of June 1st the 6 climbers descended to base camp for a rest and a rethink.

Changuch: A recce was then taken under the south wall of unclimbed Changuch, a beautful peak of 6322m south of base camp, which had resisted three previous attempts. We spotted a feasible route up couloirs and ramps to gain its NW Ridge. After tactical discussion we decided to forgo a slim chance of getting up NDE for the chance of getting our names on the first ascent list! Meanwhile Jim was suffering from a strained knee and John was struggling with health and fitness. With little chance of climbing Changuch they both decided to leave the trip early and departed for home on June 7th. While Rob, Paul and Leon made an initial foray to Changuch NW Ridge Martin faced the unenviable task of going back up to Longstaff's Col with high-altitude porter Heera Singh to retrieve some 35kg of equipment and tentage. They left Advance camp at 4870m at 7.15pm , reached the col at midnight and got back to camp just as the sun hit the couloir at 6am.

On the night of June 6th/7th Rob, Paul and Leon climbed the couloir and ramps to gain the Changuch NW Ridge at 5800m. After a tough all-night climb hopping in and out of avalanche runnels they established camp with two single-skin tents on an exiguous site at the col, and rested for the next 36 hours. Martin and Luder followed the route the next night joining the col camp at 3am. After a fine hot spell of weather a more unsettled phase took hold with afternoon snowfall blowing in from the south. However, the nights were still fine and after shaking off several centimetres of fresh snow the team emerged at midnight on June 8th/9th. In Rob's tent Luder was sick, vomiting his breakfast back into his mug. But this boy is made of tough stuff - within a few minutes he declared himself ready to start. Martin was suffering paroxysms of finger and toe pain, contracted from spending a cold night bivvying outside. Nonetheless, the teams were ready to move at 12.30am. Martin led the first 130m of mixed ridge, then Rob took over to make a sterling lead of the exposed snow-ice slopes above. We moved together across a 250m 55deg traverse, then Rob led 4 steeper 60m pitches to gain the undulating upper arete. At around 9am he pulled on to the summit crest. The highest point was a crumbling pinnacle 30m across the crest.

We downclimbed the route to regain the col just as the afternoon blizzard began at 1pm. After a cramped and pensive afternoon, the decision was made to bale out as soon as the storm ended. We couldn't afford another 24 hours trapped on the col. At 6.30pm descent was started. The slopes below the col had a thick cover of fresh snow. Once we had satisfied ourselves that they were safe the downclimbing was easier than we might have expected in bare icy conditions. At midnight we emerged into phantasmagorical moonlight on the Lawan Glacier, and wandered back to base camp in an exhausted reverie. Naveen produced tea, soup and dahlbhat at 3am and we turned in to bed at dawn!

Traill's Pass : After three days of complete rest the team were ready to tackle the final phase of the trip - a crossing of Traill's Pass to Pindari. Britain's first commissioner to Kumaon, Mr G.W.Traill, had crossed this 5312m pass in 1832. Due to glacial retreat the crossing became much more difficult in the 20thC and the only recorded crossings were made in 1941 and 1994. Leaving base camp on a glorious morning on June 14th we climbed a glacier and 300m 45deg gully to reach the col and camped on the plateau beyond. That night the weather was warm and misty and we had a tough job trailbreaking over the plateau next morning to reach a rock shoulder at 5425m where a mighty downfall broke away into the Pindar valley. As clouds boiled up and snowfall commenced we tackled a tricky descent of a 55-60deg snwo/ice gully, then dropped off a glacier shelf on foul exposed and vegetated ground. With clear weather we might have safely reached Pindari by early afternoon, but fog and blizzard complicated routefinding. We could not risk a blind descent to the valley with so many cliffs in the vicinity. After many false starts and the best part of 400m reascent we finally bushwhacked a line into the valley and reached the shepherds huts at 6.30pm - all of us totally blown! Luder asked the shepherd, Amar Singh, if he could offer any food and 90 minutes later we were sat cross-legged in his hut enjoying a magnificent if spicy dahlbhat. The next three days were spent wandering down the gorgeous Pindari valley, happily little-changed since my last visit in 1995. We ended with a knee-crushing 1500m descent to the roadhead at Song.

On June 20th we were reunited with our superb base camp team of Naveen, Mangal and Heera at Berinag. A delightful night was enjoyed in the bustling hill resort of Naini Tal before the final weary bus ride back to Delhi and the furnace-like blast of an air temperature of 43degC! Thanks to Guide Rob Jarvis, to Mr Pandey and his dedicated staff at Himalayan Run & Trek, to Mountain Equipment (in particular Duncan Machin) for generous support on purchases of clothing and equipment for the team, and to our peak-bagging LO Luder Singh for helping to make this one of our most memorable trips.

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