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MARTIN'S 2012 BLOG

Back to 2015 Blog Other entries 2014 2013 2011 2010

Sept 13th-Oct 7th: Himachal Pioneer: The Ascent of Tharang Fang by Paul Sydney

Aug 30th-31st: Cinema Paradiso - ascent of the North Face of the Gran Paradiso (4061m)

July 12-14: The Eigerman Cometh - wind-battered ascent of the Eiger South Ridge

June 26: Sumo Wrestling - summer rock on Beinn Eighe

May 31: Night on the Bare Mountain - ascent of Jiekkhevarri, highest of the Lyngen Alps

Mar 22-Apr 1: Morans on Planks! - ski-mountaineering in Jostedal and Hurrungane in Norway

Feb 28: Memories of Paul Guest and Changuch - one of our best Himalayan climbers was killed last weekend on Zero Gully, Ben Nevis

Feb 17: Death and Beauty on Norwegian Ice - conjectures on the Monster Fossil and the likely first ascent of a fanastic line of thin ice in Flamsdalen

Jan 23: A Rough Ride with Rudolf - first winter ascent of an E2 on Beinn Eighe's Far East Wall

Jan 15: The Chancer - steep ice on the back of Cairngorm

Jan 4-5: Knackered Knights in Knoydart by Alex Moran - 34 hour winter round of the Knoydart Munros

Sept 13th-Oct 7th: Himachal Pioneer: The Ascent of Tharang Fang by Paul Sydney

Tharang Fang (5660m) from Advanced Base Camp

Claire Molloy on the summit ridge

When we climb back up to advanced base camp ( ABC ) at 4900 metres, we find that some of the new snow under our tent has melted, leaving boulders the size of footballs poking through the groundsheet. Simon and I turn the orange Quasar on its side. We take turns, levelling with a shovel then having a breather. This is Himachal Pioneer 2012. We are among the Tharang peaks, off the Miyar Nala valley, Himachal Pradesh -  the largely unexplored Himalaya, remote, little visited, villages with sturdy stone houses, cut off in winter, hay ricks on the roofs and potatoes drying in the downstairs rooms, Buddhist stupas and flags everywhere. We’re here to attempt some unclimbed peaks. Three days ago, Mark (one of our Guides) made the first ascent of Tharang I (6011m) with Steve and Richie, two of our strongest climbers. However, deep new snow and a close encounter with an avalanche made him declare the peak unsafe for further attempts. Tomorrow we are going to try and climb the peak which towers over ABC - a rock & snow pyramid with a distinctive granite pinnacle at the summit,  too difficult for a frontal ascent, and guarded on the left by large séracs. We are planning to spiral round to the right, behind the difficulties, and climb the peak from the west.

ABC is at a levelling in the slope, but isn’t a natural camp. Often  it’s grass and moraine, but with the late snows a foot of powder covers most things.  Above ABC, a smooth uniform snow slope suggests easier terrain, but there  are boulder fields and a glacier to climb before we get anywhere near the summit. In the afternoon dark clouds boil up in the south and send a few snow flurries over our tents. We try to finish eating by 5pm as the temperature plummets when the sun goes down. Noodles go from boiling to freezing in a few minutes. We top up with oatcakes, ginger cake - anything for calories. By 6pm we’re in our tents - a long night beckons. The inner zip of the Quasar has broken so we have an arctic breeze wafting round our heads. Water bottles are in sleeping bags to prevent freezing. I’m a bit worried. The climb to ABC with a heavy sack was a real struggle, and I’m wondering how I’ll manage tomorrow. At least my sac will be lighter.  The night passes slowly, dozing and trying to maintain steady deep breathing in the thin air.

It’s a relief to get up at 4am and hear the Jetboil roaring under the flysheet. Muesli with hot water, coffee, cereal bars, anything we can get down. It’s -15deg°C outside. Before dawn we’re moving slowly up the snow slope behind camp, Mark and Claire ahead, Simon and I behind, ski poles for balance, walking up  frozen footprints, a previous trail to Tharang I. Moving steadily, a Kate McGarrigle  song keeps looping through my head: “ You worked so hard that you died standing up....”   CRAMPONS !!   I don’t need to check my sac - I know they are still in the tent. Simon heroically carries my sac to the top of the slope while I retrace my steps. An extra 100 metres of ascent I could have done without. It seems a long way, threading through boulders, over two ridges, up more snow, before we meet up at the glacier on the north side. 

We’re looking up a huge glacial bowl, shimmering white in the first rays of the sun. Tharang 1 and 2 dominate the skyline, big peaks gleaming and laden with fresh snow. A thin track weaves ahead, leading to a previous camp below the col which separates the two mountains. Our route turns sharp left, up the edge of the glacier to try and gain the summit ridge of our peak. Duvets come off as the sun reaches us. Ice axes, crampons and a rope come out to safeguard us against crevasses. I’m last on a rope of four. The pace is too quick for me but I’ve no option but to breathe hard and make myself move. The occasional step over a crevasse keeps me concentrating. When we stop, I realise we are high up on the side of our mountain, with a rocky ridge ahead, but a steep section of loose scree between. Axes and crampons are left, and we set off again. Mark seems to be walking, but I’m scrabbling with hands and feet up and down unstable rock and shale. My head is pounding. “Mark, I’m really struggling.“ “ Do you want to go up or down?” A pause. “Up.” The pace slows a little, then we’re standing on an airy ridge, solid granite and snow, space on both sides, panorama of snowy peaks all round.

Up to a small summit and we can see the granite pinnacle not far away, leaning outwards, a giant tooth. It looks smooth, but when we get to the foot, we see there are small ledges and handholds. Mark glides up, becoming the first person ever to reach the top, and we follow one by one. Leaning over the edge, I look down over snow, crevasses, boulders, down to the specks of tents at base camp 2000 metres below. Here are the Himalayas, thrust up from the sea millions of years ago, eroded by wind and cold, scoured by glaciers, an endless horizon of snowy domes, pointed crests, clean granite pillars, inspiring and unexplored.

Back on the ledge under the pinnacle, we agree to name the peak Tharang Fang. It’s a modest height, 5660 metres, and the route wasn’t difficult.  I’m sixty years old, and exhausted, but I’m part of a team that’s just made a first ascent in the Himalaya. Life feels pretty good.

Paul (behind), Claire and Simon van Lieshout below the summit

 

Tharang I (6011m) from Tharang Fang - the 1st ascent climbed the right-hand ridge

