The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

Wednesday, 28 March 2012


We had a fantastic evening at Reecastle, the sun was still warm & high in the sky (thanks to the extra hour) & the friction was amazing, I’ve never seen the crag this dry. It’s a stunning, steep, barrel shaped crag of immaculate volcanic rock up in Watendlath in the Borrowdale Valley, 10mins from the road.

Reecastle, Watendlath, Borrowdale
The quality of the climbing on Reecastle is second to none with an added bonus of good wire/friend placements when you need them - but it’s very steep & very very pumpy! A great early season workout! I led White Noise which is a classic of the crag & one of the super classic E3's in the Lakes.

Woody working hard on Guillotine, Reecastle, Borrowdale

Selected Reecastle topo -
A - The Torture Board E7
B - Grievous Bodily Arm E7
C - Daylight Robbery E6
D - Penal Servitude E5
E - White Noise E3
F - Rack Direct E2
G - The Rack - Finger Flake Finish E2
H - Guillotine E3
I - Thumbscrew E3
J - The Gibbet E1
K - Breach of the Peace E7
KL - Short Sharp Shock E6

Really looking forward to getting back there again in the near future - the climbing's awesome.
Doing some final packing today as I'm off to OZ tomorrow morning, so travelling south this afternoon - really looking forward to getting into the Blue Mountains & hopefully down to the steep sandstone seacliffs of Point Perpendicular. 
Dean a good friend of mine, who we're going over to spend some time with lives just north of Sydney. He's a super keen climber & is keen to get into the Pierces Pass area of the Blue Mountains & it just looks fantastic, long multi-pitch routes...........check out the link -
Good adventures

Monday, 26 March 2012

Summers arrived

Unbelievable weather here in the Lakes at the moment, it’s really felt like summer. You have to pinch yourself that’s it’s still only the middle of March, although the clocks have just changed which has given us an extra hour cragging in the evening!

A frustrating day on Thursday, which was also glorious weather day at a very dry Malham.

Malham Cove

The day had all the ingredients for a great climbing day, although I ended up jumping on a route which my fingers weren’t reading for this early in the season, rather than building up some mileage on slightly less steep ground which at least would have had some holds on!

Having said that we had a good work out on a couple of other routes, although I’m still ‘sans’ project for the year, which was the main reason for heading over there.
The weather attracting a few teams out early season at Malham

Heading home from Malham, Woody rang me wanting to do a route over at Humphrey Head again. So I had a coffee at the Devils Bridge Café at Kirkby Lonsdale & then headed over to Grange to meet him.
I could hear the music half a mile away! The Fiat pulled into the carpark & Woody couldn’t get out quick enough! He was literally hopping towards the crag trying to get his rock shoes on at the same time while uncoiling the rope! He is just super keen at the moment which is fantastic & infectious!

Woody cranking it out on 'Shot by Both Sides', Humphrey head.

Roll on when they re-bolt Humphrey Head - beware, the in-situ gear is shocking!

The following day I headed up onto Raven Crag, Langdale with Ritchie who’s come down from Dumfries for a couple of days. We did a route on Evening Wall & then headed up onto Gimmer Crag.
The awesome Gimmer Crag, Langdale

Ritchie enjoying Gimmer Chimney, Gimmer Crag, Langdale.

Gimmer was sunny, warm & surprisingly quiet with no other teams around to spoil the adventure! We climbed Gimmer Chimney, the classic at it's grade on the crag & then carried onto the summit. We the then descended back down to Raven Crag & finished up the classic Bilberry Buttress which was a great route to finish a great day on.
The classic Raven Crag in Langdale above the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel/Pub

Some of the classic routes on Raven Crag - routes left to right
Middlefell Buttress VD
Mendes VS
Original Route S
Holly Tree Direct HVS
Pluto HVS
Bilberry Buttress VS

Holly Tree Direct, Raven Crag, Langdale

Pluto, Raven Crag, Langdale

Bilberry Buttress, Raven Crag, Langdale

I met Ritchie again Saturday morning & we headed over to Coniston. We walked into Dow Crag via the Walna Scar Road & on up to Goats Water which sits just to the East. The crag just towers over the high mountain tarn or water! which separates Dow Crag from the popular walking peak, the ‘Old Man of Coniston’ further  to its East.

