The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Eiger

One of the best known peaks in the Alps, known mainly for the much publicised North Face exploits in the 1930’s & the eventual ascent by Harrer, Heckmair, Kasparek & Vorg.
Looking up at the North Face from Grindlewald, you can’t help but try and pick out the 1938 Route and imagine Harrer, Heckmair, Kasparek & Vorg scaling this huge unclimbed North Face for the first time.
The North Face certainly caught our imagination, but we were standing at the Jungfraujoch station for other reasons. We had a great 3 day weather forecast and were off to climb the Mittelegi Integral.
We boarded & the train slowly ground its way up to below the Eiger’s north face & stopped at Alpiglen. Under the spotlight of the North Face & the hundred or so eyes watching our every move, we got off & watched the hoards disappear on up to Kl Scheidegg.

Beautiful pastures and old hay lofts lead the way East on & up to the base of a huge broken limestone buttress. We followed old ropes, steel rungs & ladders up onto the top of the buttress & the Mittelegi ridge proper.
The views were amazing, middle of July and no one around, the place was ours.
We had a combination number for a locked box, which was in the outside loo to get the hut key!
Well I think the crux of the route was right there.
I fiddled for ages, Adrian Walter my climbing partner fiddled for ages, it looked like he was cracking a safe, ear up to the combination movement, two to the left then six to the right & so on.

The perseverance paid off & also the phone call to the hut keeper down in Grindlewald from my mobile! Anyway we were in and could kick back and enjoy the views & fading light.
The Ostegg hut doesn’t have a guardian but is run on honesty, you make a note of what you’ve eaten & drunk, leave the place clean & tidy for the next climbers & pay down in Grindlewald – Brilliant & one of the best huts I’ve ever stayed in.
That evening we recci’d the initial part of the route, then back at the hut Adrian cooked up another one of his gourmet meals and we sat outside looking over the lights of Grindlewald.

Just as the sun was rising we climbed up the initial rocks then up onto steeper ground climbing over walls, cracks and beautiful limestone towers which we had to carefully route find and pick our way through.

Then the ridge seemed to just terminate, it was too steep leftwards with a sheer drop down to the glacier & even steeper to the right down to Grindlewald. But by our feet was a way on, a small hole that you had to thread your way through to get to the other side. Amazing what nature creates - a hold when you desperately need it, on a tough move on a hard route, or a hole in a ridge when there’s no other way on!

The views now of the North East face & across to the classic Lauper Route were stunning & we could just make out the Mittellegi Hut perched up on the top of our ridge.

We’d booked ahead and new they’d be watching out for us. Hot tea was waiting for us when we arrived, as they’d had their binoculars out spying us as, we picked our way up the final part of the ridge to the hut.

It wasn’t often climbers came this way and it showed with their welcome & the mountains of food they served up!

A narrow and steep rocky ridge lead up from the hut with fixed ropes on the difficult, more exposed sections. We were so overwhelmed by the place that it didn’t matter, we were climbing the Eiger and the North Face is down there under my feet!

Old snow capped the final slopes and a beautiful snow ridge lead us onto the summit.

An amazing 360degree view of the Bernese Oberland greeted us.
Looking south, down the Eiger’s south ridge, we could see our steep & long descent with the Monch terminating the ridge in the distance.

Once down at the Monchjoch hut we would have traversed the Eiger up & down it’s two major ridges over 3 days & something which I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.
The train eased its way out of Jungfraujoch, back into the tunnel & back down through the heart of the Eiger which we’d climbed over, the day before.
It was a great feeling and a fantastic route.

Friday, 15 October 2010


It's great to be back.
Vladamir's friendly smile, the girls working in the office preparing permits, making phone calls, organising food and money, the porters loading kit and the drivers sorting the trucks all make me feel at home.
I go and say hello to everyone and get friendly hand shakes and hugs - everyone in Kyrgyzstan are so genuinely welcoming & friendly.
I collect my kit I'd left from the year before and check tents and tomorrow we leave.
We're heading to Tashrabat.

