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MARTIN'S 2011 BLOG

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Dec 20: Tango on the Tower Winter ascent of Tower Ridge with Rod Winton

Dec 16: The Needle and the Damage Done Winter ascent of The Needle on Shelter Stone with Murdo Jamieson

Dec 2: Winter Begins Ascent of Nocando Crack with Pete Macpherson and Guy Robertson

Nov 16-17: The Cuillin Traverse in November? Traverse of the Main Ridge with Jim Marshall

Aug 21-25: Alpine Road Trip - Old Men Behaving Badly Badile N Ridge and Salbit S Ridge with Roy Fitzsimmons, Aidan Roe, Bill Shaw and Des Winterbone

July 2-9: Gordonstoun Hit the Alps Report on school trip to the Alps - Pigne d'Arolla, Weissmies

May 28-Jun 4: Lyngen Alps Norway Courses report from Arctic Norway

Feb 20: Voldemort is Slain Ascent of Voldafossen at Aurland with Tim Blakemore

Jan 12: King of the Swingers A first winter ascent on Far East Wall, Beinn Eighe with Pete Macpherson

Dec 23 2010: Wailing Wall New route on An Teallach's Hayfork Wall with Murdo Jamieson

Dec 19th 2010 Feast of the East with the Young Turks A first winter ascent on Beinn Eighe's Eastern Ramparts

Dec 9th 2010: The God Delusion Second ascent on Beinn Bhan with Pete Macpherson

Other entries: 2010 2012

Dec 20 2011: Tango on theTower: The pre-dawn murk of the last day of sub-zero weather saw Rod Winton, Alex and I sliding up a glassy Ben track in Rod's 4x4. Alex headed straight off for a lonely traverse of Carn Mor Dearg, Aonach Beag and all the Grey Corries while Rod and I got started on Tower Ridge by 10.30am. Rod was wanting some preparatory climbing for his technical ice course with us in Norway in February. He is taking his training seriously, to the extent that he has built a plyboard ice climbing wall in the warehouse of his removals business. We had expected to find tracks from the weekend but the Ridge was impeccably caked in unblemished snow and rime. So deep was the snow that our hopes of a swift ascent were quickly revised. The serious nature of the conditions was made apparent when I fell through a little cornice at the head of the Great Chimney and was left wriggling like a sand-worm while Rod fielded me on the rope. Only by determined ploughing and digging for belays did we get to the Great Tower. Now we knew why nobody had been up the route. Here gathering mists created white-out conditions, and as I traversed the Eastern shelf I thought of Alex who was floundering along miles of wind-drift and corniced edges without the security of a rope. We rode the narrow arete to the Tower Gap with only an hour of daylight to spare. The rock was so heavily rimed that I couldn't excavate the crucial in situ sling for the nasty little descent. Nor was there any point in trying to find cracks for gear on the climb out of the far side. Even finding a belay took the better part of ten minutes. From here we moved together and further enhanced thigh musculatures by a stint of wading up and over a small cornice lip to the plateau. Thanks to light winds we could sort torches and set map and compass for descent to the Red Burn. Rod monitored me from behind and it was alarming to be constantly told that I was sliding to the right. With his corrections we stumbled on some cairns and at last found some tracks on the Tourist Route. Down on the moors the thaw had begun and we splashed over the Allt a'Mhulinn to reach the car at 6.30pm. Tower Ridge can be a pleasant breeze in clear weather and firm snow but today's experience left me feeling somewhat chastened. It's still only grade III though! I had to explain to Rod that grade V ice climbs can seem much easier. We met Alex at Spean Bridge. He was himself chastened by the 8 mile walk-out from his last summit, Stob Ban, but had bagged six Munros in his day. Rod wandered into the Commando Bar for a fish supper while we headed home and into the rain that will herald Christmas.

December 20: Rod Winton on the lower steps of Tower Ridge

Dec 16 2011: The Needle and the Damage Done: Our plans for Ben Nevis were switched to the Cairngorms on seeing recent web pictures of Shelter Stone crag swathed in snow, and Murdo and I set out from the ski car-park into a still moonlit night at 5.45am. Shelter Stone is one of those special places where every visit produces an adventure that stays vivid in the memory. The trek in and out can be a nightmare in deep snow but this morning we had good tracks to guide us up over the plateau and down Coire Domhain. Soon after 8am we were roped and ready to do battle with The Needle, a classic summer E1 first climbed by the legendary Edinburgh climber Robin Smith in 1961. The winter ascent by Colin MacLean and Andy Nisbet in 1985 was a landmark event in Scottish mixed climbing - perhaps the first undisputed grade VIII route. Several crack teams have repeated the winter route in recent years, their speed and efficiency suggesting that the difficulties have paled by modern standards. I suggest future visitors should refrain from making any such assumption! An inevitable issue on routes like The Needle is that a liberal snow cover is necessary to bring the steep pitches into condition with the consequence that the easier slabby sections are typically blanketed in deep powder and consume precious time and energy. I was immediately acquainted with this conundrum on launching into the big corner of pitch one. A shovel might have been of as much assistance as a Nomic axe in removing the drifts of soft snow. Murdo led through across a ramp to bring us plumb beneath the central barrier that holds the summer 5b crux pitch. Already over two hours had passed and we were well into the fourth hour of feeble winter daylight by the time I'd gained a stance 50 metres higher half-way up the route. The climbing was intricate and enjoyable with good protection and the strenuous sections were eased by sinker axe placements. Murdo took a long while to get warmed up and second the pitch, then it was my turn to wrap up in our belay jacket and hunker down for the long wait as Murdo led through towards the misted headwall and disappeared from view.

Above: Leading the 3rd pitch of The Needle through the lower bastion of Shelter Stone Crag

Right: Murdo tackles the footless ramp leading to the Crack for Thin Fingers on pitch 4

Above: Martin takes the first nightshift on pitch 5 leading to the Needle Crack

Right: Thank God he's leading! Murdo racks up to do battle with the hideous Needle Crack

The Crack for Thin Fingers is one of the summer highlights of the climb. I remember it as a delightful little 5a layback in summer, so became increasingly concerned by the slow rate of progress. By the time Murdo had gained a belay I'd been motionless for two and a half hours and my skeleton was in a state akin to rigor mortis. I started up a smooth ramp, removed Murdo's gear and then realised the ropes ran horizontally for 30 feet along a terrace, so was faced with a massive pendulum if I messed up the technical 7 moves necessary to gain the ledge. Muttering unjust oaths about Murdo's lack of attention to his second's welfare I grimly hauled the body over the impasse and traversed the terrace until below the Thin Fingers Crack. This appeared fearsome and began with some desperate moves on millimetric hooks such that I became convinced Murdo had climbed the wrong line. Having stretched to the limit to reach the layback crack there was no respite. Only by some brutish torquing on the axes did I get level with the thank-God ledge to the right. Here there was a thick bank of useless powder and summer's pleasant mantleshelf was replaced by a sequence of excruciating technicality that seemed solid grade 9. By now I was so exhausted that I fell off twice on the last section of the pitch. Without doubt Murdo came of age as a winter climber with this superb lead. Darkness quickly enveloped us as we swapped leads.

Thankfully my next lead was an easier groove leading to the famous Needle crack - a 35 metre square-sided cleft soaring into the black night. A troublesome breeze had risen to accompany the prevailing fog, chilling the bones and reinforcing our sense of commitment. We were in for a long night on the high Cairngorms. The security of the ski car park is entirely illusory when you are over in the Loch Avon basin. Clothes were damp and gloves were wet. Any error here would cost us dear. A big lead was needed up the Crack and Murdo responded. Fighting the urge to doze off down on my stance I noted the staccato progress of the rope and intermittent crampon-scratchings from above, sure signs of unrelenting difficulty and strenuosity. Murdo took the best part of an hour and a half to reach the top. I seconded in perplexed admiration of the technical difficulty, never mind the struggle required with every metre of progress. The crack is too narrow to admit the body so a jammed boot and elbow had to be combined with can-opener axe placements in a two-inch crack on the left wall. I have never done such a relentless technical 8 pitch. The route wasn't quite over and I waded up a vertical bank of windslab to a final short chimney and chockstone, the eye of the Needle. At 9.45pm we both topped out and shivered our way back into the corrie to search for our sacks.

Having passed through the stage of mere muscular depletion my body was now close to complete breakdown and I struggled to keep Murdo's torchlight in my sights as we made the 200 metre reascent out of the Loch Avon cirque. We ploughed up Coire Domhain to the plateau edge and spirits revived as we picked up the beaten trail out of Coire an-t Sneachda At 12.45am we reached the car, but I still had the best part of three hours ahead of me before bed - driving home through a blizzard, staving off cramp with a hot soak, and rehydrating with Berocca tablets and tea, then cooking fish and chips at a distinctly ungodly hour. Make no mistake The Needle is properly hard. There are grade VIII's and grade VIII's; if you do a short testpiece like The Secret on the Ben and imagine that you've mastered the grade I respectfully urge you to think again. And the damage done? Spontaneous cramps, stiff neck, strained back, bleary eyes and the thousand-yard stare that speaks of dehydration and mental fatigue. Murdo had missed his work Christmas party to join me for the night on The Needle but at least he could rejoin his colleagues on Saturday morning with exactly the same hangover!

A beautiful view down Loch Avon during one of the rare clear spells during our day on Shelter Stone (photo: Murdo Jamieson)

Dec 2 2011: Winter Begins: Nocando Crack: At last the snows and sub-zero temperatures have arrived. A Northern Corries trip should be logistically simple, but I was all but trapped by an articulated lorry jack-knifed across the icy road at Achnasheen and just squeezed through on the verge. The side roads around Pete Macpherson's house at Inverness were like glass. Meanwhile, Guy Robertson had spent half an hour in the hands of Northern Constabulary after being pulled over for suspicious driving at 2am on the road near Aviemore."What are you doing?" asked the traffic cop. "Going climbing", said Guy. "Where?" "Coire na Lochain", came a plausible reply, but clearly this didn't satisfy the Bill.. "Which route?" "A new one, actually!" said Guy mischeviously. Such evasion was unacceptable and he was detained while computer record verifications were were made with the DVLA and UKClimbing databases.

So it was vaguely miraculous that all three of us got to the ski car park. None of us had slept much - a mix of excitement and trepidation at the start of the season and the trials to come. In fact we weren't after a new route, just a suitable pipe-opener, and the aptly-named Nocando Crack on No 3 Buttress was an intriguing prospect. In 13 years the route was known to have been climbed only twice, despite taking an eye-catching crackline up a 50 metre wall. Andy Nisbet and Brian Davison had first climbed it free in 1997. Extreme icing was the usual cause of subsequent failures, and a fierce hanging flake at the top was an added deterrent. By going for it in early season we hoped that it wouldn't be too verglassed.