Aug 30th-31st: Cinema Paradiso: A dry and largely hot summer ended abruptly on August 29th with a rash of thunderstorms followed by a sustained downpour. As temperatures dropped fresh snow accumulated above 3000 metres. Our Performance Alpinists, having knocked off the Matterhorn Traverse and Weisshorn North Ridge, were stopped in their tracks just as they hoped to cap their fortnight with a big hard route. In such a situation Plan B is often a trip to the Gran Paradiso and to my relief neither David nor Martin had ever been. The mountain’s north face might already be building a snow pack and promised a change of style after weeks of rock routes.
Far from being disappointed at the downgrade of ambitions Martin, a closet Italiophile, was positively delighted. Very soon arms were gesticulating and the operatic pronouncement “It – AL – ia; here we come” accompanied our departure from Evolène. Switzerland was left befogged and drenched. We breasted the Grand St Bernard Pass and entered Italy in romantic drizzle. In response, my co-driver and co-guide, Dave Kenyon, re-enacted a car chase from The Italian Job on the downward hairpins. It might have worked if his feet had reached the pedals. With some relief we entered the village of Étroubles, and spied an unassuming albergo. Now in the land where the coffee tastes sweet and every girl’s bottom is plump for pinching, Martin leapt into action. Sadly, la barista that he desiredturned out to be a man. We were ushered on to the terrace. “Due doppio espresso e due caffe latte” were summoned. As we peered through the murk and past the truckers rumbling down from the pass Martin declared, “Look at this village, the stonework, the church tower; it’s just so…. It-AL-ian.” Wherefrom this enthusiasm? Martin’s Italian memories comprised a police escort after missing his train, the theft of all valuables from the Bologna – Rome express and several destitute days sleeping under an upturned boat on a Neapolitan beach, relics of a 1980’s Inter-rail holiday.
Martin’s partner, David Fisher, was more a “fisher of facts” than a “fisher of men” and was quite content as long as he had an audience to mesmerise with an endless stream of trivia. Scotland’s 1978 World Cup campaign had been dissected in intense detail and every pop classic involving Italian lyrics revived by the time we arrived in the vice-like trench of Valsavarenche. Martin’s hopes of meeting some real Italian climbers were dashed when exiled-Scot Jonny Baird wandered over at the Chabod Hut car park to say Hello.
Mercifully, the rain petered out and the forested slopes bristled fresh and triumphant, released from their summer baking. We would have enjoyed the walk but then we remembered that we were with the “human prune”. As soon as we left the car we were subject to the Kenyon regime, whereby no morsel or droplet could be allowed to pass the lips until activities were complete. David F proposed the creation of a new SI measure, the kenyon. This particle is as elusive as the Higgs-Boson. In liquid form it equates to a thimble-full of water and in solid state a single flake of honey-coated flapjack.
In consequence we reached the hut without a pause inside two hours, whereupon renewed consumption was permitted. The arrival of dinner prompted great excitement. “Spag-HETT-I; molto bene”, drooled Martin as the first course was laid down. “We must get some vino.” Admittedly, I am not usually moved to buy expensive wine to wash down tinned tomatoes and pasta, but the positive ambience and attractive prices demanded a grand gesture. I duly purchased a bottle of Val d’Aoste Pinot Noir and the remainder of the evening passed in the haze of David’s ball-by-ball analysis of the 1974 Germany-Holland World Cup Final.

Dawn over Mont Blanc from the bergschrund of the Gran Paradiso North Face

Martin Bewsher half-way up the Paradiso North Face

At 3am the hut was shrouded in chill mist. We slunk out with GPS devices switched on and immersed ourselves in challenging glacier travel for two hours until the fog broke under the bergschrund. The window of fine weather produced a revelatory dawn over the Mont Blanc, 50km to our west. I expected to hear an exclamation of “Mag-NIF-ico” from my partner, but thankfully he was short- breathed from a sustained bout of crevasse-jumping. I sneaked a 200 kenyon mouthful of flapjack when the master wasn’t looking, then attacked the wall. An air temperature of -5°C demanded full dressage of duvet and shell jacket, and provided a stern test for my new builders’ gloves.
The bergschrund bulge was glassy, but above there were filaments of freshly packed snow trailing down the face to offer an inch of comfort to the calf muscles. Sixty metres is a long stretch climbing non-stop on the lead at 55 to 58 degrees angle. I climbed to the last inch of available rope before placing the belay ice screws. The Kenyon rope was clearly 3 metres short of the Moran cord, and the two Martins accumulated a sneaky lead as we compiled eight pitches of sustained climbing. The sweeping exposure of the ice face compensated any monotony in the climbing and our cardio-vascular capacity was suitably enhanced. We passed left of an ice nose, then moved right to a ridge where the snow deepened. Clouds had re-gathered when I pulled on to the summit ridge but the sun’s warming rays were filtered through the mist. With half-a-pitch advance over the Kenyon team I was able to stoke away a 500 kenyon smoked-salmon sandwich without detection, and so could bask in satiety on the descent.
The recent zig-zag trail of Baird and his team took us safely down the Laveciau Glacier and into a wall of snow-laden cloud, which emphatically ended our weather–window. A stop for coffee back at the Chabod was imperative. Minimalist Kenyon even allowed himself a cappuccino which gave him at least a couple of kenyons worth of froth. We continued the descent in a dry boreal chill, air so clean that even my work-weary thighs were infused with new vigour.  
As we drove back an autumnal Valle d’Aosta looked more Scottish than Mediterranean. Despite my attempts to induce somnolent mood in the passengers by playing Vaughan-Williams’ Pastoral Symphony, David's agile intellect refused to be subdued and alighted on Bond - James Bond. In an hour the complete catalogue of Bond films, cast, key scenes and theme tunes had been reviewed, his lines of enquiry at one point extending to the provenance of Ursula Andress’s fur bikini in Dr No. Somewhat bamboozled we emerged from the St Bernard tunnel to sleet and a temperature of just 4°C. Without wishing to subscribe to Martin’s level of devotion Italy had provided a mini-adventure to climax the season; and in truth it rarely lets you down.

July 12th-14th: The Eigerman Cometh: Mountaineering, especially when pursued through a course with us, can create the most unlikely partnerships. July’s Swiss Big Three course brought together Alpine novice and Ross-shire businessman Rod Winton with public-school teacher and multi-lingual Alpine veteran, Matthew Armstrong. When Alness Removals meets Charterhouse School conversation ranges from fly-fishing and truck maintenance to classical poetry and off-piste Verbier. What Rod lacked in Alpine experience he had compensated by training on a self-built plyboard climbing wall in his warehouse. Matthew reminded me that he had attended one of my earliest courses as a 17 year old back in the 1980’s, at the end of which I had given him a pair of my old Scarpa Manta boots. The resultant blisters must have been excruciating because he had never been back till now. The Rod and Matthew partnership proved as entertaining as it was fruitful.
A training day was completed on the Couronne de Breona, 1300 metres of ascent and an AD traverse accomplished in time to see the 3rd and 4th sets of the Federer - Murray final. Then, while I fulfilled an assignment on the Dent Blanche, they were entrusted to the care of local Swiss guide Samuel Praz. Rod’s eyes glazed when Samuel turned up in an open-top BMW bearing a tray of apricots for our cook Judith. Within 24 hours the grade V  Pilier Rouge on the Dent de Tsalion had been despatched with similar aplomb and my pockets emptied of Swiss Francs in fee settlement.
The stage was set for an Eiger attempt. Heavy cloud obscured the Eiger North Face on the railway ride to the Jungfraujoch. Smaller details caused more consternation. The Bahnhof restaurant at Kleine Scheidegg bore a sign proclaiming 43.50 francs for Lager. Rod was astonished. “I knew Switzerland was expensive but that’s ridiculous”. Despite our informing him that Lager was German for a room and did not refer to the local beer, Rod continued to protest his incomprehension.
We duly installed ourselves in the Mönchsjoch Hut as jet stream winds gathered a frightening momentum. Gales tore through the col bearing sheets of spindrift. The 3am reveille lasted long enough to dive into the outside loos and back into bed. Subsequent slumber was untroubled by conscience. When second breakfast was called at 6.30am we gathered in the gloomy diner to be served shreds of oxidised cheese by the equally-gloomy and cavernous-bellied guardian who resembled Ernest Hemingway with a hangover. Clearly, some outdoor action was required and we wrapped ourselves in full storm-garb ready for a sally over towards the Fiescherhorn.
Hardly had we roped up than we sensed a dip in wind velocity and our spirits were spiked by the splendour of the dawn. Without a moment’s hesitation we headed towards the Eiger South Ridge. With a second night reserved in the hut we had all day to climb and in these icy winds could rely on a frozen snow surface till late in the afternoon. The sudden transition from the gentle snows under the Mönch to the sensational sawtoothed ridge between the South and North Eigerjochs produced an attack of nerves. Hesitantly, we picked our way along the virgin snow crest and adjusted our balance to the 50km/hr crosswind. Wrapped in duvet jacket and shell clothing I gradually regained control both of body-heat and team progress. After we had made the crucial abseil off the highest tower, I sensed a fusion of technique and purpose and the party crossed the North Eigerjoch at a quick-march. Totally alone on the mountain, our commitment increased with every step away from the Mönchsjoch sanctuary. I selected a line that completely avoided the malevolent tower at two-thirds height on the final ridge. We cramponned up a firm couloir to its left, then ventured out over crumbly limestone of a decidedly virgin quality to gain a subsidiary rib. This led us back to the final steps of the South Ridge and at 13.00hr we reached the summit. Cloud plumes streamed southwards off every major Oberland summit and beyond our peak the untracked arête of the Mittellegi Ridge danced improbably through the billowing mists.
The homeward journey took a further six hours and we staggered back into the hut half-an-hour after the completion of dinner. Hemingway was watching television and looked dangerously grumpy, but Matthew put on the most obsequious display, explaining what a frightful day we had endured and requesting the honour of sampling his culinary treats, all in perfect Swiss-German. Momentarily, Hemingway’s countenance softened and he motioned a young minion to produce some edibles. These we washed down with beer and Williamine liqueur and so concluded a wonderful mountain day.
Next morning a throng of Japanese tourists was, as usual, blocking access to the Jungfraujoch station. “Him Eigerman!” I announced, pointing at Rod.  The effect was instantaneous. “He Eigerman! Very good”, they repeated, and amid bows, applause and video lights Rod marched proudly in. Despite this sudden fame he later refused a group photograph with a St Bernard dog and on second acquaintance with Kleine Scheidegg’s signeage the grumbling recommenced. “I know I’m on holiday but there’s no way I’d pay that for lager. Unbelievable!”  Matthew and I concluded that further attempts at explanation would be superfluous.

