The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Kyrgyzstan Virgin Summits Expedition 2016

ISM Kyrgyzstan (Pamirs) Virgin Summits Expedition 2016

Trip Leader, ISM Director and IFMGA Guide Adrian Nelhams (AN)
Guides Paulo Intropido (PI), Paul Swail (PS) and Vladimir Komissarov (VK) Climbers – Stephen Taylor (ST), Jason Sheldrake (JS), Will Boxall (WB), Rob Meijer (RM), Marc Lambert (ML), Finlay Shaw (FS), Rob Maysh (RMy), Justin Mash (JM), James Robinson (JR)

Area visited – The Eastern Zaalay Range at the Eastern end of the Trans Alai Range.  

Great flights via Istanbul into Osh, the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan. The city is located in the Fergana Valley and is often referred to as the ‘Capital of the South’. The city dates back over 3000 years ago and is located close to the borders of China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan which is where it gets its ethnically mixed population of over a quarter of a million people. Osh marks the midpoint on the historic ancient Silk Road, the overland trade route taken by caravans between Europe and Asia and is home to the sprawling Osh ‘Silk Road Bazaar’ which bears the hallmark of that bygone era and is the largest, most crowded outdoor market in Central Asia and a great place to hang out!

We spend the day in Osh while the ITMC team head to the markets to buy the final fresh foodstuffs before we head off into the mountains the following day.

We head up the only World Heritage Site in Kyrgyzstan, the Sulayman Mountain, which offers great views of Osh and the surrounding mountains. This mountain is thought by some to be the famous landmark of antiquity known as the “Stone Tower”, which Claudius Ptolemy wrote about in his famous work Geography. The National Historical and Archaeological Museum Complex Sulayman is carved into the mountain and contains a collection of archaeological, geological and historical finds. Then we hit the markets!

The following day we loaded our bags into the ITMC 6WD Kamaz truck and headed south to the small hamlet of Taldyk. Here we camped and recci’d the rocky limestone summits of Urch Terbur both for climbing possibilities and to help with everyone’s acclimatisation as Base Camp (BC) will be around 3500/3600m

The next day we headed on through the small border town of Sarytash and on to the hilly grasslands and foothills of the Pamir Mountains and towards the Eastern Zaalay Range where we had come to explore. Great views on the way over the pass to PK Lenin 7,134m in the Western Zaalay, Trans Alai Range a little further west.

We passed the river delta, which fed down from the glaciers and summits we explored last year and carried on another 11km to the Kurumdy River. Here we drove up its wide delta with the truck forcing its way through fast moving rivers, over rocks and up steep banks until we found a lovely flat grassy area next to a clean water supply on the west bank of the river at 3600m which became BC. 
The following day we went off in three teams to explore the surrounding valleys and glaciers. It’s such a beautiful area of high peaks in a very quiet but accessible part of the Pamir Range. During this first day of forays, one team found a great Advanced Base Camp (ABC) at 4000 m, which would access a few great looking summits over the coming days, so on day 3 we all headed up into this high alpine basin to explore the surrounding summits.

We climbed –
PK 4318m we named ‘PK Curperluk’ (Kyrgyz for ‘Butterfly’)  
Climbers – AN, RM, JM, JR, JS, VK, WS

PK 4629m we named ‘PK Tereze’ (Kyrgyz for ‘Window’)
Climbers – PI, PS, RMy, FS, ML, ST, RM

PK 4736m we named ‘PK Chogurlush’ (Kyrgyz for ‘Coming Together’)
Climbers - AN, RM, JM, JR, JS, RMy, FS, PI, PS, ML, ST

The team then headed back to BC for a much needed rest and wash before heading out on another recci day but this time in another parallel valley and main glacier/drainage system into the Karumdy River. We established a second and third ABC to explore this huge glaciated valley. ABC 1 was established at 3850m and ABC 2 at 4100m.