The walk-in was an unpleasant wallow in soft drifts against a keen southerly wind. On reaching the crag Macpherson pulled out an array of new kit acquired for testing through his shop, including a pair of gloves which retail for £170. Electrically heated and self-drying; Gucci label?. No these looked like bog standard gloves with no special features other than a 700% manufacturer's mark-up. Thus attired, Pete made a solid lead of the 30 metre first pitch. Despite our best hopes the wall was verglassed and the crackline held sufficient ice that picks could be lodged with confidence. The downside was the lack of accessible rock to find protection. Indeed, the second pitch continued the theme only with greater steepness and more obvious lack of protection until a rock flake 25 feet up. With a small knifeblade and bulldog hook placed at the start I soon became committed to finish the pitch. Having just spent £850 on expensive ski touring gear in readiness for a dignified retirement from the winter climbing scene, it was quickly apparent that the kit would all be going on Ebay if I fell off here. I tapped my way up the ice with the delicacy of the finishing touches of a fine sculptor, then tackled some strenuous mixed moves with assurance of two hexentric chocks hammered into the verglas.

Any drama surrounding my lead was instantly dwarfed when a loud boom was heard from below, followed by a yell "Avalanche!". A large cloud of snow was funnelling down the gully beside The Great Slab and when it cleared we spotted two climbers shaking themselves down. Three days after the first snows and there was serious avalanche risk as soft windslab built up in the corrie. Winter comes quickly when it comes. Luckily the pair were uninjured and made a somewhat disorganised but successful retreat.

The fearsome flake fell to Guy. Although barely 6 metres in vertical height this last pitch involved an alarming lurch and layback out on to the right wall, again with the trusty Bulldog hammered into the ice as the crucial protection. A brief struggle up the flake and Guy was up. The route is described as grade VII, 8 but "high in the grade". We humbly concurred. When I had finally extracted the Bulldog and struggled up to the belay Pete and Guy were sharing musical recollections from seminal moments in their lives, a fascinating mix of bad taste and ill-timing. In a maelstrom of spindrift, shivering on a belay ledge, you get to know your companions more closely than you ever could back in the safe world. We abseiled off and stumbled down through even deeper drifts as a mournful dusk settled over the land. Day one of the season was done, and we all felt great to be out winter climbing again.

Nocando Crack (VII, 8): Left: Martin sets off up the icy second pitch; Above: Yes: it's winter again! Guy seconds pitch two (photos: Pete Macpherson)

Nov 16-17: The Cuillin Traverse in November? For a fortnight Scotland's North-West luxuriated under clear skies, a balmy mediterranean breeze and a full moon. Winter kit was mothballed and replaced by chalk-assisted frolics on deserted Torridonian crags. Every evening the sun set in spectacular ribands of gold over the Cuillin. Though November's days are short the possibility of making a traverse of the Ridge begged some action. Jim Marshall had been waiting since June to weigh anchor and drive north the moment I signalled two days all-clear on Skye. He is a veteran of Eiger, Matterhorn and Norwegian ice campaigns. Compulsive climbing and manic rock drumming are his release valves from a repetitive day job as skipper of the Gourock-Dunoon ferry across the Clyde. A torn Achilles tendon had scuppered the climbing for a year and he wanted to prove his return to fitness. Midweek's weather prediction was perfect with only slow deterioration towards the weekend. I made the fateful call. Vital dental repairs detained me on Tuesday and Jim was already on the road from Glasgow when slight doubt over Thursday's trend materialised into a distinctly "iffy" forecast. By then we were committed and Jim walked in chock-full of bluster looking like one of Parahandy's crew with his chinstrap beard. He had persuaded his relief skipper to step in till 7am on Friday. With Jim there are no half-measures. He was ready to give his all to the task. I tried to forget Thursday's predicted rainbursts and we strode out from the frosted shadows of Glen Brittle on the dot of 6am on Wednesday morning

Jim checks visibility on Gars Bheinn with Sgurr Alasdair behind

Martin surveys the central Cuillin from Sgurr Dubh Mor, 2nd Munro on the traverse

Emerging from the T-D Gap - we even managed to carry our sacks up the Severe chimney

Before the deluge! Jim relaxes with a cuppa at the bivouac under the teeth of Thormaid

Instead of flogging up the screes to Gars Bheinn we decided to go up Coire a'Ghrunnda and left sacks under Sgurr nan Eag, which doesn't save any time but gets you up to all good things on the Ridge considerably quicker. We struggled in the glare of the new-risen sun on the southward march to Gars Bheinn and were relieved to turn about at 10am to begin our traverse. We skipped across dry boulders, revelling in the grip and precision of lightweight rock shoes. Jim had 5.10 approach shoes and I started with Scarpa Zens, then changed to Sportiva Rock Jocks as the T-D Gap neared. Today the Severe chimney climb out of the Gap was almost a pleasure. We were up Alasdair at 2pm and mounted King's Chimney on to Sgurr Mhic Choinnich as the first tendrils of approaching cloud licked the ridge. Jim was keen to incorporate all the highlights in the traverse so we soloed in tandem up An Stac buttress, then led through up the Inaccessible Pinn as a peaceful twilight settled over the landscape. The comfort and security of the In Pinn hotel was just a couple of minutes away, but every bit of extra progress can be vital to success on the traverse. We sacrificed cavernous luxury to press on to a rather more exposed bivouac somewhere after Sgurr na Banachdich. The last vestiges of light disappeared on the summit of Banachdich and banks of mist crept over the ridge from the east. The cut-off to the continuing link to Sgurr Thormaid and Sgurr a'Ghreadhaidh is tricky enough to find in daylight but now my torchbeam met a wall of white fog worthy of a set from "The Hound of the Baskervilles". Visibility was barely five metres and for half an hour I blundered up and down likely lines leaving Jim increasingly doubtful of my competence. Finally we got the line and scampered over Thormaid to a "rest and be thankful" crow's nest under the coxscomb ridge, sheltered by a jutting prow of rock. Jim was easily fooled by my magnaminous offer to take the grotty Trekmates bivvy bag in return for the inside sleeping berth, while he got hooded Goretex and exposure to any wind or rain that should blow in the night. We had less than two litres of water each, hardly enough to rehydrate after 12 hours of non-stop action, still less to fuel our second day. Having remembered seeing a stash of water bottles in the locality two years previously I went on a hunt. A two litre bottle of Morrison's Value mineral water was duly excavated and we settled to an evening of sweet brews and Super Noodles. Blissfully oblivious to whatever Thursday's weather held in store I sunk to fathomless sleep.

A steady patter of water on my legs wakened me just after 4am. A shower curtain was poring off the rock overhang, and our feet were resting in a paddling pool. The forecast's promise of a little light overnight rain was materialising as a deluge in true Cuillin tradition. We brewed and tried to doze till daylight at seven. Jim was getting the worst of the drips and gradually edged closer inwards until his whiskers were just about brushing my face, then commenced his dawn chorus of wind instrumentation. It was quickly apparent that we had to move. Squeezing into damp socks and shoes we emerged into a fug of supersaturated cloud at 8.30am, but at least the rain had stopped. The forecast had indeed posted "dry for the daylight hours". With hopes raised we set off, believing we could reach Sgurr nan Gillean and get off the Ridge before nightfall, even with the rock wet. The wind fell light and the air stayed exceptionally mild. Soon my toes and fingers were tingling and the Rock Jocks were doing the business padding on the greasy slabs. We didn't even pause for breath at Sgurr a'Mhadaidh, eager to embark on the vital central sections over Mhadaidh's tops and Bidein Druim nan Ramh. We stayed roped across a slithery mix of sloping floors and lichened walls. The clouds parted as a southerly wind sprang to life. Shaft of sun played on the moors to the north, Were we to get a complete clearance? A heavy blatter of rain as we came off the Mhadaidh tops answered that prayer! Suddenly my spirit sank as I pondered the long chain of difficulties still to come, the black wall of cloud to windward and our wet bedraggled state. It would only take one minor accident - a trip, a sprain or even a ruptured tendon - and we'd be well and truly stuffed! We could forget hope of a helicopter rescue in this fog.

"Jim; I'm thinking about binning this. There's too much against us" I cautioned. I turned to see dismay on his face. "Well; it's your call" he answered, but I knew his true thoughts, and after all it was me who had dragged him up here on promise of ideal conditions. At such moments of doubt even a professional guide has to admit that momentary portents can sway the day. The air stayed dry during a hesitant ten minute climb towards Bidein and this was enough to rekindle some resolve. I pushed on and didn't think back. Scary downclimbs, misted abseils and teetering aretes led us to the An Caisteal gap and the big climb on to Bruach na Frithe. Here the wind rose to gale force and a blast of stinging raindrops was thrust across the ridge crest. We staggered to the summit and down to the Bealach na Lice. Time was just on our side. We had three hours to get to Gillean and back before dark. The tempest precluded any attempt on Naismith's Route. Instead we ran down Lota Corrie into the wind and headed up Collie's ramps and gullies back towards the Bhasteir Tooth. Waterfalls gushed down every cranny. My spectacles became so steamed that I had to take them off and navigated by blurred vision and an increasingly blurred memory. I increasingly felt a sense of disembodiment. My actions no longer seemed driven by my thoughts. So when does hypothermia set in? For the moment I was generating plenty of heat and Jim followed with total surety of foot. We bagged the Tooth, and endured a sustained pasting as we traversed the slabby ridge of Am Basteir. The chimney on Gillean's West Ridge was mercifully sheltered and we picked our way to reach the summit in oppressive gloom at 3.40pm.

There remained sufficient light to descend the ridge, abseil the chimney and traverse the screes under Am Basteir. We had left all non-essential kit at the Bealach na Lice, which we could pick up en-route back to Glen Brittle where Jim had left his car at the forest car park. The rain still sheeted down as we squelched down the Fionn Choire. I dreamt only of getting home to a hot bath, log fire and big meal. Maybe I'd watch the news, then Question Time...perhaps have a can of beer. With just half an hour to go a plaintive voice called out from behind. "Martin, I've left the car keys in your van. I'm really sorry and I know I'm stupid!" Jim was ready for the verbal blast which overwhelmed the prevailing gale. My prolonged bollocking was terminated with the reflection that far from needing the patience of a saint, a mountain guide needs the patience of Job and more. Glen Brittle was black and deserted. We would have to walk an extra four miles into the wind to get to my van at the beach. Half-way down the glen I admitted to Jim that I had once done the same with the keys on a 16 mile family walk. With the air thus cleared we finished the trek with happy chatter and I ferried Jim back to his car at 8pm. Jim's onward prospect was grim. He had a five hour drive home, then had to be up at 5am for a 12 hour shift on the boat. Come tomorrow one could envisage news reports of a Clyde ferry going round in circles, the skipper fast asleep and slumped at the helm.