Rod (front) and Matthew on the Eiger S Ridge with the Mönch behind

Reaching the Eiger summit after the 6 hour climb

June 26th: Sumo Wrestling: A three month drought in the far North-West Highlands brought ample opportunity for high-mountain cragging. With MacPherson freed from family responsibilities for a few days we headed to the Far East Wall on Beinn Eighe’s Triple Buttress. Compared to winter drudgery the summer walk-in was a delight, if a trifle over-paced for my preference. In an hour and a half from the car park we were perched on the top of the Angel Face buttress looking out over Coire Mhic Fhearchair and mightily glad we had made the effort.
Pete had brought along his bright yellow “Never Mind the Bollocks” t-shirt on the information that a photographer might be lurking in the wings preparing a portfolio for a new book on Scottish climbing. Sure enough, a stationary silhouette appeared on the plateau rim as I set off on the 5c crux of Angel Face. Though dressed in sober blue I tried to throw my best shapes for any imagery that might result. In the event photographer Colin Threlfall’s best scoop was of me puzzling over the guidebook description in the middle of this bewildering wall.
Angel Face threads a remarkable line through bulging quartzite walls. The ambience for an on-sight lead feels E3, with no obvious line or sanctuary in view and yet the pitch somehow links together to give an E2 outcome. Acquittal from the route markedly improved my haul of summer routes here. Despite 20 years of living in the area this was only my second summer visit.
The contrast with winter austerities was welcome. Several deer fawns rested with their mothers in the lush grass patches immediately below the cliff. A fell-runner pounded up the screes towards Ruadh Stac Mor to be followed more sedately by a party of voluble French tourists. In mellow warmth I wore only a thermal vest to belay Pete as he tackled the pillar of Sumo at the right edge of the cliff.
Sumo enters the E3 domain where a strenuous crack peters out in a bulging overhang. The solution is to swing out left to a lonely jug. Dark clouds scudded over the plateau lip and a blatter of raindrops gave sudden urgency to the outcome. Pete made the swing with both feet flying and confidently laybacked up the bulge to reach a belay. I led through with a dog-leg through roofed galleries. With the 5b moves safely accomplished a series of mantleshelves led through a compact shield to the top. As protection diminished so the rock became wetter until the flat holds adopted the texture of grease. With resort of my last micro-cam in a thin seam I stuttered to the top with a whisker to spare.
Descent was as vigorous as the approach. With Nicky and family safely packed off to Spain Macpherson already had his surrogate spouse, Robbo, installed in his Inverness palace, and he was calling for his tea!

Martin consults the guidebook on the crux pitch of Angel Face (E2, 5c) on Beinn Eighe's Far East Wall (photo: Colin Threlfall)

May 31st - June 1st: Night on the Bare Mountain: The highest mountain in the Lyngen Alps is 1834m Jiekkhevarri, dubbed “the Mont Blanc of the North” by 19th century pioneer William Cecil Slingsby. Jiekkhevarri is the culminating point of an ice cap 30 square kilometres in extent, and spawns a multitude of glaciers which flow off the plateau into deep concave valleys and thence to the sea. The name is the Sami for “peak of the glaciers”. As a bulwark against the cool maritime air of the Arctic Ocean Jiekkhevarri is a magnet for cloud and storms. In four years of coming to Lyngen we had rarely even seen it. While surrounding ranges remained clear Jiekkhevarri would stubbornly wear its cap of mist. This would be a frightful place in a blizzard. Our one previous attempt to climb it in 2011 ended in a miserable bivouac in gusting winds and blatters of rain at just 500 metres above sea level.

In 2012 we were determined to put this hurt to rights. Our team of four – George Burgess, Martin Hulme, Andy Matthews, and Alan Renville - whilst not blessed with the beauty of youth, was nonetheless possessed of fortitude and strong heart.  Politically, we had High Tories and faithful Millibandistas in the team but they could pull together on the hill. The week started with an ascent of 1358m Kvalvikdalsfjellet in booming Foehn winds and thigh-deep corn snow. A cold front swung the airflow to the north-west and within 24 hours winter conditions returned to Lyngen with fresh snowfall down to 200 metres altitude. We now endured thigh-deep drifts of fresh powder on a wind-chastened ascent of 1289m Kavringtinden. On Thursday a lull was forecast with a fine night to follow. Summit temperatures of -8°C were predicted. I knew we would face hard trail-breaking but nonetheless proposed an attempt on Jiekkhevarri and my team responded with near-fanatical enthusiasm.  Whisky tumblers were discarded and we tumbled out of Larsvoll cabin with large sandwich stacks and duvets packed.

We drove round the southern end of the peninsular to tackle the western route from Hombukt village on Ullsfjord. As the clouds cleared the plums of Arctic Norway emerged in sumptuous white raiment. Otertinden – the otter peak – looked ready to give Cerro Torre a run for supremacy while the 1500m wedge of Piggtinden made a breath-taking simulation of Alpamayo. We left Hombukt at 2.15pm. The forepeak of Hombuktinden (1666m) presents a sheer craggy face to the sea and guards access to the Jiekkhevarri plateau. In stints of 100 metres we broke tracks up a long couloir that runs left under the face and curves round to the easier north ridge. Sloppy slush gave way to a frozen crust at 1200m and when we stopped for tea at 6.45pm we instantly felt the pinch of a hardening frost.

Jiekkhevarri summit glows lilac on our return journey

Martin on the summit climb - Lakselvtinden group behind (photo: George Burgess)

Panorama over southern Lyngen peaks from Hombuktinden (photo: George Burgess)

1am view down Ullsfjord from Jiekkhevarri (photo: George Burgess)

Residual mist still clung to our ridge but brightened in the embrace of the evening sun.  A delicate cornice edge led us to Hombuktind summit where the final vapours parted. The slumbering fjords and ice-clad giants of Troms county were laid out at our feet. A sinuous ridge of pristine snow led across to the summit dome of Jiekkhevarri, a distance of four kilometres. I jumped the edge of a small cornice and we plunged down 100 metres in knee-deep powder. Hard trenching took us slowly along the ridge to a vertical notch. We cut down to its left and waded up a 60°slope on the far side to regain the crest. The colours deepened as the four-hour sunset of the Arctic night commenced.