Tashrabat was an important valley, providing a vital link to and from China forming part of the Silk Road. Just below the pass a fortified Caravansari was built to store the valuable silk safely overnight. Traders would sleep with the silk before continuing their journeys.
The region prided itself in keeping a safe passage through for all the traders encouraging them to use the same route again next time. Money would change hands for the safe passage through and so would be the responsibility of the region to keep the bandits out and the silk safe.

The Caravansari at the head of the Tashrabat Valley

But we'd come to go rock climbing and our knowledge no-one had climbed in the valley before. As we entered Tashrabat from the north, huge limestone ridges, like great sharks fins cut across the valley east to west. We followed the narrow river and dirt road south to a small Yert camp 3km north of the Caravansari.

Looking north to our Yert Camp

Looking south we could see endless possibilities up ridge lines, faces & cracks

Over the 2 days climbing here we had a fantastic time making a number of first ascents, from 5 pitch routes up cracks, slabs and faces to a longer 500m route up a lovely ridge to a new unclimbed summit.

We left Tashrabat, drove around to the Touragat Pass and into the At Bashi Range of mountains.
Driving up the Kensu river delta we kept left to a great looking set of peaks and glaciers and the second highest peak Pk Kensu.
We made basecamp at 3770m just out of the river on a lovely grass plateau and went exploring.

Pk Kensu on right with unclimbed peaks middle & left

We were lucky enough to be able to make some first ascents from BC and then we headed and equipped an ABC on the edge of the Kensu Glacier giving us access to the higher peaks.

It was a fantastic area and we had great weather. We made a number of first ascents from a facile glaciated snow dome through to some technical routes at AD through to D+

 Looking NE from a new summit over the area we climbed in

We had a great time and the whole team really bonded and climbed well together.

With the weather turning we decided to strike camp and head on to Son Kool a days drive away. We've visited Son Kool on a number of trips now and its just this amazing limestone canyon carved out by the Son Kool river fed from the huge Lake and surrounding mountains. We've already climbed many rock routes in the canyon making first ascents of routes from 1 pitch through to 600m.  It's just idyllic camping by the river and minutes walking to any line you choose. Last year Pat visited another parallel valley and was also keen to explore that further.

Anyway we left the mountains as the bad weather was arriving and as we drove back down the river bed, this happens! 

I thought we'd be there all night but the boys did an amazing job

Within a couple of hours, they'd jacked up and shored underneath each wheel with wood and stones, then with a little help from a tow off the 2nd smaller vehicle the truck was out.
Amazing stuff - we were on our way again

We stayed in Naryn again on our way back through to Son Kool Canyon. The main guest house was full so a few of us stayed in a more residential house around the corner which was great and very much more typical of where the local people lived

It then snowed for 2 days, so we hung out in Naryn until the sun came out.
It was only a short drive through to Son Kool and seeing the canyon again, picking out all the routes we'd done over the past few years gave me a really good feeling.

We set up camp at the other end of the canyon this year which gave easier access to the 2nd canyon which runs parellel. We split up again into smaller groups and all went off exploring and climbing some great new routes over the next 3 days.
Making first ascents of rock routes on limestone, placing your own gear is always very exciting and adventurous which is what these trip are all about. This coupled with the friends I've made and the new people I've met, the climbing friendships of the people I travel over with and the Kyrgyz culture/lifestyle I'm already looking forward to next year.

 Looking up Son Kool Canyon - endless possibilities!

Adam working the crux of our new route Birthday Boys

The guys on top of their new route over in the next valley

Inquisitive locals - always so friendly smiling & helpful

Thanks to Pat, Vladamir, Laura, Paul, Tim, Mark, Patrick, Adam and Vladamir's staff at ITMC for another great trip.


Wednesday, 13 October 2010

3 Peaks CycloCross race

Totally recovered from the race now & have been getting out on the cross bike most days.

Had a great ride up over the Howgills yesterday, whipped on by the fact I thought I was going to be late picking Monty up from school, I'd stashed the tag-a-long behind a wall & picked it up coming off Winder!