Sept 16th - Oct 11th 2011: Himachal Pioneer: Three Passes and a Peak

Himachal expeditions

David King at 5700m on ascent of Eva's Peak

Himalayan guided expeditions

5th October: Robin enjoys evening light on the Sersank pass

Our team of 9 climbers (Steve Birch, Gustavo Fierro-Carrion, Allan Isherwood, David King, Martin Moran [leader], Gary Motyer, Chris Sloan [doctor], Mike Timar, and Robin Thomas [deputyt leader]) and 4 support staff (Govind Singh, Mangal Singh, Saran, Thukpa Sherpa) successfully completed one of our most challenging and strenuous Himalayan expeditions. Our aims were to complete a circuit of three difficult 5000 metre passes on the borders between Lahaul, Zanskar and Kishtwar regions, to survey the wealth of virgin peaks in this area and, if possible, to climb one of them. The journey over the Kang La (5450m), Poat La (5490m) and Sersank La (5130m) was 150km in distance with 5300m of ascent. After a day's journey from Delhi to the thriving resort of Manali via sleeper train and minibus, we crossed the 3960m Rohtang Pass and continued down the Chandra Bhaga valley to the provincial town of Udaipur where our trek commenced. The first five days followed the Miyar valley for 85km - at first by valley road through cultivations and villages, then by open grasslands and alluvial flats, and finally by 26km of glacier, the surface a variety of boulder moraine, dry ice and wet glacier. We used 20 low-level porters to get our food and kit to 5000m on the Miyar Glacier. From here we would be on our own for 12 days. To carry unnecessary equipment would seriously slow our progress; to forget something vital would be disastrous. A frantic appraisal of gear resulted in our sending our mess tent, second kerosene stove, 20kg of food, climbing kit and all spare clothing and personal luxuries back to Udaipur. Despite our best efforts to cleanse our members of their personal attachments a Kindle, a monstrous zoom lens and several pairs of weighty trekking shoes escaped the scrutiny of leaders Martin and Robin.

Throughout the trip we were blessed with wonderful clear and settled weather. Snow conditions were generally excellent, with a foot of monsoon snow sticking to the glaciers above 5000m. The Kang La is a fairly benign pass in slope angles, but Gustavo soon discovered hidden dangers when he found himself 5 metres down a crevasse slot. Martin's first attemopt to hoist him out served only to lower Gustavo three metres further down when a Ropeman prusik device was inadvertently attached the wrong way round. With some help from Gary our glorious leader corrected his mistake and Gustavo was plucked back to life. Kang La is a bleak spot, the summit adorned only with the upturned skeleton of a wild bharal sheep. Beyond we looked into the arid ranges of Zanskar, but immediately Martin's eye was caught by a shapely snow peak 10km distant. While we recovered and recce'd at a camp at 4425m in the Tidu valley our high-level porter/Sherpa staff team ferried two 25kg loads over Kang La. Now committed geographically we pondered our escape option if anything went wrong - a 25km northward trek to Padum village, 300km jeep drive by Kargil to Leh in Ladakh and a flight back to Delhi. As we were operating in the ankle-snapping territory of stone-clad ice moraine it was a sobering prospect. However, the lure of the "snow queen" we had spotted on the north side of the Tidu valley proved too strong to resist.

Eight of us set out up a morale-sapping boulder gully to make a bivouac in the high valley under the peak, but due to illness and fatigue only five were still moving upwards when dawn found us on the south face at 6am next morning. Some pitched grade II ice climbing took us over an ice serac, then we side-footed up endless slopes to a final bergschrund and short ice slope leading to the summit ridge. After a 10 hour climb of 1060 metres from our bivouac we teetered along the corniced crest at 11.15am. On all horizons were an array of unnamed, unknown peaks, many of them over 6000m and most of them of spectacular dimensions. We named our own peak Eva's Peak in honour of Mike's new baby daughter and established its height as 6119m (20,075ft). Descent and recovery from this arduous ascent was not without crisis. Allan arrived down next day minus his crampons, and was unable to remember how or where he had left them. We had omitted to carry any spares. Mangal proved to be our saviour. That evening he produced a pair of battered old Camp crampons that belonged to Vinod, one of our staff who had returned to Udaipur.

We were now camped at 5080m under the Poat La. Robin and staff ferried loads over the pass and established a route down vertiginous rock ramps on the far side. Next morning the whole team crossed this splendid pass and descended the Zanskar-Kanthang Glacier amidst an impressive array of virgin peaks and rock walls. Progress ground to a halt in the ocean of live moraines that covered the lower glacier. Having carried 20kg+ plus loads all day we were all getting exhausted and a little fractious. Yet, so tight was our onward schedule that we had to keep pushing until nightfall. We bivouacked in the open on the moraine but our amazing staff soon had a "dahlbhat" cooked up, followed by custard and dates. A new moon rose as we settled on to our gravel beds and all seemed well with the world again. We now had just four days to get over the last pass, Sersank La. All we knew about the pass was that it harboured a formidable icefall and had repelled Satya Dam's Indian team five years earlier. If we couldn't get over it our best option was to pioneer an alpine route over 5500m peaks on the southern rim of the valley. Any margin of error and we'd be missing our flights home.

Next morning, Robin and Martin left soon after dawn to forge a route over the ZK Glacier and recce approaches to the Sersank. After two and a half hours of moraine-bashing they reached a meandering side valley and made easier progress to the glacier snout. While the rest of the team followed, they then climbed into the Sersank valley and beheld a crumbling icefall that was patently impossible to scale, unless one is possessed of suicidal inclinations. However, there was a line of ramps crossing the mountain wall on its right side that might outflank the ice cliffs. We put all our money on this line and next morning, Govind, Mangal, Martin, Robin and Thukpa headed up to prove its worth. Very quickly we threaded a line up shale screes and rocky bluffs to gain the ramp, and then strolled up the screes and meadows, high above the debacle of ice. Some fortuitous wanderings round crevasses above the first icefall led to a second barrier. We decided on a frontal attack and after a couple of ice pitches threaded our ropes through a criss-crossed crevasse field to arrive below the pass. Our escape was assured, and the team were heartened to hear that we had found a route. We feasted on oatcakes and spreads, David and Mike's scrumptious cheesecake, and Saran's last dahlbhat, then performed a ritual burning of all combustible rubbish, including the leader's spare underpants, and finally made a stash of spare kitchenware in a shepherd's shelter, for their use and collection in summer 2012.

On October 5th the whole party moved up to a high camp at 4850m under the mighty north wall of 6000m Shiv Shankar.At 10am on the 6th we surmounted a slope of vertical shale to gain the pass at 5130m and looked down the gentle wooded folds of the paradiscal Sural valley. After a last day back-packing 20kg loads we reached the village and roadhead of Khangsar, the first ppeople we had seen since leaving our porters under the Kang La. Right on cue the clouds gathered, raindrops fell and for the first time in 22 days we put on our shell jackets as we loaded the jeeps for the long drive home.

As a self-supporting pioneering venture we had achieved a memorable result, and the outcome was in doubt until the last two days. No party is known to have made the circuit of these three passes in recent times and Eva's Peak was a notable first ascent - a beautiful 20,000' mountain, discovered, admired then climbed - all within five days. Mountaineering doesn't get better than that! All members had played a vital role in the success, shouldering big loads, carrying all personal kit and doing extra shares of load-ferrying, cooking and camp management. Our sense of achievement and satisfaction will be correspondingly greater, but we still owe an enormous debt to our staff - Govind, Mangal, Saran and Thukpa - who performed double carries and took on loads of up to 30kg whenever necessary to keep our caravan on the road.

Enjoy our Himachal Pioneer Photo Gallery on Flickr

 

Aug 21-25: Alpine Road-trip: Old Men Behaving Badly:

The Sasc Fura hut and Piz Badile; one of the most delectable spots on this earth

Bill and Des in tandem high on the Badile North Ridge

With temperatures soaring and crevasses gaping this was a week for rock routes only. An excited anticipation developed as our teams grabbed the offer of a road-trip via Italy to the famous granite blade of the 3304m Piz Badile, followed by the South Ridge on 2981m Salbitschijen, the crowning jewel of central Switzerland’s granite massif.
Sunday’s warm up took Texas-based Glaswegian-exile Roy, Dubliner Aidan and I to the Douvres Rousses, a neglected sweep of weathered gneiss high above the Arolla glacier. Our elderly regulars, Des and Bill, now 68 and 66 years old, decided to forgo the option of a rest day and tried to follow our grade V+ route a disrespectful distance behind on their own rope. Meanwhile, a phantom fifth client called Brendan appeared in our midst. “He’s a feckin’ character, that Brendan, the stuff he comes out with,” burbled Aidan. As a professional guide I bore patiently with Aidan’s mutterings, thinking he was talking about an absent friend, with whom I should be familiar. Then, as he struggled over a tough bit on the first pitch Aidan announced: “I think Brendan will need a top rope here!” A leprechaun-like figure with helmet hove into view 10 metres lower, nervously bobbing up and down until an umbilical rescue cord was dropped. It was none other than dear old Des.
“That ancient geezer with a goatee below you isn’t Brendan. He’s called Des!” I diplomatically whispered to Aidan. But the old goat has sharp hearing. “Don’t take my name in vain, yer b*ggers,” he growled. Des now performed what he termed “quasi-leading” ferretting around on a slack rope five metres below Aidan, who was understandably nervous at the arrangement. Anglo-Irish conflict soon erupted, and so the week’s die was cast. Bill remained stranded below, resplendent in fluorescent yellow T-shirt and orange helmet rather like a mobile belisha beacon. Unhindered by any such shenanigans, Roy scampered up each of the nine pitches.
And so to the Badile where Andy Teasdale joined us as second guide. Des turned out for the drive in crotch-tight beige shorts, relicts from a Rohan sale in the 1980’s, looking more like a Brenda than a Brendan. “Can we go to a bunga-bunga party?” he asked as we descended the Simplon pass into the torrid depths of Italy. Had he also worn a waist-length burqa Silvio might have been interested.
Despite unwelcome interjections from Des on the sexual proclivities of Saga holiday-makers, we absorbed more savoury aspects of Italian scenery and culture, terracotta-tiled roofs, wooded foothills, enticingly cheap wine, sleepy village alleys and the silty blue depths of Lago di Como. By the time we passed the border back into Switzerland at Val Bregaglia we were in another world. The soaring Badile lies up the side-canyon of Val Bondasca, as gorgeous a defile as any romantic could configure. The evening heat glazed the skyline and the Sasc Fura hut flag drooped motionless. 
Lubricated by prodigious glasses of Erdinger Weissbier spirits were raucous over dinner. Guardienne Heidi tactfully ignored the team’s limerick renditions, and more sober fellow guests must have thought that, far from psyching for a 15 hour day, we had just returned triumphant. A more serious mood descended upon the arrival of French speed-merchant Thierry “Turbo” Renault with an elderly, nay even portly, client and cameraman. Scenting competition the pensionable members slunk off to bed in pensive mood.
Come breakfast at 4.15am Turbo was nowhere to be seen, already fast bound for the Cassin Route. We had our own place to win in any queue for the North Ridge, so pushed the pace up the meadows and slabs to the base. With some slick passages of moving together we set ourselves as second and third teams in a string of six as more substantial grade IV pitches commenced. The morning was hazy but not heavy and a light breeze spared us debilitation in the strengthening sunlight. With good bolt belays progress up the Badile’s blade was swift. We climbed in rock shoes and carried only approach shoes, a litre of drink and some food.
Nearing the end of the 25 graded pitches of the North Ridge we met Turbo and entourage as they emerged from the finishing chimney of the North-East Face Cassin Route. They had taken just 5 ½ hours for the route and as they moved ahead Bill and Des achieved fleeting fame on camera. Andy, Roy and Aidan reached the summit at 11am with Turbo close behind. We arrived ten minutes later and, far from evincing the fatigue they doubtless felt, my charges adopted a pose of detached dignity in presence of French climbing royalty. Grizzled and muscled in his compression jacket, Bill scowled like a latter-day Cassin and his distant stare spoke of coming struggles on the Alzheimerhorn. Meanwhile, with wispy beard and eyebrows Des became an airy embodiment of Christian Klucker * and looked fondly southwards to the barely-remembered hill of Monte Dementia.
(*  the famous but notoriously grumpy Engadin guide of the late 19th century)