View of Goats Water from Dow Crag with the summit of the 'Old Man of Coniston' behind

Again, just fantastic weather, warm rock & adventurous climbing.

Ritchie enjoying the exposure high up on Dow Crag

Dow Crag is just a fantastic mountain crag with long adventurous routes on great rock in the a higher mountain setting. We climbed a couple of the classic long multi-pitch routes on both ‘A’ & ‘B’ Buttress's before walking off the top, down & over to the summit of the ‘Old Man of Coniston’ to finish the day. A great finish or was it the beer down at the Sun Inn in Coniston! either way a great couple of days - you've got to love the Lakes when you get weather like this, the climbing is second to none.

It was 25degrees in the sun, in our back garden yesterday!
Encore beau soliel today & my phone bleeps to an incoming text as I'm sat here at home in the office.
'You out tonight?'
Woody's name comes up attached to the number.
I can feel his enthusiasm coming through. I know he did a new route in Borrowdale on Friday, although I've yet to find out the details. He's on a roll, so I tentatively reply 'Reecastle' as I know it's steep, hard & it's my lead!
'Great, see you at the shop - Woody'

I've gone from office work to sorting my wires out!

Good climbing


Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Humphrey Head

Woody & I headed out to Humphrey Head last night. It’s a quiet roadside spot on a remote headland which pokes out into the vast tidal sand flats of Morecambe Bay. The three limestone crags that make up Humphrey Head all face west, dry quickly & get a fair amount of afternoon & evening sun.

Although we didn’t see much of the sun as it was quickly fading down over the horizon, a cold wind was blowing straight onto the crag & there was seepage in the middle section of our route making some crucial foot & hand holds damp!

You couldn’t feel your fingers on the initial small crimps & two finger pockets & the good edges, flakes & larger pockets just felt like razors. But after a few false starts & constant hand blowing, hand & thigh slapping & verbal heckling from his belayer, Woody placed a few nuts, clipped the bolt & rusty peg, missed the second peg which had snapped & placed a wire above it covering the main handhold but still managed the high step & run out to the finishing razor pocket & lower off at the top.
Good effort, as by now I was struggling to see him in the dark. Woody shouted down whether I wanted to lead it or not! He’s having a bloody laugh, I couldn’t feel my fingers from standing there belaying for the past 40mins & it was dark!

It’s ok he said, ‘I’ll shout up where the hand & foot holds are’

No thanks mate, another time I shouted back I’ll top rope it & strip the gear.

I was glad I did, as it felt stiff for E3 with numb fingers & no light. The razors felt like they were cutting my fingers & hands to shreds, the damp section in the middle felt pretty sketchy & the massive cold pump I got pulling up to the final razor pocket only went once back in the car with the heaters on!

But as Woody said as we were coiling the ropes & fighting our way through the brambles to get back to the cars ‘if you can climb E3 in these conditions you can get up E4’s!’

Fair enough I thought, as we chucked the kit in the cars & headed to the Fly Cave for a monster session. It helps massively training with others as you get a competitive edge that you wouldn’t get so much if you were there on your own – well I do anyway! We pulled of some circuits which we hadn’t managed to do before & I’m feeling it today.

We just need this good weather to hold out as the crags are drying nicely & there’s some warmth in the sun at the moment.

Spent tonight thumbing through a few guidebooks & the phones been buzzing. There’s a few really inspired folk around at the moment, which is really motivating.