We had our eyes set on a number of options which included a couple of peaks on the East side of the valley and a couple to the South, all with slightly different access and possible routes on them, hence the different ABC options and attack points. The following day it snowed heavily although both teams went out to explore the various options and peaks close to them. High points were achieved but poor visibility and heavy snow stopped progress. That night the cloud cleared, the wind died down and it was a beautiful starry 

The following day both teams had success on their peaks –
PK 4760m we named ‘PK Kanzaada’ (Kyrgyz for ‘The Prince’)  
Climbers – AN, JM, JS, JR

PK 4685m - we have asked the listeners of BBC Radio Cumbria to name this peak.
Climbers – PI, FS, RMy, RM
(The team first climbed ‘PK Jolborz’ 4624m FA - AN, ST, DR, BT in 2015 to access the connecting ridge to this summit)

The next day we broke camp, loaded the vehicle and headed out of the main range, back through the town of Sarytash and towards Taldyk where we camped the night.

The following day we travelled up into the limestone crags and boulders of Urch Terbur for some rock climbing and bouldering….a very refreshing change from being in the high mountains! The warmer weather and lower altitude made for a fun day climbing and last active day on the expedition.

That night we continued 2 km to a small village called Kyrkol where we stopped at the Alai Yurt Camp. Here everyone had the chance to sleep in a traditional yurt, taste some traditional Kyrgyz cuisine and enjoy some local Kyrgyz music both through the storytelling from the Manas script and some incredible strumming on the Komuz both over the shoulder, between the knees and upside down….! It was a great night, which rounded off a fantastic trip.

The last day on the way back to Osh we stopped at a small shop selling Kyrgyz felt goods. We had fun buying things and hoped this helped to give something back to the local community as a group of women had recently set up this small working co-operative selling their handmade felt goods. I am sure we will be part of their advertising in the future!
Thanks to Sasha our driver for getting us into base camp, Artur our cook, for some fantastic culinary delights and our two porters Mika and Pasha for helping with some heavy loads up to advanced base camp. 

A fantastic trip....already making plans for next year!

Safe climbing

Adrian Nelhams 

Images courtesy of Jason Sheldrake - many thanks

Thursday, 18 August 2016

 My article as part of the Arcteryx Lakeland Revival......

Why we love British trad climbing!

British Mountain Guide and Lakes local Adrian Nelhams tell us what he loves about British trad and his approach to going climbing…

“I approach a crag or climb as I always have done, through aesthetics, grade, word of mouth and adventure. I’ve got to like the look of the splitter crack, the barrelling steep overhanging wall, the pocketed face or the exposed delicate slabs. Climbing is so much more than just a sequence of delicate moves, burly under-clings or hands jammed in an awkward off width. It’s the journey to get there, the friends you’re with, the shared experiences and the adventures along the way – that’s why we love British Trad climbing!

Photo credit: Adrian Nelhams and Marko Prezelj

Almost throw away your guidebook for the day and just go out and enjoy the adventure that is British Trad Climbing. The grade isn’t important, without the guidebook you won’t know the grade anyway and it won’t matter. If you’ve not been there before everything will feel more exciting and adventurous. The routes will feel harder, mentally, you’ll be more challenged and you’ll come away with the riches that climbing has to offer. It’s easy to go to the ‘known’ but by doing so it’s also easy to lessen the overall experience and adventure.

The Arc’teryx Lakeland Revival is great because it understands the grass roots nature of what we all love about Trad Climbing. The route cards will help inspire and give many people the confidence to try somewhere new. A new crag or route that may not have been climbed for a while but is still a real classic may be lost in this modern era of sport climbing. These gems once unearthed will become classics for many in the future. The more open you are to try something new, doing something different and pushing yourself that bit harder, the richer the experience.