Bill Shaw as "Cassin" and Desmond Winterbone as "Klucker" in the Piz Badile summit re-enactment

Sasc Fura hut protection mob: Roy "the rock" Fitzsimmons and Aidan "pretty boy" Roe;

Turbo was inclined to be talkative and told us his client was 68 years old – the same age as Des. There was temptation to ask which month was his birthday, but we knew that Des had lost the game. Des had once mused: “When I am 70 I want to be guided up the Cassin Route by Martin Moran”. Now, I knew that I would be supplanted. “Turbo” would take my place, whatever his fee.
“You are all dinosaurs”, teased Thierry. “Now you should go and make a new route on the Grandes Jorasses and you can call it ‘Jorassic Park’.” Coming from a Frenchman the joke seemed funny. With that, he made ready to descend the easy south face into Italy and told his cameraman first to solo down the North Ridge and then drive his van round to meet them.
“It’s just like our community bus service at home”, pined Bill. “Can’t you do something like this for us, Martin?”
The request was not without relevance. It is probably a mistake to descend the Badile North Ridge, for there is a complex but much easier way back to the Sasc Fura Hut via the Passo di Trubinasca; but it is definitely a mistake to try to descend it with only a single 50 metre rope! Chipper Teasdale had urged us to dispense with a second rope on reading the Schweiz Plaisir topo.
“A single 50 is all you need”, he had advised back at the car-park. “I’ve got a 60 but you’ll be OK; there must be abseil anchors every 25 metres.”
It quickly became clear that a 50 metre single will only suffice if you take the Renault descent into Italy. The North Ridge abseil stations were 30 metres apart. I would lower Bill and Des to the next stanchion, then abseil 20 metres, pull my rope and solo down the rest. Alternatively, I downclimbed the whole pitch. Stresses multiplied. The ‘e’ of Aidan’s Irish fecks was replaced by a ‘u’ at several points. Shadows lengthened. The guardienne had predicted that we would miss dinner if we tried to descend the ridge, “unless you are very good climbers”, she had said.
“Oh, that’s no problem!” I had protested. “I’m a Guide; these clients may look decrepit but they can climb …..” How my boasts deflated as the clock sped round to 7pm and we finally unroped at the ridge base. Though still 600 metres above the hut, Bill and Des are notorious for fast descent and we pitched out of the pinewoods on to the hut terrace 45 minutes later, restoring a semblance of pride.
Dinner was far advanced and several bottles of wine lay empty when I casually suggested to geologist Roy that he might have found some interest in the granite of the Badile. Instantly, a lump rose in his throat, his lips puckered and his eyes misted.
“Ye cannae imagine what this means tae me”, he opined. “It was a’ there in thon’ batholith  …everything….subduction, xenoliths, exfoliations. This is ma’ world…”
“And that funny glazed slab we climbed where the rock was much smoother. What was that?”
“Faultlinemetamorphosis”, he gurgled, and I was sure I detected a sob. Even Des looked moved. I was fascinated and enlightened to hear such passionate discourse on the rocks we had climbed. Roy really needs his own TV show to rival the predictable fare of Professor Ian Stewart. It could be called “Glesgae Rocks” and with subtitles I am sure it would go down well.
Breakfast brought a dip in spirits. Bill’s joke about the nuns and the bedpan barely raised a smile. The Alzheimerhorn had now materialised into the South Ridge of the Salbitschijen. With his beady eyes a-twinkle, Chipper described the merits of a rapid descent to the van, four hour drive and two hour hut walk to be followed by 15 pitches of relentless granite on the morrow. Bill asked if he could go to a massage parlour instead. I knew that these battle-weary men merely needed to be coaxed and charmed with ministrations of coffee, lakeside pizzas and some good music, while our plan progressed by stealth.
Coffee was procured in the medieval café of Bondo. Des popped into the church. “He’s after choirboys again”, quipped Aidan, but in fact Des, an Open University graduate of Art History, sniffed out a beautiful 17th century fresco. I first came to Bregaglia in 1979 and the place has remained unchanged as a sanctuary of rural peace and dignity, a far cry from the mayhem of Chamonix. It was as well that we soon left.
Some “fingerlickin’ good” Texan country twangs on Roy’s iPod got us down Lake Como to the clustered villas and tenements of Menaggio, where substantial pizzas were devoured in the main piazza. Then we drove hard through Lugano and away from Italian enticements towards the St Gotthard tunnel and the granitic austerities of Schweizerland. There was a lull in the team banter and I wondered whether they were silenced in dread or eager anticipation of the trials to come. We staggered out of the bus into sultry 30 degree heat in Göschenental at 5pm, surely too late to make the 6.30 dinner at the Salbit Hut with nearly 1000 metres of uphill sweat ahead.
I need not have worried. By half-way I was glad to use the excuse of taking a photo to allow the team to pass ahead. The pace was hot and unyielding. The Salbitschijen does not make the high mountain imposition of a Badile but nonetheless it is a substantial piece, its viciously serrated skyline leaving no doubts of difficulty. Yet spirits were once more buoyant and Des’s telling of the Irishman and the wellingtons joke went down a treat. One can only conclude that depravity is insidious and contagious. I pined for the chance to guide a course of Trappist monks next week to regain some moral sanctity!
At bedtime Roy came in off the terrace clutching his phone in a state of great distress. His boss had just been fired, and he feared that he would be rumbled next. For years his Texan paymasters had believed his unintelligible patter to be strictly geological. Had they now realised what he’d meant when calling them a bunch of ‘towlies’? To climb under such speculation would be impossible.
With Roy out of action Aidan’s resolve crumbled. At 6am and an hour into the approach walk to the South Ridge he stopped and announced: “I can’t do this; I can’t leave my ‘mucker’ on his own; I’m going back.” Aidan and Roy had met four years ago on a course and had been buddies ever since. If this devotional abandonment of the climb was touching, Andy and I now feared complete capitulation of the team for Des had been murmuring something about tendonitis.

The magnificent 4c pitch to reach the Zwillingsturm on the Salbitschijen South Ridge

Andy Teasdale laybacks the summit fang of 2981m Salbitschijen, a fitting finale to a great route

Without delay we winched our charges up the approach gully and on to the climb. A French party closed up behind, muttering Gallic imprecations about our lack of speed and approaching storms, followed by a British team. We suspected they all had doubts whether such a bunch of old farts could climb at all. An ominous rising wind added further pressure, but on sustained grade V and V+ climbing with widely-spaced bolts it is unwise to rush. The slanting bedding planes enforced continual laybacking on rounded flutes, interspersed with delicate slabs. Despite appointing Des as rear-gunner to see off the Napoleonic forces Bill and I became flustered up front. Bill’s surgeon hands were scarred and bloodied after a handful of pitches, his habitually neat technique shot to pieces as Chipper shadowed him up every pitch. Commands became tense and barked. Alpine-madness, a disease that seems to arise whenever a string of parties gets into a queue, was beginning to take hold. Soon we would have tangled ropes and open anger as overtaking manoeuvres were attempted.  All the fun of the venture had disappeared.
At the fifth belay I momentarily left the rope slack and Bill shouted a warning, only to be followed in a second by Andy yelling me to take in. Enough was enough.
“Shut the f*ck up will you! I heard the first time,” I bellowed.
The effect was instantaneous. Total silence descended on the melée of ropes below. Within seconds a new regime of sanity prevailed. A pleasant politesse replaced snapped orders at the belays. Space was allowed for each climber to move at his preferred pace, and in response our technique and rhythm quickly improved; so much so that by the time we had mounted the crux pitch the following parties had dropped behind. With immaculate rock and big exposures you could nominate any of half a dozen of the Salbit’s pitches as the best VS or HVS you have ever done. By the final tower Bill and I were romping and the weather had mellowed sufficiently to allow us to layback the unprotected summit blade without fear of lightning. Andy and Des followed suit and we danced the scrambling descent with a surety of foot that mocked the morning’s scrabblings.
We were ensconced on the hut terrace when the French team arrived down and they were generous in their admiration of the performances of Bill and Des, even insisting on taking close-up photographs of the heroes with focus sharpened to capture every stray whisker. After a storming descent back to the van we rescued Aidan and Roy from the fleshpots of Göschenen. To accompaniment of wolf-whistles from Des, Andy took a nude dip in the stream, proving that his nickname “Chipper” does not just relate to an interest in carpentry.
It was a contented team that headed over the Furka Pass, down the Rhône valley through a torrential rainstorm and finally up to the home pastures of Evolène, with a singalong to Eddie Cochrane’s “Tweetie Pie” on the iPod, one of Des’s boyhood favourites.  The younger members of the team took heart and inspiration to know that boys can still be boys, whatever their age. After much mischief and 48 pitches of rock in five days Moran Mountain’s elder statesmen show little sign of slowing up.