Anyway, I really enjoyed the race even if I was cramping after the first mile or so.
Getting back from Kyrgyzstan at 10.30pm the night before didn't help, but I wanted to give it a good go. I felt it was my kind of event - fell running/cycling on & off road

Heading up Ingleborough

But getting cramps after the first mile! I didn't bank on that, normally I can go all day. It was the sitting & inactivity the 3 days before that didn't help, a day travelling out of the mountains in a truck, 5hrs in a mini-bus to Almaty, a long flight to Heathrow and then catching the train north back to the Lakes.

But now I know the course, I'm very inspired to give it a good go next year. I've already chatted to Pat about making sure there's at least a week before the race & getting home from Kyrgyzstan next year!

The race -
It's a mass start on the road at Helwith Bridge heading up towards Horton-in-Ribblesdale, turning left off the road and then shouldering the bike, running up over Ingleborough.
It's a fast downhill descent to Cold Cotes & along the road to Ingleton, then to Chapel-le-Dale. left again & up a track till it steepens to a footpath & shouldering the bike running to the top of Whernside.
I steep descent on the slabs on and off the bike down to Ribble Head and then road racing back to Horton in Ribblesdale.
At Horton-in-Ribblesdale you take another left up a track which again steepens into a footpath again shouldering the bike up to the top of Pen-y-Ghent.

It's a great feeling coming off Pen-y-Ghent back down to Horton-in-Ribblesdale as it's fast & not too technical & you know that it's only 3km more to the finish back at Helwith Bridge.

Fantastic riding in the most amazing scenery. A lot of the fell paths over the top are only open for cyclist during this race which is such a treat.

Get inspired


Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Alaska May 2010

Well, we had a great time climbing in Alaska, earlier this year. Conditions could have been better, but the Kichatna Spires were no less inspiring

We flew into Anchorage & then took a taxi up to Talkeetna. Paul Roderick owner of Talkeetna Air Taxi (TAT) then flew us into the Spires & set us down on the Tatina Glacier which became BC

We had two main objectives but unfortunately they were both out of the question - the first was on Middle Triple Peak, seen here on the right of the picture, at the southern end of the Tatina Glacier

The other was on Mt Jeffers bounding the eastern edge of the Tatina 

We arrived at the same time summer did, which was great for the tan but too hot for the snow. Huge quantities of unconsolidated snow still hung around from the winter & recent heavy storms, choking gulley's & loading slopes continually avalanching & threatening our routes.

Dean started up this pitch on Mt Jeffers. Initially it was good ice, but it quickly petered out to an overhanging unconsolidated snow cone. The cone must have built up through the route continually avalanching. As we backed off & started to abseil the whole route cleaned itself out again & a massive avalanche ripped over our heads, just missing us!

We were hoping for over night freezes and a consolidation of snow but summer had arrived early and that had put pay to that - it never froze the whole time we were there.

So we decided to try the west side of the glacier & a south/east facing line to the top of a lovely looking peak I'd tried the year before.

The hardest sections of climbing were near the top of the route with some fierce dry tooling/mixed sections.

The named the new route - Beat Surrender ED2 800m

It was an obvious route that we could see from BC

The next morning I was treated again to more of Dean's gourmet cooking and the smell of fresh bacon & eggs - oh the joy of flying in!

We then jumped on a route that had been tried before but conditions then had forced them to turn back. Ice had formed enough for us to force our way up the narrow gulley's & thin fragile veneers of ice, allowed us up the overhanging chockstones and steep walls.

It was a fantastic route, totally absorbing, long, tiring & very awkward climbing, nothing came easily - we were on the go for 19hrs

We named the new route - Metronome ED1 1000m

It was another fantastic trip, as always with Dean - one of the most beautiful & picturesque places i've ever been to & will keep going back to.
The place is so inspiring with so many unclimbed lines with so few people. All we saw the whole trip was a Bumble Bee and only Dean saw that!

My treat on the way home..............

Many thanks to - The Mount Everest Foundation & The BMC for grants, which helped make the trip happen and to Mountain Works and Marmot for equipment & clothing.