I had great day last year guiding a client in the Lakes. The weather was wet but we still decided to head out and try some climbing. The client was relatively new to the game that is Trad climbing and we ended up on Gimmer Crag in the pouring rain. Waterproofs on and hoods up we were enjoying the solitude, adventure and seriousness of climbing the wet slippery rock in the rain. The cloud was swirling around and the rain was constant but we pushed on. The climbing, even for me, was totally absorbing.  I was aware of every feature the rock was gifting, careful with every foot placement and timely with every upward move so not to upset my delicate balance on the wet rock. Our ascent was slow but so rewarding. We were becoming more and more involved and excited by the feeling of adventure. I was soaked through, as was my client. We had the crux on the next pitch, 2 pitches up Gimmer. I set off up the wet rock, which was now under a torrent of running water. It felt more slippery than ever and I was mindful of every move, holding on more tightly than I would normally, my feet slipping on the slabby rock. I reached up the overhanging wall, found a good in-cut hold and pulled on it. My feet became light on the slippery slab and started to slip. I quickly pulled up on the hold and my feet left the ground. I felt a foothold out of sight which helped as an intermediate until I reached higher and found better handholds. It felt steep and overhanging. I could hardly see for the rain and running water in my face. I clipped off another nut, hung a sling for my client and pulled up and on to easier ground. I made a belay and brought up my client. She was glad of the sling! We topped out late in the day when it was almost getting dark. It was the end of March and had been one of the best days climbing I’d done with a client that year. The client was hooked and we’d only climbed a VD! It wasn’t just the climbing; it was the spirit that underpinned the experience. We’d climbed three routes that day, nothing above VD and had a real adventure, everything that a harder route in the dry would offer and possibly more! That shared experience has seen us climbing together on many occasions since then and we still joke about it now.

Photo: Jordan Manley

Climbing in the rain isn’t for everyone, but it brought us the riches on that day, memories that will stay with us and our minds full of Rigby, Sandison and Thomson who made the first ascent in 1902. It was probably the sort of adventure they were having but in hobnail boots and ropes tied around their waists….I bet it felt adventurous edging their way up that chimney pitch back then! It’s the journey you take that gives you those memories and if you keep taking new ones you’ll grow as a climber and also get the rewards that British Trad climbing has to give.

April 1907 – Crescent Climb on Pavey Arc. FA Botterill and Palmer ‘starting only a few yards right of green gully, we climbed over grass and loose material until we reached a little pitch which was awkward owing to its rotten state. About this time, to make matters worse, we were visited by a storm with thunder and lightning. It was impossible to take shelter, so we proceeded in the rain to a point where the gully finished out on the face. So far the climb had every appearance of being a first ascent…….’ Fred Botterill, F&RCC Journal 1907.

Check out the route cards and try something new, and if you want an even greater adventure either visit a new crag and leave your guidebook at home or climb an easy route in the rain!

Safe climbing

Monday, 16 November 2015

Kalymnos....a sport climbing mecca

Back in 1996, by chance, an Italian climber by the name of Andrea Di Bari visited Kalymnos on holiday. Andrea stood in awe as he drove around the island looking at the beautiful limestone walls and caves festooned with stalactites and tufas. Andrea immediately understood the massive potential of the climbing on Kalymnos and that this was going to be world class.
Andrea returned in May 1997 with friends and ‘put up’ over 40 bolted, now classic, sport routes in sectors such as Arhi, Odyssey and Poets. So excited about the climbing on Kalymnos and its potential, Andrea with Andrea Gallo, friend and photographer (working for Alp magazine at the time) returned later that same year. They both continued to put up new bolted sport routes, but this time they didn’t just go back with memories and a few holiday snaps, they went home with inspiring photos which they published with an article in Alp magazine and Rotpunkt, a German climbing magazine. The floodgates opened!

Kaylmnos today has become one of the ‘meccas’ of sport climbing in the world. The climbing is sensational as you pull up steep overhanging pocketed walls and laybacks, and steep overhanging tufa lines, or swing around upside down on hanging stalactites that feature in many of the caves that strew the island. All this within a short drive, walk or scooter ride from anywhere on the island.
The climbers arrived and the island grew, now the town of Masouri (central for much of the climbing) has grown and there are modern, well-equipped climbing shops, restaurants and caf├ęs and scooter hire outlets. The hotels and self-catering apartments are clean, well-equipped and reasonably priced. The food is fantastic, the locals are super friendly and the whole place gives off a great relaxed and chilled out feeling. There are also any amount of ferries and water boats to take you to the famous and beautiful island of Telendos (no roads or cars, just a couple of restaurants and some fantastic single pitch and multi-pitch sport routes) or to climb at any number of the deep water soloing venues that have grown over the years. It’s got it all for a super relaxed sport climbing holiday by the sea and in the sun!