July-August: Summer Alpine Highlights: ALPINE SUMMER PHOTOS 2011: Flickr gallery

Alps mountain guiding

Andy Dawson at the summit of the Dent Blanche after a snowy ascent July 29th 2011; Weisshorn behind

 

 

Switzerland has had its coolest July for 30 years with heavy snowfalls above 3000m drivng all but the most serious mountaineers (and hardy Brits) off the peaks. It says much when the only residents of the Vignettes Hut at the height of the season are 8 Brits, 2 Australians and the guardian. Inevitably, our Alpine courses have struggled to achieve the usual run of success, yet we have experienced some magnificent days climbing on pristine snows high above a sea of cloud. It is as though Nature has repelled the ugly hand of Man, and regained command of the landscape. It is inspiring, if like me, you grieve at the ravages imposed on Zermatt's ski slopes and lament the vanishing glacier streams, which have dwindled to rotting tongues of dirty rubble at lower levels. All is fresh. and vibrant. Huts are quiet and folk are friendlier as a result. It is a cause to rejoice rather than complain!

Our Mont Blanc fortnight was successful with Nick Asher and Peter Stone reaching the summit from the Tete Rousse after a 10 hour battle against strong winds and temperatures of minus 10C! Neil Norris was turned back at the Vallot Hut due to an asthma - so cruel after a valiant effort. It was a day when only one other person reached the top. Mont Blanc was witnessed in the raw, and was devoid of folk, save for the plethora of heavily-laden East Europeans, who still toiled skywards despite another dreadful weather forecast! Intermediate teams have been up the North Face of Pointe Marcel Kurz and out across the Mont Blanc de Cheilon Traverse and the South Ridge of L'Eveque. Six have scaled the Dent Blanche - David Cronk and Simon Raven in a very fast time and perfect conditions, Andy Dawson, Jason Greeves, Willie Lang and Graeme Lennox somewhat more slowly in thick fresh powder snow. Now it is over to the Swiss Big Three and Grandes Courses teams with better weather forecast for the first week of August, while the Swiss Trekking Peakers will set out tomorrow on their "spaghetti tour" of the peaks of the Monte Rosa range....

AUGUST: The Matterhorn was tackled on Aug 1st and 2nd in glorious weather but under a partial coating of snow, thanks to which most guides stayed away. Jason Greeves and I were the only team above the Solvay Hut on Swiss National Day. We even stopped for a sandwich half-way up the fixed ropes, normally the site of a chaotic ill-tempered throng in mid-morning. Willie Lang followed a day later with just three other guided groups alongside. So long as crampon technique is good the mountain can be climbed safely when there are snow-patches on the way up; it just takes an hour or two longer. Fresh soft snow is another matter and at the season's end Ollie Innes and Patric Franzen were denied their chance by a sudden overnight storm which laid down 3cm of powder snow at the Hornli Hut. In between Alan Bates and Nicky Moore were successful in more normal dry conditions.

Dave Kenyon's Swiss Trekking Peakers - Jesper and Ea Olsen and Mario Christofis - whipped round the Italian Haute Route in 4 days and survived a night at the Margherita Hut, Jesper proving his good health and no little wealth by buying a bottle of wine at 4500m. Kenyon's reputation was furthered by later missions to the Mountet Hut from which the Zinal Rothorn North Ridge was assailed. "The man's a human prune", gasped Louis Plenderleith on return from a Rothorn ascent followed by a 13km walk-out to Zinal during which DK had survived solely on fresh air. He does like a beer on Friday night though!

Dehydration and crevasses became the main talking points as an intense heatwave developed in mid-month. The Ried Glacier above the Bordier Hut saw the main action. Four members and one guide went into holes, the most alarming being the 50 foot plunge of David Windle. Thankfully he had one of our stronger guides, ex-marine Phil Ashby, to brake his fall and hoist him out. Nonetheless several ascents of the 4327m Nadelhorn and two of the Nadelgrat were recorded.

The second Mont Blanc team looked destined to fail when a huge rockfall swept the Grand Couloir on the Gouter Ridge and the route was subsequently closed. However, the team got properly fit by the middle of their second week and cruised a one-day ascent of the 3-Monts route from the Aiguille du Midi - well done to Alasdair MacLean, Kim Jones and Kit Lucas. At the height of the heatwave we took four of our regulars - Roy Fitzsimmons, Aidan Roe, Bill Shaw and Des Winterbone - on a road trip to solid granite on the Piz Badile N Ridge and Salbitschijen South Ridge. Ascents were also made of the Douvres Blanches Ridge (D, V) on a Himalayan expedition training weekend, Dent de Tsalion W Ridge, Grand Cornier, Dent Blanche, Alphubel Rotgrat, N Ridge of Rimpsfischhorn, N Ridge of Weissmies, S Ride of Lagginhorn, Weisshorn E Ridge, Chere Couloir, Eperon des Cosmiques, Gross Fiescherhorn, Jungfrau, Monch and Mittellegi Ridge of the Eiger. As always our Guides and Aspirants did a superb job and newly-married Judith Hawtree created a family atmosphere back at our chalet base in Evolene and produced wonderful baking and delicious dinners , whatever the hour and however short the notice. Thanks to you all and to our clients for making another memorable Alpine season.

July 2nd - 9th: Gordonstoun Hit the Alps: We began our 2011 alpine season by welcoming 10 pupils and two teachers from Gordonstoun school, Elgin, on a 6 day introductory course. The school is renowned for its holistic education ethos, as pioneered by founder Kurt Hahn in the 1930's. Now deputy head, Paul Sanderson, and head of outdoor pursuits, Ibrahim Park, wanted to bring the mountain activities to the Alps, and they deserve our eternal admiration for devoting the first week of summer holidays to the task of channelling the boisterous energies of 10 5th and 6th form students towards the high peaks. Our cook Judith was delighted to have prodigous appetites to satisfy. Scones, cookies, jam sponges, cup cakes, lemon drizzle cake and chocolate sponges all disappeared into cavernous stomachs in volumes rarely achieved by our usual adult clients. Tim Blakemore, Andy Teasdale and Swiss Aspirant Andrew Lanham, signed up to guide the week with me in a spirit of blithe optimism that the cream of today's youth would prove a pleasure to teach. In the event our hopes were fully realised. What a thrill to be addressed as "Sir" by your clients. Now if only our pensioner regulars such as Des and Bill would do the same.

The team were mad for some ice climbing on the Ferpecle Glacier on day one. Although the glacier has shrunk and flattened out in recent years we were able to find some small walls from vertical to overhanging in angle. These were were so hammered into submission that the glacier's retreat has probably accelerated. Next came the sterner physical test of a four hour walk to the Dix Hut in hot sun plus an afternoon scramble over Pointe 2940m. As always, Pierre offered warm hospitality and good food at the hut. The party's multi-linguists, Laurent and Rene, did their best to charm tghe young female staff but failed to score. Dawn saw us cramponning up frozen snow towards the 3790m Pigne d'Arolla, with a silhouetted Matterhorn on the eastern horizon. Snow conditions deteriorated markedly on the descent and Max soon found himself chest-deep in a crevasse. His team soon realised that pulling horizontally on the rope only wedged him tight against the lip of the slot, but he eventually clambered out with his manhood intact.

Wednesday was allocated as a valley activities day. While serious rock climbers scaled the Dent de Follieches and spun down its 50 metre free-hanging abseil, the remainder disported themselves across Evolene's "via ferrata". By all accounts they gave fair impressions of baboons on heat as they swung one-armed off the overhanging ladders. On Thursday a seriously early start saw us driving to Saas Grund and up the gondola to Hohsaas. From here the 4017m Weissmies was tackled with such gusto that a competitive joke-telling session was sustained throughout the final 200m ascent. Most were non-PC. Tim scored well with "What do you call a man with no arms and legs who swims the Channel?" Answer: "Clever Dick!". It was left to deputy head Mr Sanderson to top the he poll with: "What do you say to a Spanish footballer with no arms and legs?" Answer: "Gracias!". Well, they seemed funny at 4000 metres! All 16 of us summited within 5 minutes. Descent was hastened by claps of thunder and avalanches from nearby ice-cliffs, so that even an empty Weissmies Hut felt like a haven of luxury. Sonia, the toothless guardienne teased our palates with an unfathomable cheesy polenta, leaving the party's accountant horrifed as he calculated the meal was costing £30 a head. However, he was corrected that the cost actually included breakfast a swell!

With the week's 4000er duly accomplished by all, enthusiasms turned to the acres of rock on the Jagihorn. Four ascended the 13 pitch grade IV rock climb, "Alpendurst" with Martin and Andy L. The rest enjoyed the 'via ferrata" but wisely by-passed the hanging wire bridge. On completion Ben sighed and pulled one the his longest faces of the week, then pronounced that it was the most exciting thing he'd ever done! For me, the star of the week was the sole girl in the group, Sylvia, who smiled delightfully throughout as she turned from a "whiter shade of pale" to "deep purple" despite liberal applications of Factor 50.The team laid on a superb BBQ on the last night, supplying the Guides with char-grilled trout and a local wine hand-picked by "sommelier" Laurent. Nonetheless there a vague relief to see them all packed off on to the train at Sion station come Saturday morning. We can only say "respect!" to Paul and Ibrahim for marshalling the group so well and "congratiulations" to all participants. Let's hope we can do it again in 2012.