Enjoy the adventure


Friday, 16 March 2012

Ice Climbing Megeve

I had a great week last week ice climbing over in Megeve, just SW of Chamonix close to St Gervais & Sallanches. It was probably one of the few places left during this super warm spell, that was still safe to climb.

I had a group from Petroc College again, formally the North Devon College, where students study a 2 year outdoor education course culminating in a Diploma in Outdoor Education.
Kai heading up the 1st pitch on Cascade Stassaz, Megeve

Mike Bazley, the driving force behind the course & the Alpine trip each year manages to get funding for the students so that they all get the chance to come out for 2 weeks & learn to ski, get an understanding of skiing as a profession, all get a day’s introduction to ice climbing, learn more about the profession of being a Mountain Guide & generally working in the mountains & get work experience looking after their chalet for a day.

Mike on the 2nd steep pitch Cascade Stassaz, Megeve

It’s a fantastic & for a few each year, a life changing experience for the students who wouldn’t otherwise ever get a chance like this to travel & open their eyes to other professions & sports like learning to ski, ice climbing & to just generally soak up living in an Alpine Chalet for 2 weeks.

I took a few students each day who could all rock climb & had done a couple of winter skills days in Scotland, but had never ice climbed outdoors before.
Nicola enjoying her first climbs on ice

We had a great time, all the students were really motivated & keen to learn, as well as really ‘Wanting it’ - when the arms were tiring but the top of the icefall was in sight!

Megan 'Wanting it!' on the steep righthand variation to the 1st pitch

The ice held out surprisingly well over the week considering the daytime temps which was around 16degrees in the sun! It’s a really cold sink at the top of this small valley where the icefall had formed & a venue I’ll keep up my sleeve during other warm spells when conditions elsewhere are poor & I’m in & around Chamonix.

Back in the UK now & enjoying some time at home.

I worked the Leysin ‘Salle de Bloc’ as much as I could when I was away, linking circuits together to try & keep the climbing fitness going. Now home I’m back into the Fly Cave as it’s been wet & looking forward to getting out on the rock again as soon as the weather perks up. Hopefully the training will have paid off! If nothing else I’ve really enjoyed this winters training & feel fitter & stronger through just working the circuits than I did this time last year after just working the roped climbs. It’s also been great just changing it around a little & doing something different – it’s what I needed.

Stay young!


Sunday, 4 March 2012

Risky business?

Extreme Sports : What are the risks?

The extract below is from David Spiegelhalter's Column on the BBC website -

David ponders the widom of such extreme sports -

I will begin with one of the earliest examples of extreme sports.

Mountaineering has come a long way since the Alpine Club was founded in London in 1857 – when the British dominated mountaineering, and were bagging the classic Alpine peaks in desperately unsuitable clothing.

Climbing technologies (and clothing) have vastly improved since those heady days, but even apart from the possibility of falls, there are still the dangers of the low oxygen, freezing temperatures, exposure to wind and sun, and the exertion to contend with.

Mount Everest is the classic example: from the first attempt up until the end of 2011, there have been 219 deaths, which is 1 for every 25 that actually reach the summit. Out of the 20,000 mountaineers climbing above 26,000 feet (8,000 metres) in the Himalayas between 1990 and 2006, an estimated 238 people died, a rate of around 12,000 micromorts per climb (a micromort is a 1-in-a-million chance of death).

In another study of 533 mountaineers on British expeditions above 23,000ft (7,000m) between 1968 and 1987, there were 23 deaths (or 1 in 23), which comes out at 43,000 micromorts per climb'Making mountianeering riskier than an average bombing mission in WW2' !!