The fast ferry service from Kos to Kalymnos

 Arriving in Pothia, Kalymnos
There are a number of options getting to Kalymnos from the UK. In season the best way is to fly from London Gatwick to Kos. Stay in Kos close to the port of Mastichari which is where the Kalymnos ferry goes from. The following day spend a relaxing morning in the port and then catch one of the many ferries to Pothia the main port on Kalymnos. It’s a short 35 mins ferry journey and costs less than £10 a person (buy the ticket at the small booth next to the ferry at the port, which opens 15 mins before departure).

Out of season, you’ll need to fly to Athens, spend a night there and then either fly to Kalymnos or to Kos (and then take the ferry as mentioned above). The only problem in flying direct to Kalymnos from Athens is that you can’t always guarantee getting there the same day as flights do get cancelled due to the wind. The airstrip in Kalymnos is small and exposed to the weather. The best way to ensure you get to Kalymnos the same day is to fly to Kos and take the ferry. It’s a great way to arrive on the island and makes the trip more of an adventure!
A short 15-minute taxi drive (around 15 Euros) from the port of Pothia will take you to Masouri, which is central to all the climbing. The island is set up for climbers and the taxis meet every ferry.

Getting around Kalymnos is easy. If you’ve never been before, spend a few days walking from where you’re staying in Masouri to the many local crags/areas that are dotted around close and offer hundreds of routes at all grades.

After this, consider taking the short boat trip across to the beautiful island of Telendos, which will not only give you a change of scene, but it’s a great outing and adventure. The journey’s only 20 mins and around 5 Euros each way and you get to climb on an island with no roads - just walkers, climbers and fisherman. There are both single pitch and fantastic bolted multi-pitch routes to climb. Enjoy the whole day, have a beer to settle the dust and some food (I recommend the freshly caught fish), watch the sun go down and catch a late ferry back to Kalymnos.  It’s again only a short walk from Masouri to the small ferry port to catch the boat to Telendos.

Another idea is to then hire a scooter from Mike’s Bikes or any number of other scooter hire shops in and around Masouri. For around 15 -20 Euros a day you can access some of the other sectors around the island and explore a little. Remember to take your driving licence and even if you sport climb without a helmet and were thinking of leaving it at home don’t, as you should get into the habit of wearing one when leading and it doubles up as a helmet that you can wear on the scooter that’s comfortable and fits properly!

There’s a cash point in Masouri, which feeds you with money for beer, fresh bread and fruit, scooter hire and suchlike.
All you need is the time to go there and enjoy yourself! Climbers visit the island all year round although for me I’d find it too hot in the middle of summer even though there are many places that you can stay in the shade for some of or all of the day. Even in October when I last went we couldn’t climb in the sun and would change crags when they came into the sun or only go to them when they went into the shade.

You can go with any number of ideas or mix it up a little. The new guidebook has twice the number of routes than the old one and also highlights crags that that are family friendly.
Steve and I took also took our road bikes and mixed in a few great rides which took us over some of the steep roads and allowed us to explore some of the smaller fishing ports whilst having some time out from the climbing. 

It was great riding and fantastic climbing – sounds like a holiday!
Safe climbing

Friday, 13 November 2015

Get Ready for the Ice!

Winter Ice Climbing Kit – Get ready for the Ice!

With winter fast approaching, now is a good time to check your kit!

Ice Axes and Leashes - Firstly, look at your ice axes and make sure they are in good condition. Check the nuts and bolts. If you are changing the pick then it is sometimes a good idea to replace the nuts as some have nylon threads.