Leo enjoys the panorama of the Matterhorn, Dent d'Herens and Pigne d'Arolla

Tim points out Mont Blanc to Ibrahim, Ben, George, and Sylvia on the top of the Pigne d'Arolla

Nathan is silenced for once on the Dent de Follieches

The groups begin the descent of the Weissmies and enjoy the views to the big 4000ers of the Mischabel range

May 28th - June 4th 2011: Lyngen Alps, Norway:

The arresting Lyngen skyline: Fornesttinden (1477m) and Forholttinden (1469m) from the Ullsfjord ferry

Midnight rock on the traverse of Nordre and Midt Jaegervasstindane. Climber: Richard Hampshire (Martin Welch)

Arctic Norway

The pristine snows and peaks of Jaegervastindane at midnight on June 1st/2nd

Mike Fox, Xieheng Kong and Joe Pizer on the ascent of 1237m Sofiatinden

Our group of 10 enjoyed some memorable climbing plus Lyngen’s usual chores of monster walk-ins and all-night climbs.  Lyngen is an unblemished paradise. In early June the mountains are a stimulating mix of brilliant white glaciers, rime-caked towers, heady ridges and fluted cornices, complemented by gorgeous valleys, their rivers brimming with meltwater and birchwoods springing into life.
This year the snow cover was unusually thick and extensive and the temperature was well above 10°C on most days. When the snow is soft the climbs are tough but the knowing climber sees rich potential for rapid descent by the sitting glissade, better known as the bumslide!
First, we had to scale the peaks. We began with a delightful traverse of 1237m Sofiatinden and made acquaintance with the biggest cornices many of us had ever seen. How the wind must howl through the black months of the Arctic winter!
With a fine night promised by the forecast, the traverse of mighty Jiehkkevárri was next on the menu. This ice-cap is defended by rock scarps and séracs and at 1834m is Lyngen’s highest summit. Victorian pioneer W.C.Slingsby called it “the Mont Blanc of the  North”. Alas, our dreams were dashed by strong winds and blattering rain, which forced an impromptu bivouac at the head of Lyngsdalen. After three hours of nylon-shrouded misery we bailed out and opted for the consolation prize of 1533m Daltinden, dragging jet-lagged bodies up a 1000m couloir of sugary slush through the small hours. Revelation and redemption came simultaneously as we hit a summit freezing zone and the clouds were rent asunder to grant us stunning views over Storfjord to the empty plateau lands that stretch east into Sweden. After a laughably desperate initial descent in thigh deep pie-crust, we reached soft snows at 1200m and then slid happily all the way down to the delightful woods of Lyngsdalen.
Thirty-six hours later a second promised weather window did bear fruit in an evening of atmospheric splendour. We headed up Strupskardet to the spires and glaciers of Jægervasstindane and Lenangstindane. As showers receded, rainbows appeared over the peaks. Our approach was bedecked with a pinky carpet of spring saxifrage, creeping azalea and moss campion. A moraine of giant boulders drew us into the high mountains. We passed the frozen sheet of Blåvatnet and the sky settled to the six hour sunset that is the polar night in June.
Martin M, Jonathan Preston, Sue and Ian Stirrups, Xieheng Kong, Mike Fox and Joe Pizer headed for a snow ramp in the north face of Store Jægervasstinden (1543m). Martin Welch, Keith Horner and Richard Hampshire went for a rocky traverse of the mountain’s north and central summits.
Midnight brought a rising wreath of mist up from the glacier to enhance the virginal splendour of the peaks. The snow-hackers encountered a tense finale up exposed 55°slopes to gain the summit flutings, while the pinnacle team encountered tricky rock pitches that, in the words of one of the protagonists, “were as good as the Gloucester climbing wall”. We only felt sad that our tracks and cake-crumbs tarnished the perfection of the wilderness.
Back at Svensby cabin and camp there was an inevitable reaction as brains tried to unscramble their confused time-settings after this second night out. Our last day might easily have passed lazily, especially in view of a damp forecast, but some residual ardour remained. Jonathan, Ian and Sue went for a snowcraft training day at the northern tip of Lyngen and found an acceptable replica of Cairngorm’s Northern Corries, minus the crowds, within a couple of hours’ walk. Martin M, Mike, Xieheng and Joe took on a stern finish on the 1219m Storurdalen where summit towers posed an hour of Alpine AD mixed climbing on rock that had obviously escaped the hand of Man judging by its looseness. Success was rewarded by a 500m glissade as evening rain set in, although we were not sufficiently quick to make Lenangen’s grocery store before the statutory 5pm locking of the beer cupboard. Beware Norway’s licensing laws!
Martin Welch and Keith headed back up Strupskardet and devised an 800m scramble up the North-West Face of Litle Lenangstinden (1100m) which gave rock pitches up to Severe in standard, a new route to a summit that didn’t even have a cairn. They arrived back last to join the last-night roister where a large meal was washed down by wine, whisky and strictly non-alcoholic beer.
Another Lyngen week was over. There are 63 separate peaks over 1000m altitude, at least half of them posing difficulties of an Alpine stature. So far, after four visits, our groups have climbed just 16. We are yet to see another climber or walker on our expeditions.  Thanks to the Norwegians for preserving this paradise and guarding its secrets.

February 20th 2011: Voldemort is Slain: Any ice climber who stays at Aurland town will notice the evil eye of the Voldafossen winking from clefted face of the 1211m Voldenosi mountain. The waterfall makes two giant leaps of two hundred metres then funnels its might over a roofed amphitheatre to plunge a further 60m into the hidden lower canyon. This was a big ice baby - beautiful, massive and alluring in equal measure. We could not believe that it was a winter virgin. Tim Blakemore had inspected the lower plunge in 2010, but it was not formed despite the prolonged freeze of that winter. Perhaps the Voldafossen was a truly rare bird. The winter of 2011 had started with extreme cold but a fortnight of thaw in early February had been catastrophic to many ice lines. Whilst we could see that the upper tiers of ice were fat no-one expected the hidden bottom pillar to have survived. It's existence could be proved only by taking the long hike up to its base or signing on for the Gudvangen-Aurland boat trip. I took the latter option and my 250 Krone proved well-spent. As we steamed up Aurlandsfjord the full line of Voldafossen hove into view including a very plump bottom pillar.

Having invested serious money in the project I laid claim to lead the pillar, provided we could muster some energy on our day off from work. Martin Welch had to suffer the agony of seeing Tim and I set off at 6am while he packed for his flight home. Three weeks of watching and wondering had come to nought, but, gentleman tht he is, he wished us well. Despite getting barely two hours' sleep due to the drunken revellings of music night at the pub adjoining our cabins, we soon perked to a nose-twitching air temperature of minus 6degC and a steady climb on hard neve snow up the wide lower canyon. We scrambled through Tolkienesque maze of chimneys, caves and wooded ribs to reach the side canyon where the Voldafossen touches down. In the twilight the pillar was a magical lingam of white ice, Tucking Tim in a cleft on its right side I tackled the frontal face, but was continually deflected rightwards where the ice was steeper but much more solid. Every lump I knocked off fell straight into Tim's lap. He withdrew under a curtain of icicles as I reached an obvious crux where the pillar had become detached during the thaw and now presented a horizontal break overhung by febrile flutings of fresh glass ice. A trickle of water added to the discomforts but a wing of solid, bottle-bottom consistency materialised to the right. After clearance of decorations I hacked into this and pulled up and over the bulge.

The canyon now twisted right to the second tier, which was promised to Tim. A 50 metre pitch of WI4+ barely touched its defences and we were pinned in a cave under a massive stalagtite when the sunrise flashed green light through roofs of shattered glasshouses. Tim traversed tenuously for 10 metres to avoid the dripping panes then attacked a drier pillar in the middle of the fall. The unrelenting verticality of the next 20 metres necessitated an endless sequence of lock-offs and extracted a matching series of grunts and gasps from both protagonists. Happily the angle then eased to WI3+/4 and we simul-climbed 80 metres of calorie-sapping, bullet-proof ice to the top of the tier.

Already it was 2pm as we sweated up the snows to the final and biggest tier. The scenery was majestic. Below us the deep fjord snaked up to Flam, backed by the vastness of the snow-caked plateaux, lofty gabbro pinnacles topped by Scots Pines towered on either side, a distant sea eagle flew against an azure sky and another gigantic plug of gleaming ice soared overhead. Here the sun-softened ice became harrowingly insecure to climb. Progressively, we became wet and stressed as Tim led 50 metres, I led 60 and Tim another 50, all at WI4+ and 5. The sun sank and accumulated moisture in gloves and clothing froze in minutes. Instantly, I felt the dread cold attack and willed myself to follow Tim's last long lead wearing both belay jacket and overmittens. With fear of the cold came fear of the long stressful abseil descent that we must undertake in darkness, for there was no way out at the top save an all-night trek over 5000 foot summits.

A last pitch gave an easier romp to a final 10 metre vertical wall. No sooner had Tim joined me than he conjured an exceptional display of Abalokov ice threading. While I laboured hopelessly trying to make my two holes meet Tim had us lashed to 6mm threads within a couple of minutes. Against the neon strings of Aurland's streets 800 metres below we spun down the fall in eight 60 metre abseils. Our swooping descent was accompanied by the terrifying whiplash of flying rope-ends as we cleared each giant abseil. At 9.30pm we tripped back down the lower gulch to the sea shore and were able to send the triumphant text to Martin W that "Voldemort is slain".

Left: The Voldafossen as viewed from Aurlandsfjord

Above: Tim Blakemore sets out on the WI6 pitch on the second tier

 

Above: Aurlandsfjord and town from the upper Voldafossen

Right: Tim takes the first lead on the stamina-sapping 200m upper fall

Voldafossen 450m VI (WI6) Map GR 030573 Altitude: 380-800m. This beautiful stepped fall twists obliquely down the clefted face of Voldenosi and is a major landmark behind Aurlandsvangen town. The upper icefall forms thickly each year but the entry pitch requires steady water flow coupled with prolonged cold to form. The bottom pillar can only be seen from Flam harbour or from a boat on Aurlandsfjord. The climb is one of the finest expeditions in the region with magnificent views, not to be missed when fully formed. Facing south the fall gets all available sunlight and can become soft or rotten later in the season. Approach directly up the lower canyon from the fjord road 3km north of Aurland centre, easy apart from a short scramble to connect to the narrower Volda side-canyon (1 hour)

The fall has three sections: 1) The entry pitch forms a slender vertical pillar. Start up the right side (30m, WI4) then climb the front of the pillar, surmounting a bulge near the top (35m, WI6/6+, difficult ice). Walk 100m to the second tier which slants right at its top 2) Climb leftwards up a weakness towards the left side (50m, WI4+), then climb a 20m vertical pillar to belay in a channel on the left side (40m, WI6, strenuous). Climb the channel moving right to a levelling (40m, WI4), then climb an easier step to the top of the tier (35m, WI3+). Walk 120m to the third and biggest tier. 3) Start on the right and climb a depression in the ice up left to a cave stance (50m, WI4+). Move up a short wall into a steeper groove which is followed to an eaesment on the left edge of the fall (60m, WI5). Go diagonally right and climb another steep groove to belay at an easement (50m, WI5). Go more easily up left to a final short wall (50m, WI 4+).

Descend in 8 x 60m abseils. Climbing time: 9-11 hours.