The swell of Pt 1738m brought welcome relief from the drifts. The snow had blown clear and a rime crust had formed. Although only a stroll the final mile felt serious and committing. We were pushing into the zone where survival is short-lived in a storm. With this sense of privilege we gained the top at 11pm. The midnight sun threw our shadows 20 metres across the ice. Alpenglow lit up the crests of every peak above 1500 metres. Fifteen minutes were all we could stand before the cold drove us homewards. As we left a bank of grey cloud spread from the east. The cap of Jiekkhevarri glowed lilac against this menace, soon to be swallowed in the fog. From Hombuktinden the snow couloir swept five thousand feet down to the sunlit farm roofs down by the fjord. We followed the trajectory and at 4am reached the road to surprise Jonathan Preston and Ian Lancaster who, reading our summit text of success, had decided to make their own attempt and were just booting up.  Alas, they hit the cloud banks on the linking ridge and turned back in a white-out just two kilometres from the top at 10am. We had indeed been fortunate.

Then the shine disappeared from my night. An overwhelming sleepiness and a series of potholes in the road plagued the drive back to Larsvoll. Twice I drifted off to be nudged to life by Andy. At 6am Larsvoll shore was alive with eider ducks and oystercatchers. After a quick cup of tea we hit the hay and one of the great nights of our lives was done. “Mont Blanc of the North” had proven a worthy match for her greater Alpine cousin. I would not swop our night of Arctic perfection for any number of jostling ascents of a polluted Gouter Ridge. Mountains exert their greatest emotive power when they are lonely and unblemished. If you buck fashion and go to Lyngen you may come to agree.

April-May-June: Scottish Spring Highlights: Although the majority of Britain was deluged with rain the three spring months brought a remarkable drought to the North-West Highlands. Nearly every weather system passed by us to the south. The only wet day was May 13th when it rained 4 inches at Kinlochewe, That apart there were only a few showers, these falling as snow on the hills in April and early May. A scorching heatwave set in after may 20th and June was cooler but generally pleasant. So it has been one of the most enjoyable seasons of Cuillin mountaineering for a long time.

Our course groups enjoyed a high level of achievement, including three full traverses of the Ridge, Rod Winton and Robin Thomas followed the official "climbers' route" minus the Bhasteir Tooth (which was coated in rime and by-passed!). Martin Welch expertly guided Dave Harrand, David Roberts and Robert Ross along the "scramblers' version" of the traverse, starting from a boat trip to Loch Scavaig and ending in a blizzard on Gillean. I had a grand two days on the traverse with Jeff Colegrave, Jussi Nevanlinna and Nick Parsons-Smith starting with a boat trip into scavaig and climbing every climbing option en-route. Guy Steven took Brian Girvin down the Ridge north to south in early June. Skye Mountaineer teams had similar success, the Easter team of frankie Cummings and part doing all the Munros on the Ridge and the May team completing all bar the In Pinn (which was rime-plastered!).

Rock climbing action was also intense. Rose Mitchell and Peter Charles-Jones climbed the Applecross Cioch Nose, Gillean's Pinnacle Ridge and did some leading on Gairloch's Raven Crag. Rose went on to do Route I and Route 2 at Diabaig (both HVS 5a) and on the last day climbed the Cioch on Skye, starting with a nasty little route of Petronella (VS), which is the hardest 4b either of us have ever done and is to be avoided at any cost if you wish to preserve a semblance of dignity! Dave Quantrell and Steve Taylor enjoyed a productive 5 days with me in mid-May, visiting some delectable venues including Gruinard Jetty crag, Aztec Tower, Creag Alligin, Dundonnell and Glenmarksie and climbing a total of 30 routes between Severe and HVS..

Oliver from Bern, Switzerland had a fabulous two days on Skye with me - Sgurr na Banachdich and In Pinn through hail showers and the next day a Coire Lagan circuit taking in the Cioch, Eastern Gully and King's Chimney on Mhic Choinnich en-route. Several of our older clients drew closer to completion of the Munros with successes on Skye. Susan Hawkins spent two days bagging Am Basteir and the Bhasteir Tooth, plus Sgurrs Mhic Choinnich and Thearlaich. With less than 30 now to go she is very close to completion of all the Munros and Tops - a considerable achievement,

Indian Himalaya

Apr 29th 2012: Pinnacle Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean from Sgurr a'Bhasteir

By boat to the Cuillin Traverse: Martin with Jussi, Jeff and Nick on the "Misty Isle" - May 22nd 2012

March 22nd – April 1st: Morans on Planks! Norway Ski Mountaineering: Massive expense, Scotland’s recent failure to offer any training runs and the vagaries of the Norwegian climate were strong deterrents. Nevertheless, Moran senior and junior stepped off the plane at Bergen keen to throw ourselves at the peaks of Jostedalsbreen and Hurrungane in the heart of western Norway. Having invested heavily in modern gear I was hoping to chase a skiing prowess lost 20 years ago when family and business commitments forced me to abandon the sport. By ‘prowess’ I mean the basic ability to get down a mountain safely that was the entry bar for the British Guides’ scheme back in the 1980’s. My young cohort had his own problem of a regularly dislocating shoulder that forced him to strap his arm to his body on the downhill. Alex’s gear consisted of a set of well-scratched Rossignol Bandits purchased from the dubious stores of Robin Thomas for the princely sum of £50. The auguries were not good!

It was hardly surprising that an initial evening of floodlit piste skiing at Sogndal ski-centre saw us carved to pieces by local schoolchildren. At dawn next day we looked up Jostedalen from our cabin at Gaupne to see a shimmering skyline of pristine snow. We had left Scotland almost completely bare of snow after one of the warmest winters on record, yet here snow depth was well in excess of a metre from 400 metres upwards.  The highest peak we could see was the ice dome of 1701m Såta and with road access to 450m up Leirdalen the choice was obvious. We skinned shirt-sleeved up a spacious bowl of sugar crystals with the sun beating on our backs and hundreds of kilometres of plateau and mountain horizons opening to view.
“So what do you think of Norwegian skiing, Alex?” I asked.
“I’m having a Norgasm right now,” came an enthusiastic response.
Sadly, Alex’s Norgasm quickly turned into a Nordeal when we commenced the descent. For a few hundred metres we stayed upright on frozen névé, then plunged disastrously through the crust into bottomless granules. For us, conventional turning was impossible and we only had 900 metres to descend! I decided that jump turns were the answer, but with skis running a foot under the crust this involved full-blooded squat thrusts and body twists that usually ended with the skis pointing the right way but with my body in an ungainly heap in the snow. Near the bottom birchwoods fuelled the nightmare. By the time we reached the car my thighs were burning so badly that I couldn’t raise my knees above 90 degrees and urgent infusions of Berocca salts and lager were required to stave off cramp.

Ascending the slopes of Såta (1701m) looking out over the Breheimen plateaux to the Hurrungane

Alex on summit of 2147m Dyrhaugstinden in the Hurrungane

A retreat to the pistes of Hollekve was sounded next morning and we forced our battered thighs to submit to linked turns on more friendly terrain. With a semblance of pride established, an afternoon tour was taken along with local families to the 1400m top of Blåfjell.  Again, the clarity of the views over the Sognefjord was stunning and the snow was firm. We managed 5km and 850m of unbroken ski-ing straight back to the car without a single fall. Although a border collie had kept up with us most of the way down, Blåfjell banished all memories of Såta.

We felt sufficiently emboldened to tackle the famous Hurrungane mountains and drove up to Turtagrø  Hotel at 850m on a cool Sunday morning. Among a host of impressive alpine peaks 2147m Dyrhaugstinden offers the ideal beginners’ run and we bent our backs to the 1300m climb with some gusto. Remarkably, we were the only skiers on the mountain. Were this place transported to Scotland a car park double the size of Cairn Gorm would be required. We changed to climbing kit for the last hundred metres to the rime-caked summit where mists parted to reveal the soaring wedge of 2407m Skagastølstinden, more simply known as Storen – the biggun – and at 2407m Norway’s third highest peak. The run down was a dream until I tripped on icy névé and lost a ski, which careered downhill on its own ski run for a hundred metres, akin to a horse without a rider.