If you use leashes, check them for any wear and make sure they are right for the job. What I mean by this is that, for me, the right leash system is really important. The leashes attach you to your tools so they need to be the right length and comfortable around your wrists. You also need a system, so that when you are hanging from your axes on steep ice, you can release one hand to place or retrieve an ice screw. For this reason, clipper leash systems have become very popular as they stay firmly secured around your wrists, but when you need to release a hand, you can do so by unclipping the whole leash from the shaft. It takes some time getting used to them but they work very well. Just be careful if you are placing or removing screws on steep ground near your head as the leash can whip round and hit you in the face!

Clipper leashes are not everyone’s cup of tea and some people prefer a leash that is always secured to the axe so you take out your hand. The main advantage of this is that your hands are left free to place screws and belay without the leash getting in the way. It is also nice to have a leash hanging from your axe when you are leading and placing a screw because if you get pumped very quickly you can clip into it or use it as an interim runner to calm the nerves! 

Today, many people climb leash-less and there are many axes out there designed with just that in mind e.g. the DMM Switch or the Petzl Nomic.

Both these axes have steep fully curved shafts and ergonomically designed handgrips designed for steep ice or mixed climbing. The curved shaft gives great clearance and importantly the shape and angle of the handgrip allows you to grip comfortably giving you maximum control and direction of each pick placement. The offset angle of the handgrip also gives you a stronger and more powerful wrist than when holding a straight or curved shaft, where the wrist is under a lot of stress when you are on steeper ground. This offset handgrip also pulls the right muscles into play allowing the biceps and bigger shoulder muscles to do much of the work.

As well as the grip though, it is the heel spur/trigger that allows you to relax and not grip the shaft so hard so that in the longer term you get pumped! It important that the bottom of your little finger and the end of the heel of your hand sit comfortably on that heel spur/trigger to take much of the balance and strain. When you throw the axe towards the ice, it’s at this point the heel spur/trigger rotates around the heel of your hand allowing you to flick your wrist and get a great pick placement with minimum effort.

The modern day leash or tether attaches to the bottom of your ice axe and then on to your harness. The main purpose of this is that you will never drop your ice axe when you are not holding onto it such as at a belay station or when placing an ice screw. The great thing about the tether is that it still allows the freedom of movement and the simplicity of over moving over ice or mixed ground, which you only get when you climb leash less.

Having said that, if you are leashless climbing for the first time I would suggest that you drop down a grade or two from what you climb with old style leashes, as it is a very different ball game! Take your time with it, as it’s much more serious and committing. You do not want to fall, either by a foot coming off a small ice feature or by getting pumped. I have seen a lot more climbers taking falls as leashless climbing has become more commonplace. Icefall climbing is not sport climbing in winter. Get some mileage under your belt first by building technique, strength and an understanding of all the different types of ice before going leashless all the time.

Also, a week of lead climbing on steep ice is hard work and probably miles away from your normal day-to-day life. Give thought to the week and don’t overcook the last day by climbing your hardest route having just started leash less climbing. You’ll be tired physically and mentally and it’s a time when you may very quickly and without warning get pumped! Build up to it and do not feel as though you ‘should be’ climbing leashless, do what you feel is right for the conditions and your level of experience.

Crampons - Sharpen your crampons with a fine file so the teeth are sharp and will bite into hard waterfall ice. Check they fit your winter boots well and that all the nuts and bolts are tight. Also, check that your crampon straps are in good order with no frayed ends. There is nothing worse than trying to thread a frozen frayed strap through two small eyelets with gloves on! If you are buying new crampons, go for the dual vertical points that have serrated teeth on the underside that bite into the ice. The classic flat horizontal points with no teeth on the underside will skate around on the cold hard ice. Climbing both rock and ice is all about footwork. If you lose confidence in your feet then you will use your arms, more which is a lot more tiring, to the point that it will be too hard to get up the route let alone placing or retrieving gear.

I also think that dual points are more stable than mono points, giving you more confidence if your feet and making climbing less tiring. They also allow for a more relaxed ‘toes out slightly’ technique giving the calves a much needed rest (the actual dual points sit closer to the outside of the crampon, closer to the underside point allowing you to stand on those points above the big toe easier). Finally, go for a lightweight crampon allowing you to enjoy using the features of the ice accurately and efficiently. 