January 11th 2011: King of the Swingers: One last ridge of high pressure was due to cross Scotland before Atlantic winds returned. The hills were thickly caked with snow and rime. Not even with the prospect of stuffing fried eggs and cornflakes down an unwilling gullet at 3am could deter my enthusiasm to return to Beinn Eighe. As for Macpherson he was sitting at home like a caged lion after a frustrating spell of epic failures and unwanted rescues. Things came to a head on Sunday. We were all set to go until I was called out on a mountain rescue up on the Bealach and Pete's dog ate his packed lunch. So departure was postponed till Tuesday, which, thankfully, was a day of stunning beauty.

We ploughed the endless slopes of powder snow to reach the Beinn Eighe's ridge as a sunrise of pitiless intensity flushed the hills. Pete was silhouetted on the ridge against a pall of grey cloud fringed with fire. A bitter north wind cut to the bone, crushing any notions of a benevolent God. I've been here countless times, yet still am moved by the empty despair of Torridon's winter dawn.

Today's adventure focused on the vertiginous Far East Wall. So steep is this face that it can remain stubbornly black throughout the most prolonged freeze, but yesterday's humid blizzard had at last applied a coating of rime. Our route of fancy was the hanging crackline called King of the Swingers. The compelling fissure ends in space on the lip of a big overhang. To reach it we had to make a horizontal traverse that rated 6b in summer. The name gives no illusions as to the conseqences of a slip.

After a vigorous warm-up in tufted cracks Pete set forth up a tremulous corner that ended in mammoth roofs. The vital crack lay 4 metres to his left. The summer rock description suggests placing a high runner in the roof then reversing 3 metres before commencing the traverse, giving over the head protection. For Pete such a manoeuvre would involve down-climbing moves of technical 8. Forsaking that option, he quickly scanned the wall then launched himself leftwards with his last runner at waist level. From taking pictures and picking the remains of a peanut butter sandwich out of a plastic bag in Dachstein mittens, I was suddenly thrown on to red alert as Pete lurched on to a tiny torque, swopped hands and stretched for a miniscule hook. His feet skittered across the wall, as he caught another hook and was about to make the reach for the crack when one hook popped. "I'm on nothing here" he gasped, and in a desperate flurry shoved a cam into the crack. The instant he clipped the cam the other hook ripped and the cam held, thus saving a bone-crunching 6 metre swing back into the corner.

On a third attempt he found a better slot for the last placement, 'better' meaning something approaching half a centimetre deep. But, once reached, the main crack held no hostages and proved unremittingly steep and hard. At hands-width it imposed a regime of laybacks on the axe heads with feet braced on imaginary holds. After three moves Pete was utterly spent and took a rest on a cam. His lead was magnificent but ultimately flawed. Such are the rules of winter warfare. My problem seconding the traverse was to avoid a leftward swing into space. Knowing where the hooks lay and keeping my body lower I tip-toed on rugosities and snatched a chockstone low in the crack at the instant my other axe came out. A swing on to one arm and a bit of help on the rope saved the day and I then grimaced through the successive technical 8 laybacks up to Pete's stance.

A soaring cracked corner continued to roofs, then continued past more roofs to a final capping. We ended up splitting this 50 metres into three pitches. No single move was less than 6, yet no sequence was more than 7. A blind rime-crusted corner gave a feisty finish. For sustained steepness and apparent improbability Beinn Eighe quartzite is an incomparable rock to winter climb. Energy reserves were seriously depleted when we regained our sack back on the plateau. It had been another great day, but it's sad that you only get one chance on the "on-sight". After weeks of dreaming, a 3am start and a 3 hour walk-in, the difference between success and failure is millimetric.

Beinn Eighe, Far East Wall: King of the Swingers (VIII,10 ***) Winter ascent with one rest point in the crack after the crux traverse was freed on the third attempt. Top section split into 3 shorter pitches and finished direct - sustained VII, 7. P.Macpherson and M.Moran 11th January 2011.

Jan 11th 2011: Pete gets ready to launch on to the crux traverse of King of the Swingers on Beinn Eighe's Far East Wall. The crack he's aiming for is on the far left of the picture, a sequence that is 6b in summer and might rate technical 10 in winter

Martin starts the upper corners of King of the Swingers, Beinn Eighe

December 23rd 2010: The Wailing Wall, An Teallach: The face bounding the left side of Hayfork Gully on An Teallach is a place where I can still feel truly inspired and no little awed even after 25 years of winter climbing in the North-West Highlands. Forbiddingly steep, primitively rough and untouched by hand or axe, the sandstone of these walls has an impeccable pedigree. The rock is bevelled and rounded and vegetation is sparse save for a tenuous horizontal faults and a scattering of isolated tufts. Prior to 2007 the only recorded route was The Haystack (VI,7 ***), a tour de force from Dave McGimpsey and Andy Nisbet which skilfully weaves a line up the centre. Up above the Haystack the upper wall presents a 70 metre fissured face pitched a degree or two off vertical. In January, my attempt to climb the left side of this face in an on-sight impulse failed after 20 metres. I fell at a tenuous section and courage failed. The time had come for a rematch.

After a chain of partner swopping worthy of Tommy Sheridan it transpired that Pete MacPherson was otherwise engaged come the crucial day but Murdo Jamieson was an eager young hound, packed and ready to go as soon as I had cleared my domestic commitments. At dawn we left the moonlit floor of A'Ghlas Thuill and kicked up the gully to the base. I had spent a sleepless night trying to visualise how to get back to my high point and then climb beyond into a slim corner crack. With the sight of suitable conditions - snow on the holds but no verglas - my last excuse disappeared. With Murdo swaddled in a copious belay jacket I climbed a tufty wall and traversed a narrow horizontal ledge until forced to attack the bulge which guarded entry to the wall. I yarded up on a horizontal axe torque, braced my thigh against the axe and placed doubtful cams at full stretch. Cranking above the cams for a lonely tuft my axe ripped, but the top cam held and I missed the ledge. On a second attempt I got the tuft and with another big reach and some scrabbling of knees reached a rest-of-sorts at a precarious wedged block. A sudden rush of confidence sent me skittering left across the wall until the crack-line was tantalising just two metres away.

Both axes were torqued in opposition in poor placements, such that if I took one axe out the downward pull on the other would rip it out. It was time for a trick. I got my left foot high on a scrape and wedged the knee against the left axe to keep it in place while stretching with the right to a thank-God tuft. At last I could reach the crack and it proved a beauty, offering sinker placements for 12 metres to the next fault and a huge block belay.

Murdo didn't help his cause by ripping his axe through the grass and falling on the first move, but he quickly regathered control and soon his elfin face peered over the bulge, betraying no sign of stress. I was fast becoming afeart that he was about to cruise the sequence when his pick ripped out of a baggy torque and he was left dangling like a salmon on a curing rack and swearing like a squaddie. "How do you do this?" he screamed. "There aren't any footholds." Considering that I can't get off the ground at either of his favourite rock climbing venues (Ceuse and Am Fasgadh) I had to milk this moment. "You don't need footholds. Just use your knees," I replied, knowing full-well that a perfectionist like Murdo would recoil from employing such ungainly methods. By the time he'd missed the knee-lock on the tenuous wall I started a personal sweepstake that I'd grade the route as to how many times he fell off. Fearful imprecations to long-forgotten deities were interspersed with muffled cries of "Respect! Respect!" as he clawed his way up the crack He arrived on stance with a face as red as one of Santa's helpers after Christmas night!

But Murdo is no quitter and he soon racked up ready to lead through. I promised him easier climbing, but the flakey wall above looked anything but easy as dusk descended and a bitter breeze blew up. After an hour of careful progress his torchbeam flickered nervously left and right, then stuttered to a halt. The ominous words "You had better look at this. I'll stop here." jolted me into action and I grappled up sustained technical 7 moves to join him at a hanging belay. With some gravitas I observed that his "bomber" anchors consisted of two wires in the same tiny flake backed by a micro-nut and a "pecker" in the wall above.

"You're the winter wad, the master of sand!" he enthused as he pointed me towards two parallel cracks in the sheer wall above. No amount of flattery was going to work here as I scanned the rounded, holdless and unprotectable cracks with dismay. "Where is MacPherson when you need him?" I thought; but even pistol Pete might have baulked at the upward view. After making some ineffectual scrapings the awful realisation dawned that we were going to fail just 10 metres from the top. "There must be something better to your left Murdo! I protested and clambered back over him. Scanning my torchbeam left I spotted a huge flake perched on the lip of an overhang - our sole chance of Salvation. Within a minute I had fixed two solid pieces of gear behind the flake, and, thus emboldened, hooked its edge and swung left. A bottomless chimney overhanging the full 120 metre plunge of the wall came into view. Squirming and fighting against elbow cramps I hauled myself into the chimney and almost screamed. To know the sensation I suggest you play the finale of Beethoven's 7th at full volume after half a bottle of red wine

Lashed to a huge block I cowered against the windblast and called Murdo to arms. Twenty minutes of screechings, loathings, girnings, whingeings and wimperings ensued as he was attacked by the dreaded "hot aches". A suitable name for this route was obvious and so the "The Wailing Wall" was born. It might be grade IX or at least hard VIII, the first pitch magnificent and the second sensational. An Teallach rarely disappoints her willing suitors.

An Teallach, A'Ghlas Thuill, Hayfork Wall:

The Wailing Wall 90m IX,9 *** Takes the left hand side of the upper Hayfork wall which presents a superb fissured face 70 metres high, potentially one of the finest mixed climbing venues in the country. With a high altitude (900-970m) the wall gathers snow readily and is often in condition. Start up right of the chimney of Haystack at a turfy promontory directly under the centre of the wall and 6m left of the corner of Silver Fox.

1. 45m Climb the turfy wall to reach a narrow terrace, traverse 8m left and make hard committing moves up a leftward diagonal break through the overhang to a small wedged block. Make thin moves leftwards to gain the base of a slim corner-crack which is followed to a ledge and belay at a huge block. A magnificent pitch.

2. 45m Climb on to the block and go left up a steep flakey wall, continuing for 12m to a break under a compact section. Move left to a huge flake (optional hanging belay) and traverse sensationally left to gain a bottomless chimney which is climbed to the top (block belay 8m up and right).