Monday was designed to satisfy my perverse desire to be somewhere big, lonely and dangerous. The Jostedalsbreen ice cap is the biggest glacier on mainland Europe. At its northern end two sharp nunataks poke out of the ice, 2083m Lodalskåpa and 2013m Brenibba. We drove 40km up Jostedalen and parked where the ploughs had abandoned further road clearance. The valley was deep-cut and scoured by avalanches, a sombre place on a clouded morning. We faced a 12km ski ascent, but skies brightened temporarily as we skinned up to the snout of the Fabergstølsbreen, one of dozens of valley glaciers that spill off the ice cap. The tongue of live green ice gleamed in the morning sun. Unlike the Alps, the glaciers here still pack a punch thanks to massive dumps of maritime snowfall on the plateau.

The air temperature rose alarmingly and cloud rolled in as we reached the edge of the ice cap. Plans to reach Lodalskåpa were ditched, but we reset the controls towards the nearer peak of Brenibba. Ahead lay 6km of nothingness, at the end of which we should hit the crowning turret of the peak. Compass navigation was impossible without the leader regularly checking back to the second. The back-up of the GPS to check progress was a relief as vague snow-scapes disappeared into complete white-out. Steady sleet was driving into our faces when we sensed the ground steepen at 1800m. Harcheisen – ski crampons – were a godsend on the icy slope, but at 1950m we had to abandon skis altogether. Our mood was one of “let’s get this over with”. We didn’t put a GPS tag on the skis and blundered uphill. We saw the summit cairn from two metres away. Immediately beyond an edge and a shadowed gulf appeared. When I glanced back, my tracks had passed just a metre from a similar cornice. The shock was considerable. I hadn’t been aware how close I was to disaster. Thankfully Alex had taken a safer line to my right. The ski back over the plateau was initially hilarious as we lost all sense of balance and continually fell over in the white-out. As the angle slackened we had to pole and skate the skis for 3km to regain the rock outcrops that heralded our safe return.

Back at base that evening I was salving psychological wounds with a nice plate of pickled herring when Alex piped up:
“Dad; tomorrow I think we should head out and shred a sweet stash of backcountry pow.”
He’d been reading far too much of his American handbook on ski touring. The forecast promised substantial fresh snow later in the week so we hauled massive loads to the Vigdalstølen cabin. As expected this DNT hut was deserted and offered a couth interior with wood burning stove and cot beds. With addition of a flask of Balvenie and a substantial quantity of pancake mix we were able to “chill the beans” for three delightful days. We tackled four separate summits of over 1400m, including the impressive 1757m Vongsen. The new snowfall was feeble so the stashes were thin on the ground, but the weather changed from Spring-warmth to Baltic cold and slush skiing was replaced by bone-shaking névé. A bitter nor’wester cut straight through Alex’s trousers on Fivlenosi, instantly freezing private possessions. For ten minutes he was convulsed in the agony of hot-aches, and future Moran progeny was saved from extinction.

A high volume of skiing had inevitably improved our technique despite our best efforts to the contrary. With some trepidation we ventured back to the Hurrungane for an attempt on 2124m Store Ringstind on our final day. This bold horn of gabbro offers a fantastic glacier run off its summit, which traverses above steep ground for a kilometre. After a 6km ski up Ringbotn we needed crampons and axes to surmount a 50deg gully to gain the glacier. The bowl under the summit was caked with soft drifts and the mists cleared for the precious half-hour that we were on top. Quickly we remounted skis and headed down while visibility held. After 300 metres of lovely powder skiing we embarked on the crucial traverse under Midtre Ringstind. Fresh snow soon petered out we found ourselves rattling over icy névé at 40-45 degrees above alarming drops. Out in front I decided that to abort the traverse would be more hazardous than to continue. With a bit of side-slipping and blind faith I gained a bowl with a run out and dared to make some turns. Meanwhile Alex had decided otherwise. Looking back I saw a lonely figure perched on the ice slope chopping out a ledge and watched with concern and wonder as he managed to de-ski and put on crampons to walk the remainder. The rush of relief after the tricky passage put wind in our sails to ski out to Turtagrø.

With some sadness we took off skis and boots for the last time. We had clocked over 9000 metres of ascent and nine summits in nine days and been largely alone in some of Europe’s finest wilderness. We drove back through the fjordlands towards Bergen in mellow mood, iPod and cruise control on and my passenger contentedly supping tinnies of Tuborg. Alex's reluctant admission that Pink Floyd were better than the Swedish House Mafia completed my happiness.

Full picture selection on our Flickr gallery NORWAY SKI MOUNTAINEERING - 2012

February 28th: Memories of Paul Guest and Changuch: One of our strongest and most able clients, Paul Guest from Kidderminster, was killed on Feb 19th in a fall from Zero Gully on Ben Nevis. Paul climbed Mont Blanc with us in 2006, then did our Swiss Big Three course in 2007. I was delighted when he applied to join our trip to Nanda Devi East in 2009, for I needed strong and able climbers if we were to have any chance on the complex and exposed route to this 7434m summit. First climbed by a Polish party in 1939 this was the hardest technical route achieved in the Himalayas prior to World War II and remained so until the late 1950's; easily rating Alpine TD in difficulty. As expected Paul delivered a very strong performance, climbing the training peak 5782m Nanda Lapak and doing a big load carry to 5910m Longstaff's Col, where we made the most exiguous camp on a knife-edge ridge. Paul handled the terrors of this perch with humorous detachment and then crossed the first three pinnacles of the South-East Ridge to our high point of 6100m. We realised that with just four fit climbers and no reliable back-up the rest of the route could prove a step too far; so retreated while the dice were in our favour.

Happily, we had an alternative peak up our sleeves - the beautiful virgin summit of 6322m Changuch - and turned our attentions to this. With Leon Winchester, Rob Jarvis, Ludar Singh and me, Paul reached the summit in an Alpine-style climb of D+ standard; a great day in his life. To finish the trip the same team made an on-sight crossing of Traill's Pass, a notoriously difficult glacial pass which had only been traversed four times in the previous century. The epic day trying to find a way down to the Pindari valley on the far side in fog and snowfall tested our reserves of strength and patience to the limit. Then, we enjoyed a paradisical three day trek back to civilisation, living off the occasional tea-shop. Bearded and battle-hardened, we were proudly calling ourselves The Famous Five by the time we gained the roadhead at Song. Rob Jarvis made a nice 12 minute video of the expedition which captures its spirit.

I was pleased to see Paul achieving other expeditions and developing his abilities as a lead climber in the last two years and it is tragic that he has lost his life at so young an age with so much still to offer to the world.

What if I live no more those kingly days? Their night sleeps with me still.

I dream my feet upon the starry ways; my heart rests in the hill. (Geoffrey Winthrop Young)

Paul Guest nearing the summit of 6322m Changuch 9th June 2009 with Nanda Devi behind

February 17th: Death and Beauty on Norwegian Ice: "Fossilimonster is in and I've been on it!" crowed Martin Welch. "Do you boys mind if I post this on UK Climbing?" Well, considering that this is possibly the world's longest ice route - with close on 800 metres of vertical height gain - and can be reached from Aberdeen in less time than you would take to get to the bottom of Point Five Gully, you would imagine that such news would create massive excitement on UKC. Sadly, I fear that the post would attract merely a handful of bemused readers while threads such as "How many ice screws do I need on Aladdin's Couloir?" continue to stack up hundreds of replies. As to Welchie's claim to have sampled the Monster, he had indeed done the first two pitches, before concluding that it would take the best part of 2 days to complete the climb.