Ice Screws - The best modern ice screws today are of the screw in and screw out variety such as the Black Diamond Express ice screw. This screw has a chromoly shaft, stainless steel hanger and express lever that opens out and allows you to drill in the screw quickly and efficiently. The newer BD Express screws have silver hangers which reflect the sun helping keep a solid placement rather than it quickly melting out on sunny routes as it did with the older black metal hangers. The teeth are very aggressive meaning they bite into the hardest ice for a quick placement. They have also taken some weight out of the hanger so that it is less head heavy allowing for a quicker and safer placement. This means that you will be less likely to drop it when screwing it in. The angle of the hanger (90 degrees) also allows you to tap it round with the heel of your hand to help get a solid placement so that the hanger is flush with the surface of the ice.

Remember always dry your screws after you have used them by taking off the protective end caps. Always use the protective end cap as it keeps the teeth of the ice screw nice and sharp – you will be glad of this one day! I always keep and transport mine with the end caps and sleeves, which also protects the thread on the shaft and in turn helps when screwing the ice screw into the ice. One tip is to make a hole in the end cap so that any moisture from the screw is allowed to drain away, stopping any potential corrosion.

Ropes - Ropes are another key piece of equipment and it takes time to source the right rope for you. When it comes to ice it important that  the rope is at least 60m, is dry treated and handles well, e.g. 2 x 60m DMM Migrant 8.2mm half ropes. The pitch length may not always be 60m but getting onto a pitch or moving back from the edge of the ice at the top usually entails easier snow slopes or ice cones so a longer rope is invaluable. A dry treated rope is obvious for those warmer days when the ice is wet, the last thing you want is a heavy or iced up rope that now won’t fit through a belay plate or becomes too stiff to use safely. Dry the ropes out on an indirect heat source and store in a dry/dark room or cupboard and always check them carefully each time you use them.

Harness - Check over your harness for signs of wear and give some thought to how you are going to rack the ice screws. You could use either two Simond Racks or a Simond Rack for your right hand, which is the hand most people place ice screws with and a plastic Black Diamond clipper with a lightweight wire gate for your left hand. 

The New Arc'teryx AR 395a is super lightweight, comfortable, fully adjustable and packs up small which is great for when you're carry all that extra kit in winter. 

These systems save you loads of time and energy, rack about 10 -12 ice screws and work well. They also allow you to clip and unclip ice screws from you harness with one hand, while the other is still holding onto a secure axe placement. Just remember to have a system on both sides of your harness, as you cannot always predict where the best ice will be and with which hand you will need to use to place the ice screw. You can make your own system by taping a large bent gate karabiner facing downwards to your harness. Clip it through your harness waist band first and then tape it so it doesn’t move and the screws will rack in the end where the gate opens. The ice screw hanger pushes against the gate of the karabiner, opening it allowing you to hook the screw onto the karabiner.

Take some Abolokov threader or ‘V’ threader, and some 8mm rope (old climbing rope) for abseils - don’t leave home without it!

Helmet - This is a given, just make sure yours is comfortable as you will be wearing it all day.

Boots – Finally, give your boots a good airing and change the laces if necessary.

Clothing - Give some thought to your clothing and choose a layering system that will not only keep you warm but also allow you plenty of movement (synthetic mid-layer systems, such as the Arc’teryx Nuclei Jacket is great for this). Gloves are very important and two pairs of thick finger gloves are best. Wear one pair and carry the other, so that when one pair gets cold and wet you can change them and your hands will stay continually warm. Keep the thick pair for climbing and wear a thin fleece pair on the walk in because if you do sweat in the thick ones you will have cold hands from the word go.

Take a fleece hat that fits comfortably under your helmet and carry a pair of sunglasses, as generally the best ice in cold temperatures will be found in the sun!

Always carry a small headlamp, as the days are shorter in winter and take plenty of food, which you can carry in a pocket and eat on the belays.

The main thing with all your kit is that you know how it works and that its organised because the more organised you are with your leashes, racking, ice screws etc. the easier, less pumped, warmer and safer you’ll be!

Safe Climbing