M.Jamieson and M.E.Moran 23rd December 2010.

tThe Hayfork Wall of An Teallach; The Haystack (VI,7) uses the chimney in centre and breaks left to finish. The Wailing Wall runs up the left side of the smooth wall to its right

Martin hits the thin section of pitch 1 on the first attempt on The Wailing Wall in Jan 2010 (photo: Pete MacPherson)

Leading on to the flakey wall of pitch 2 on The Wailing Wall

Murdo arrives on stance after pitch 1 of The Wailing Wall

December 19th 2010: "Feast of the East" with the Young Turks: An infusion of youth is no bad thing when old age looms. There is undeniable satisfaction in winning the the passing respect of tomorrow's rising stars of the sport, playing the role of guru to eager disciples. Francis Blunt and Murdo Jamieson can combine their years and still end 10 short of my own. Francis is a already a winter aficiando, using his temporary job as Glenmore Lodge night-watchman as base camp. Murdo's last visit to Beinn Eighe in December 2008 had ended in diasaster when he pulled a block off West Buttress and broke his back in the resultant fall. Despite dire prognosis from his physicians he was back climbing at E5 standard just 6 months later, and leading sport 8a a year beyond. Climbing as a threesome means that the kit is divided and the bags are lighter, a benefit not unnoticed when climbing the interminable slopes out of Coire Dubh in a foot of powder snow. Beinn Eighe's summit ridge was reached at dawn just as a biting east wind rose from the swathes of snowcloud. Air temperatures of minus 6degC plunged to a -20deg windchill effect and we hurried into the corrie to inspect the Far East Wall. Despite four days of bitter cold and driving snow the sombre pillars remained bare and black with only a few ice streaks and verglas stains as adornment. We moved over to the Eastern Ramparts where there was a dusting of snow and rimed fringes on the terminal roofs.

Andy Nisbet was the prophet of mixed climbing on these walls, realising that every VS and HVS could be winter-climbed on cracks, hooks and chockstones, despite the verticality. In the 1990's, aided by the Geordie powerhouse, Brian Davison, Nisbet lapped up the cream and peppered the Triple Buttress with grade VII routes of sensational quality. Now the E1's were fair game for the apostles of modern mixed. Feast of the East takes a crackline through roofs left of Eastern Promise, a compelling and imposing line. The 5c summer crux was described as "well-protected", the words giving the vital encouragement we needed. Murdo was prodded into leading the first pitch. The boulder-problem start should have suited but without a landing mat he was hesitant and needed more prodding to give us a glimpse of his talent and get us up to Girdle ledge.

A double-roofed groove devoid of footholds signalled the crux. I locked my knee against my torqued axe to place protection, and realised there would be no rests for the next 8 metres. A pair of cherubic but expectant faces gazed up from the belay stance. The pressure was on, my status as guru standing on the line. With every trick and contortion I'd ever learnt I squirmed and bridged desperately upwards. Protection could only be placed below waist level from an arched layback position. There was every chance of ending spreadeagled, upside down and inches from their eyeballs if I blew it. A good foothold emerged left of the second roof but I couldn't use it and had to layback up right on fast diminishing hooks to reach a tiny ledge. I decided that restrained reserve was my best hope to preserve reputation as I battled convulsions of panting and the urge to scream. "I am taking a brief rest here and intend to move up left in a minute or two" I announced, or something to that effect.

Having gained a tiny belay ledge there was a not entirely healthy satisfaction in watching Murdo struggle on an E1 pitch for the first time since he wore long trousers. "But my hands are sooo.. cold", he whinged as the rope came tight. "Murdo, this is winter; your hands are meant to be cold." I retorted. I then made the biggest mistake of the day. The next pitch looked frightful. A wide crack cut through several little overlaps to larger bulges; 5b in summer. "Now Francis, this looks hideous; grade VIII; are you sure you want to go up there," I condescended, worrying that he'd try and fail and then we'd all be stuck in the dark. The retort was brusque and emphatic. "I'm OK, it's my lead anyway" he replied with a strong hint of pique. The belay changeover was chaotic and several "Jelly Babies" were dropped as we switched anchors to give Francis a supply of large Hex nuts. A vital screwgate karabiner jammed and I had to cut myself free with my Swiss Army knife.

With the first emphatic pull off the ledge Francis took command of the rabble and pulled off a stunning lead. There was never a doubt that he wouldn' t make it through the successive bulges. Murdo and I seconded in mute admiration, working to our limit not to fall off. If hidden chockstones and cracks emerged to offer decent protection this didn't diminish his commitment - a sustained grade VII, 8 lead on-sight on a new route. I reached Francis red-faced from effort and embarrassment and apologised for my doubts. "What we need now is a pitch of grade IV" I announced and Murdo was duly despatched to find an easy way to the top.

Despite a relatively early top-out at 5.30pm Murdo was fired for a rapid descent, seeming unreasonably keen to get back to watch the final of The Apprentice. One could only assume that he must have a crush on Stella! I was left far behind, but we still made the cars at Achnasheen by 8.10 and skidded our respective ways home. In truth "the boys done good"!.

Beinn Eighe, Eastern Ramparts: Feast of the East VIII, 9 *** : The first pitch climbs a short bold groove then moves left and back right to the Girdle Ledge (7), The cracked corner through the double roofs proves very strenuous (9). The crackline of pitch 3 gives a superb sustained pitch (8). The winter ascent finished up a short corner on the right (5). F.Blunt, M.Jamieson, M.Moran 19th Dec 2010

Murdo leads pitch 1 of Feast of the East, Beinn Eighe

19th Dec 2010: The old man at his limit! Martin grapples with the crux of Feast of the East (VIII,9)

December 8th 2010: The God Delusion is the biggest baddest route on Britain's biggest and baddest winter cliff - the Giant's Wall of Beinn Bhan in Applecross. Overhanging tiers of virgin sandstone tumble 200 metres from the plateau rim, unbroken save for narrow balconies of luxuriant vegetation and the occasional chimney cleft. Every major route in the corrie is a milestone in the advancement of winter climbing grades. Die Reisenwand (VII, 6) - 1980; Gully of the Gods (VI, 6) - 1983, Great Overhanging Gully (VI, 7) - 1984. Genesis (VII,7) - 1999 and The Godfather (VIII, 8) - 2002 are all outstanding climbs, defining their grades and holding firm to their reputations despite advances in equipment. Every climb on these walls is as much a pyschological as physical battle. There is no summer climbing, the routes are rarely in winter condition and the location is remote from the usual winter honeypots. You share the corrie with the golden eagle and occasional squawking ptarmigan. The bristling bands of compact rock, perched blocks and vertical vegetation give no quarter. Here you stand naked with your hopes and do battle with your innermost fears.

With their ascent of God Delusion in 2008 Pete Benson and Guy Robertson pushed the boundary another step forward. The routes weaves its way up the walls left of The Godfather and then surmounts sizeable roofs to climb the headwall direct. A first attempt ended above the first roof when Robertson pulled off a TV-sized block and fell 10 metres. For the second effort they started from the road at 1am and climbed the first two pitches in the dark to give them time to tackle the headwall before the next nightfall. Reaching the second overhanging band Robertson lunged for a turf fringe 5 metres above a ledge. Too exhausted to pull over he fell and was saved a potential bone-breaker by his axe clipper leashes. He prusiked back up the elastic leashes and somehow managed another 10m of hard moves to the top of the pitch.

Stories like this and a grade of IX, 9 are not conducive to untroubled sleep the night before attempting a second ascent. Despite planning a climb whose name denies the existence of God, I spent much of the night in silent prayer. By contrast Pete Macpherson, brim-full of confidence and stoked with enthusiasm, was snoring in guest bedroom downstairs, no doubt dreaming of his next bacon sandwich. We rose at 2am, skidded gently over the hill to Kishorn and set out into another night of deathly cold and sultry snowfall. Three hours later we cowered in inky twilight at the base of the bastion of the Godfather wall and took our first infusions of Red Bull before setting out.

Forget the notion of easy introductory pitches on Beinn Bhan. As soon as you are five metres up this wall you feel exposed and committed. The angles of rock and turf prove steeper than imagined and decent protection is hard to find. I scuttled up a chimney, traversed a terrace then tufted a short wall to a poor stance. The second pitch looked like an elegant ramp, but harboured a depserate mantleshelf on to an overhung ledge that jolted our confidence. We were now in the heart of the blank lower walls. The only climbable option was to traverse a delicate footledge to gain a second ramp. Here Pete grappled with sloping ledges, loose blocks and stringy turf along with technical 7 and 8 moves. The hours passed all too quickly and the brief flushes of sunlight over on the Torridon hills were mellowing when we gained the balcony at half-height. Just when one feels most intimidated the pressure of time builds. With a real sense of urgency I led the fifth pitch, which is common to the Godfather. As I pulled up a strenuous six metre groove I revisited the Godfather's first ascent eight years previously and recalled how even the short pitches squeezed the juice from the muscles.

Enconsed on the upper balcony with a warm belay jacket I gave Pete a slug of Red Bull and a handful of "jelly babies" ready for the crux. With just over an hour of daylight left he needed to climb smoothly. The first roof looked gymnastic. Pete cruised it and within 15 minutes was up at the second bulging band. He hammered in some small nuts and stretched for the turf ledge. He was nearly over the mantleshelf when one of his ropes jammed on a runner. He desperately hauled himself on to the ledge and screamed his frustrations. Unable to go down and unable to go up, his only option was to make as good a belay as he could find and bring me up to a point where I could free his rope. Two knifeblades and a Pecker hook were hammered home. While Pete squatted in his tiny alcove cursing and swearing like a demented Troll I climbed up to the ledge beneath him, freed his rope and was able to find a secure block belay a few metres to the right. Pete now continued up some improbable and very tenuous moves to complete the section.

I wasted much of my strength crouched in the alcove removing the pegs with my useless Nomic axes. In the dark the ensuing moves looked ridiculous yet some thin torquing cracks emerged to allow the most slender of passages. There were now two pitches to go and with Pete looking somewhat glassy-eyed I picked up the gauntlet, left him with a bag of Haribo and set forth into the night. An "easy" one of technical 6 led to the upper balcony where a cave gave respite from the rising wind and spindrift. A final set of overhangs loomed out of blackness. Having felt stressed and awed throughout the first half of the climb successful acquital from the crux pitch gave me new confidence. Despite my fingers curling with cramp I was raring to go. Meanwhile Pete slunk into the cave in a hyperglycaemic daze as his blood-sugar levels soared to new heights .

A steep and exciting corner breached the final barrier and I pulled on to the summit plateau at 9pm. What a cracking climb! Pete excitedly rang his wife to report our success, but Nicky cut the call short because Alan Sugar was about to fire another dimwit on the Apprentice. Wives have a wonderful knack of cutting their men down to size! Within minutes he had faded into hypoglycaemic depression. The Haribos were finished, the Red Bull was drunk and it was a long walk home.

8th Dec 2010: Pete begins a scary sequence on moving blocks and stringy turf on pitch 4 of The God Delusion (photo: Pete MacPherson)

8th Dec 2010: Martin linking the ledges on pitch 3 of The God Delusion (IX, 9), Beinn Bhan

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