Pete Macpherson and I pleaded with him to withold the news. Indeed, Martin's photos proved the Monster was "big and fat", so much that the bolting crimes of Robert Jasper's first ascent in 2009 would be entirely superfluous. A wet autumn and two months of melt-freeze action had indeed delivered a remarkable flow of ice, but would the weather be cold enough during the 6 days that Pete and I had in Norway? The Yr.no forecast gave us serious doubts, but nonetheless Fossilimonster training sessions were initiated in my garage. These consisted of doing 5 pull ups, then bracing my feet against the doorframe while hanging on one arm for 15 seconds and placing a virtual ice screw; followed immediately by another five pull-ups and a second screw, then a third set of pull-ups. At the end of this a cold shower was prescribed to simulate belay discomforts before another set commenced. To my dismay, this regimen left me utterly exhausted after just three pitches of climbing, and the Monster has at least 16! I consoled myself that not all these are vertical, and, anyway, Pete could always drag me up the remainder!

Left: Fossilimonster: the pride of Naeroydalen On the first ascent Teutonic tornado Robert Jasper placed 15 bolts for belays and protection where the ice was thin, causing ethical outrage among Norwegian climbers. This year it formed thicker and was there for the taking for several days before a thaw set in. Above: Martin Welch and Stewart Anderson did the first two pitches before recalling that "the better part of valour is discretion". The icicles on the skyline are 450m above them and two-thirds of the way up the climb! (photos: Martin Welch and Stewart Anderson).

Martin seconding the 2nd pitch of Tunshelle Vision - not a bad route to have in your back-yard (photo: Martin Welch)

TVision 2)

Martin leading the first pitch of Tunshelle Vision (photo: Pete Macpherson)

If the forecast brought doubts the news when we stepped off the plane in Bergen froze us in our tracks. Two of Norway's best ice climbers, Bjorn-Eivind Aartun and Stein-Ivar Gravdal, had been killed the previous week while attempting a new line on the awesome face of Kjerag near Stavanger. Apparently, they had been hit by a large collapse of ice or of rock. These guys had already made an amazing ice route on Kjerag, the 600m Strandhogg, in 2009. Check the video extract of the climb. With temperatures due to hover between +2 and +5 degrees over coming days, now was a time to draw in our horns, forget the Monster for a few days and seek out more modest objective to rebuild confidence. Our ice courses were based in our chalets in Aurland and it was warming to see everybody having fun and planning new climbs.We primed Mr Welch with a can of Ass - a popular local lager - to give us some tips for coming days.

First up was an icefall up at 700m altitude in Stondalen, high above Aurland, which Martin promoted as close to the road and of potential WI6 standard. Despite Scottische weather and deep now on the approach we despatched this 70m pillar with some difficulty at sustained WI 5/5+ standard. It was the perfect warm-up and I proposed calling it The Stonner, thinking that in Scotland this colloquially referred to a thing of jolly good quality. When we were corrected by Ewen Todd that a Stonner is in fact the Glaswegian for an erection the route name seemed even better! Martin's second tip was to have a look up Flamsdalen where he had spotted a "Nuit Blanche on steroids" that he had no intention of going anywhere near. Despite fading light, rain and temperatures of +6 degrees, we took a drive up and, lo and behold, this pencilled beauty was complete and just 15 minutes from the road. Better still a fine cool day was forecast.

We were back soon after dawn with air temperatures at zero degrees, meaning that the ice would still be soft and chewy to climb but less prone to collapse. From a distance the ice looked alarmingly thin and watery but scale is a deceiver in Norway and closer acquaintance revealed a good thick lick of ice all the way, even thought this meant that the climb was bigger than first thought! Only the first pitch looked glassy, but I was able to find footholds and gear placements in the rock to its right to avoid total dependance on the icicles. After much clearing of daggers, and several strenuous heaves over bosses of snottery ice I reached a ledge. Pete led through to an umbrella. He scuttled under the spray of the remnant stream and powered up some steep walls to a ramp. I continued to a ledge under a massive canopy of ice stalagtites where the final plunge of the fall struggled in vain to touch down. Happily, there was a neat little pillar stuck to the rock over to the right that offered a link to the main fall.

While Pete limbered up a dazzling shaft of sunlight settled on the nearby Tunshelle Farm, brilliantly burning its red paintwork in contrast to the sombre monochromes of the valley walls. Perhaps this was the first sunlight to reach the valley bottom for three months. Norway in winter can be a gloomy place, but such shafts of beauty send the spirits soaring to a new plane. The route name, Tunshelle Vision, formed in my mind, and could have double-entendre as a bad pun on Tunnel Vision. Before we could give substance to such conjectures Pete had to get us up this big pitch, and my God it looked intimidating. He made steady progress up the pillar and out on to the centre of the fall. Suddenly, he switched into overdrive and flailed up a bulge, rammed in an ice screw and thrashed into an easier finishing groove. Meanwhile Martin Welch and his clients Steve and Rhiannon has driven up and were busy taking film and pictures of the culminating prow. On seconding I discovered that Pete's rush had been occasioned by a steady flow of water at the crux. I tried to climb with style and speed to impress our photographers but later examination of the film revealed only hesitance and sloth. We made three long abseils down in the dusk and headed back to Aurland to celebrate a great climb with more Ass and a salmon dinner. Even Pete was moved to admit that the route had "hit the spot"! Would that Scotland had 150 metre ice pillars 15 minutes from the road.

Pete at grips with the 4th pitch of Tunshelle Vision (WI 6)

Flamsdalen: Tunshelle Vision 160m V, WI6 *** (Scottish VII, 7)

A fantastic vertical line of ice can form down the centre of the cliff 1km S of Tunshelle farm. The ease of access enhances the quality. A sustained freeze after a wet autumn is required to give a continuous line of ice. Difficulties will increase and become more mixed if the bottom pitch has not fully formed. The top pillar may not be feasible without a link to the rock on its R side. Carry a small rock rack to help protect the first pitch.

Park directly under the fall in a lay-by on the E of the bridge between Berekvam and Tunshelle. Approach in 10-15 minutes.

1. 35m Climb the R side of the fall, bridging on to rock at several points and surmounting several ice bulges (WI6), Belay on ledge on R.

2. 35m Go diagonally up L under an umbrella and climb its L side to gain a ramp (WI5).

3. 25m Climb R into a niche, then up a steep wall and ramp to a ledge under the hanging final icefall. Belay out R (WI4+)

4. 45m Go up a thin pillar on the R of the icefall and climb 15m diagonally L on to the vertical prow of the fall. Surmount the prow and belay 15m up in the finishing corner (WI 5+/6).

5. 20m Climb the corner to the top; belay on a tree on the L (WI 3+)

Descend in 3 abseils of 55m, 50m and 30m.

Pete Macpherson and Martin Moran 16th February 2012.

 

 

January 23rd: A Rough Ride with Rudolf: After a seemingly interminable wait for a revival of mixed climbing conditions Murdo and I set out for Beinn Eighe late on a dark night which sent heavy showers of cold rain across the Torridon moors. Up high we had hopes of thick fresh snow, rime and ice, but the initial risk was of getting a soaking. "If we get one of these squalls, I'm for going back," said Murdo. He was not in best fettle after receiving a stern lashing from The Vicar in Coire an Lochain the previous day and had omitted to bring overtrousers. Luckily, we got high in the snows before any serious precipitation arrived and could look forward to improving weather through the day. We left our sacks as usual at the Coinneach Mor cairn and we descended under the morning mists to see a highly desirable coating of whiteness on the cliffs. Even the forbidding Far East Wall was rimed on all but its steepest prows. At this sight a simultaneous and involuntary lurch in our digestive systems sent us scurrying in in different directions in search of sheltered boulders. A stream of ice flowed down the bottom pitch of our main target, the corner line of Rudolf which is a summer E2 smack in the centre of the wall. No winter ascents had been recorded in the vicinity. Anticipating that protection would be lacking Murdo seemed more than content to let me lead this icy start. Sure enough the verglassed cracks were largely useless for gear. Even after persistent hammering of nuts and hex chocks, most slipped out with an outward tug. Happily, the gummed cracks gave some brilliant placements for my axe picks so that I always felt I had at least one secure point of attachment. Soon I was hitched to three anchors in a chimney slot below a big roof where the ice ended and the soaring corner began.

Winter action on Rudolf (VIII, 8), Beinn Eighe

Above Left: Martin sets out on the icy first pitch

Above Right: Murdo prepares to surmount the roof on pitch two

Left: Believe it or not, the next section was delicate; brilliant quartzite climbing on pitch three

 

Now was the time for some Murdo magic as he launched over the roof on the summer 5c pitch. Leaving his runners below foot level he laybacked off a thin torque and thrashed at some turf to his right. Suddenly there was a yelp and scraping and I was yanked into the air as he promptly rejoined me on the belay. His second attempt brought a moment of doubt. "A braver man would...." he muttered, and I thought he was going to baulk the moves. No sooner were the words uttered than he extravagantly bridged his right foot horizontally across the roof, in fair impression of ballet maestro Rudolph Nureyev. This gave him just sufficient respite to sort his axes on the best bits of stringy soil and pull through to success. Onward progress was not as rapid as I'd hoped and when the words "This is mental. If you thought the Needle was hard....." floated down I became seriously apprehensive. With one further fall Murdo reached a belay. I took two attempts to get past the roof then swung up the corner on amazing pick locks to the wide "Needle on steroids" layback crack. Somehow Murdo had laybacked this on his axe shafts. I took one look at the crack, noticed that the rock was free of ice and decided that gloved hand-jams would work here. Much to Murdo's chagrin I scuttled up in seconds. His jaw dropped. An epoch-making grade 9 lead had just been converted into a VDiff by an old man. It seemed wise to make a swift changeover lest I betrayed my enjoyment of the predicament.

The summer description posted a 45 metre top-pitch of 5b standard, and this started with steep but accommodating cracks and ice blobs. Another big roof forced a tenuous traverse left on smooth breastplates of quartzite. From a poor hook I had to impale a lonely lump of turf way out left and scuttle my feet across before my bodyweight ripped it out. With this achieved I felt sure the route would relent and, indeed, there was an abundance of cracks up the wall to the right of the corner above. I failed to register that this wall was in fact gently overhanging, and soon I was grunting from armlock to armlock in search of respite. By the time I had bridged back to the main corner daylight was fast fading and I was getting short of equipment. To make matters worse the corner was verglassed. Lacking a torch I had to belay within the next 20 minutes. Without good anchors we would be in deep trouble. Crisis, what crisis! A solitary slot under the next roof offered the sole hope. I made a hard mantleshelf into the niche and stuffed a sling down a constriction in the iced crack, more in hope than expectation. To my joy it slid 20cm down and emerged at the bottom - the perfect thread. Soon I was safely strapped in and Murdo's headlight slowly flickered towards me, accompanied by sundry protestations of being cold and fed up. His elastic axe leashes were getting tangled and my gear was stubbornly hard to extract. "I'm not enjoying myself; I'm just not cut out for this winter game" he moaned, and then threw some of his toys out of the pram by dropping a peg and runner.

There were at least 20 metres still to climb and I seriously feared that he would hand me the lead. I was quite wrong. Murdo Jamieson has the knack of transforming himself from whingeing brat to class climber within seconds. Such versatility worked to our advantage as he pulled through the roofs and powered up another series of corner cracks. At some time approaching 8pm the reassuring call came down that there were now some footholds and the climb was easing. Sure enough the top 20 metres extracted another series of arm-sapping technical 8 contortions, but being Beinn Eighe there was always another axe hook just within reach whenever strength or resolve wavered. I sung as sweetly as I could to help keep my concentration. "How could you sing classical music when you're climbing that?" Murdo asked. Considering that my tune of the day was "If You Leave Me Now" by Chicago it is clear that this young man needs some education in the Arts.

On reaching the top we were embarrassed to reflect that we had taken 11 hours to climb 100 metres of rock. Descent was a delightful antidote to our laboured ascent. We ploughed down the snowslopes at an unbroken canter and were back at the car inside an hour and half. Whatever the grade Rudolf is one of the best winter lines on the mountain and certainly the hardest of the ones that I've done. Maybe it would be Murdo's last climb before he heads down to Plas y Brenin in Wales to start an 8 month contract as a voluntary instructor. No doubt he'll display the broadest grin as he exhorts his fellow staff to get up to Beinn Eighe for some great winter climbing.

Beinn Eighe, Far East Wall: Rudolf 100m VIII, 8/9 ***: A superb winter route, very sustained and at the upper end of the grade. Pitch one climbed the iced crack left of the cave to a belay in a niche at the first roof (7; 25m; serious). The second pitch has a hard start (maybe 9), then climbs past wedged pillars to a layback crack which would be very hard if iced, before traversing 3m left to a hanging belay (20m). The top section was broken into two pitches. The first goes up to a roof, makes a delicate traverse into the upper corner, then climbs strenuously up cracks in the leaning right wall before regaining the corner and climbing to a constricted belay under a capping roof (8; 30m). The top pitch moves left past the roof with difficulty then follows the monolithic final corner to the top (8; 25m). Murdo Jamieson and Martin Moran 23rd Jan 2012

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January 15th: The Chancer: After two months of storms, during which Lochcarron had 53 consecutive days with measurable rainfall, we have enjoyed a soothing calm of blue skies and hard frosts over the weekend. Despite frustration that much of December's snow has disappeared, one must be an opportunist when good weather arrives, and in this spirit Gareth Maker got in touch wondering if there might be any ice about. Hell's Lum crag at the head of Loch Avon in the Cairngorms seemed a good place to start. This slabby face faces south and combines copious water flow with melt-freeze cycles to promote rapid formation of icefalls. Gareth and I walked over the plateau and down Coire Domhain on a glorious morning when hundreds were enjoying recreation on the slopes of Cairn Gorm. There were already several teams prospecting at the foot of Hell's Lum where some of the slabby ice routes looked tempting but decidedly thin. We traversed below the main gully line - the Lum itself - and to its left spied the icefalls of The Chancer, which were gleaming in the blue-green band of the spectrum that denotes thickness and strength. Despite some concerns about falling ice while the cliff was bathed in sun, we decided to get stuck in.

Above: Looking up the Lum with the icefalls of The Chancer on its left wall

Right: The leader is caught struggling on the steep crux of The Chancer (photo Ewen Todd)

The Chancer is a short but historically significant icicle. It was first climbed by John Cunningham in 1970 using front-pointing with crampons and an ice dagger. This was the first grade V to be climbed by the new techniques. As to the use of an ice dagger I did once purchase such an implement in the innocence of my youth, but one trial on a small ice wall convinced me that it would be of more use for skewering a joint of meat than climbing vertical ice. Cunningham's lead is therefore all the more remarkable. To get to the icicle we first had to climb the crux step of the Lum itself. A party was in process of retreating from this 5 metre barrier as we approached, so I expected some trouble. Indeed, the ice on the pitch was watery, thin and brittle, climbable only with extreme deilcacy and a detached frane of mind. I headed up to a snug cave under the central pillar of The Chancer and brought Gareth up.

Leaving this nook it was wonderful to swing into a wall of solid bubbly ice, but at the base of the crux candle a steady stream of water was spraying over me and I decided to seek a line further left where a thin icefall dribbled down a wall. The wall was relatively dry and give a strenuous struggle, in the heat of which I placed all three of the ice screws at my disposal. Having reached easier slopes I now had nothing with which to make an immediate belay but luck favoured me and I stretched the last metre of our ropes to gain an outcrop of solid cracked rock up to the right. Despite an absence of communication Gareth knew exactly what to do when I tugged tight on the rope and followed with aplomb, even employing that ice climbers' secret trick of clipping in to his axe for a quick rest at the crux. A short wall and cornice of bone-hard snow brought us up to the plateau. The day had been short, scenic and engaging - just the ticket as we both prepare for coming adventures in Norway.

January 4th - 5th 2012: Knackered Knights in Knoydart by Alex Moran: Leaving the main road after Invergarry the rain seemed to increase in ferocity. We wound our way down the 22 miles of single track which ended in the small hamlet of Kinloch Hourn. The windscreen wipers intermittently revealed the last dregs of civilisation slipping out of view as we drove deep into the heart of the glen. It had been raining for most of the day and this, coupled with the snowmelt, was causing the line between road and river to blur continuously. Torrents overtook tarmac. It had been a long time since I had seen this much water pouring off the hillside and our immersion into this water world was completed where we finally parked and Loch Hourn begins.

Steve Walls and I had made a last-minute decision to seek some adventure before I returned to work and he got his head down to revision for exams. With the forecast looking so bleak it was hard to imagine getting much done, but the holidays were nearly at an end and we wanted to burn ourselves on something big before the return. We both realised that neither of us had been into Knoydart, mainland Britain’s great wilderness. There are few ways to penetrate this vast area. The road only reaches its eastern edge and the sea defends the rest. The only ways to unlock its secrets are by boat or on foot. This would be the ideal stage for an epic escapade!

We knew we were going to get wet; the question was just how wet. Having psyched ourselves up we left the car and quickly put our waterproofs on managing to only get slightly damp in the process. So the march began. It was 10km to the bothy at Barrisdale where we planned to stay the night before attempting the three Munros, and this should take us 2hrs 30mins; or so we thought! Silence descended along with the darkness but the rain didn’t let up in intensity. By now the water was seeping through the two pairs of waterproof trousers and my boots were beginning to fill up. The path wound round the edge of the shore moving away from the lapping waves only to climb over impassable sections of cliff and ford the rivers. Given the state of the rivers on the drive-in we expected some difficulty, but we were ill-prepared us for what we found at the first crossing point. The river was only 5m wide but was moving so fast that there was only white water visible. Moving down to the shore we found a slightly better place to cross and waded thigh deep to the other side with relative safety. The question of how wet we would get was answered; soaked!!

Knoydart - strong winds

Knoydart - descending Luinne Bheinn

Left: River Wading on the walk-in to Barrisdale

Above: Fresh snow coming off Luinne Bheinn

Knoydart - summit of Ladhar Bheinn

Knoydart river wading

Above: Strong winds on Meall Buidhe

Left: Ladhar Bheinn summit

Staggering on, the wind had now picked up and this only confounded problems as we were met with our final hurdle just 2km from the comfort of the bothy. There seemed no obvious place to cross this one. A bridge marked on the map must have been washed away and it looked as though you would be immediately swept away as soon as you stepped into the water. For some reason I was feeling particularly foolhardy and indestructible, and, seeing only 7m between us and the bothy, I decided to go for it at the narrowest section. This was a massive mistake. I was soon up to my waist, my legs were taken from under me and just got back to shore by the skin of my teeth, only narrowly avoiding the watery grave that awaited me had I been swept into the loch wearing full waterproofs and carrying a 13kg bag. What an idiot!! Taking stock of the situation Steve got the map out and we soon realised we would have to climb up the river bank to a point where we could cross safely at its source. This involved 500m of height gain and a detour of 4km. The rain and wind did not allow us any respite and after an hour and a half we reached the great bog where the river split into many streams allowing us to pass more safely. Right on cue, Steve’s head torch began to flicker and die; just what we needed! Luckily mine was quite powerful and we pushed onwards above the snow line to a col where we could just make out our final destination. Slipping and sliding back down the 500m to sea level we arrived at the bothy, 5hrs after leaving the car. The lack of a fire meant that it would be an almost impossible task to dry our clothes but we hung them up and got some food on. The luxury of having shelter from the rain was incredible and we sat steaming in our wet clothes, eating and sipping whisky before bed.

Waking at 6am from my waterlogged nightmares I could hear the wind howling outside. Tea seemed to be the best option and we sat in our bags brewing up. Morale was at an all-time low, the last thing we wanted to do was get into wet clothes and face the maelstrom again. One hour turned into two as we sat at stalemate with the wind. Finally as it grew light, we could drink no more tea and the weather eased. A frantic rush of activity followed as we shoved wet clothes on. Steve chanted “Hardcore, do you want more?” to get himself in the right frame of mind to force on his dripping trousers!

Morale took a U-turn and we left the bothy in high spirits. Soon were half way up the first summit of Luinne Bheinn. The weather seemed stable and we powered up to about 800m before a sudden rise in the wind speed forced a crawl to the summit. Being unable to dry out our boots our feet became very cold feet above the snow line. Any stop for more than a few minutes meant my feet started to freeze so perpetual motion was necessary. Meall Buidhe fell quickly but the wind tried its best to beat us back. Our late start meant it was three o’clock when we stood at the Mam Barrisdale staring up at our final hurdle, Ladhar Bheinn. The decision was made almost immediately to go for it; we hadn’t walked all this way to not get the three done! Estimating 2hrs 30 to the summit we set off at a ferocious pace, soon to realise that our legs were tiring. A steep climb to the ridge brought us into view of the impressive corrie as dusk fell. Pushing on up the ridge the snow became thicker and progress ever slower and more laboured. Thighs were starting to fade as we realised that the final 300m of ascent was going to take a lot longer than expected. Our head-torch beams probed the darkness looking for the relief of the summit which was seeming impossibly far away. Starting to stagger and stumble I was getting to the point of exhaustion. Luckily I could see Steve was feeling the same so no pride was lost in stopping for a much needed glucose injection and rehydration. The cloud was down as we dragged ourselves up the last 100m to the summit. We arrived at 6pm to see the lights of Armadale over Loch Hourn, a world away from our isolated island of snow in a sea of darkness.

Now for the descent! The map showed a narrow ridge northwards which would afford us a quick passage down to the corrie. However, the way down was unclear and cliffs surrounded us as we inched down the bullet hard 50° neve. Usually this kind of slope would not be too big a problem but I only had a pair of slip-on instep crampons with no front points, better suited to granny’s grocery trip on an iced pavement. Inching down Steve did his best to kick steps fro me, but it all felt very unstable and the safety of the ridge was not forthcoming. Quick decision-making was needed and we chose to go back up and descend the ridge we had ascended. I cursed my choice of crampons the whole way down, but it was a good call.

We were soon down in the corrie, and, after driving some more food into our stomachs, we marched the 5km to the bothy on the last of our reserves. We were walking out that night no matter what, so as we cooked a hot meal, packed our bags and Steve tended to huge blisters round both of his ankles. It was 11km out to the car if the streams allowed us passage. Feeling a bit more alive we started the walk with Steve hobbling like he had a red hot poker up his ass and was walking on hot coals! The pain was clearly horrific but being the hard man that he is no complaint was made and he set an intense pace for the car. As we approached the river, which had caused us so much problem on our way in, we discovered a small stream running under a bridge. The bridge must have been totally covered by the raging torrent on our way in. We finally arrived back at the car 16hrs after leaving the bothy. Steve’s feet were in tatters and our legs felt the burn, but we had escaped the forgotten peninsula with its three jewels in the bag. Driving through the night we reached our beds at 5am. In the 34 hour trip, car to car, we had covered 46km and over 4000m of climbing.

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