Western Kokshal-Too, Kyrgyzstan

You can read the column in full at


A mixed week in the Alps

Unbelievable weather in the Alps this week.
We sat in Chamonix on Friday drinking a beer in the sun & it was 16degrees, too hot to wear anything more than just a t-shirt! Down in Martigney in the Rhone Valley you were looking for shady routes on the rock as it was a blistering 20degrees!
Unbelievably hot for the end of February & the beginning of March & too hot for any steep ice routes, or any ice routes come to that which get any sun and are below 2000m & aren’t threatened by sunny slopes above & are still there! & as we also found out, just too hot on Friday to climb a big mountain route.
Having seen Crack Baby back in January & noting that it looked in pretty good shape, also hearing that since then conditions in February had improved considerably with most routes low down forming well with some routes forming which rarely do, I felt that Crack Baby was a sure bet & a great option in warmer weather being at 2000m. It’s better to have the steep ice & pillars which form on the warmer side of cold relaxing the ice making it safer & more enjoyable to climb.
We warmed up on Namenlos in the afternoon which was wet but felt pretty safe in the warm conditions

Namenlos 170m grade 4+ Kandersteg

Anyway I was wrong! I can only imagine that the super cold spell in February with temps of around -24degrees in kandersteg formed up all the lower level routes, but must have been too cold for the higher routes such as Crack Baby which must have just cinched up & not changed at all.
This coupled with a warm week leading into this one now the lower pitches looked a little thin & patchy but the crux was a section I was looking at in the middle of the route which hadn’t formed well at all.

Crack Baby 340m grade 6 Breitwangflue, Kandersteg

The very thin middle section of Crack Baby, Kandersteg

The fringe coming down wasn’t connecting with the ice below. At first glance it looks all there but on close up the ice underneath the fringe is just plastered to the back wall & isn’t touching at all.
In general the route looked thin & grey in places & generally hadn’t formed well & with this section highlighted above we decided to head back down the 1000m climb from the valley to look for other options.

Circled is the area that wasn't formed enough for us to jump on it & give it a go

A thin looking Rubezahl 215m grade 6, Kandersteg

It was scorching when we got back down the Valley but we headed up to take a look at Rubezahl & Blue Magic up in Oeschinenwald, just above Kandersteg.
Blue Magic was formed but thin, as was Rubezahl a little higher up the Valley. These routes are steep & coupled with the fact they haven’t formed as fat as in previous years (they formed over a 2/3 week period) so any warm weather will affect them a lot quicker. It was too hot for these steep routes today, they were absolutely steaming with water, you’d have needed a snorkel & mask just to see where you were going on Rubezahl!

Great conditions on Namenlos 80m grade 4, higher up the valley, Kandersteg 

We ran away & found a great 2 pitch route which get only a little run further up the valley of an easier grade where a lot more of the weight is being supported by the ground under the ice. It was a great route which felt safe in these difficult & super warm conditions.

The beautiful mountains & icefalls of Adelboden nr Kandersteg
The following day was warmer again but we took a look over in Adelboden where the ice is around 1600m in altitude thinking that some way in the middle of Crack Baby which isn’t formed & the routes in Kandersteg which are but are just too wet & dangerous in this warmer weather we’d find the routes formed & in reasonable shape. Wrong! It was colder but the routes weren’t formed or even close to – the route we wanted to climb was North Shore.

The icefalls of Adelboden in the Bernese Oberland close to Kandersteg
Left is Lurking Fear 120m grade 3+, then North Shore 275m grade 6 which isn’t formed, then Stundlich Grusst Die Staublawine 70m grade 5+ which is also unformed & furthest right is Glucksritter 230m grade 5
So we turned tail & headed over to Cogne which has routes around 2000m & one which we wanted to climb which was Cold Couloir a classic 600m ice route of grade 4+ which I felt would still be in good shape.
The top pitches of Patri 250m grade 3+ to 5+, Valnontey, Cogne
We arrived late into Cogne but raced up Valnontey & climbed Patri as it was getting dark walking back to La Barme with our headlamps on but feeling much better for getting on some good ice.

A view of the last pitches of Patri, they all have the same pitches to start then take independent lines for the final pitches with Patri a Gauche grade 3+, in the middle Patri Direct grade 5+ & Patri a Droite grade 4+
The following day we headed up Valeille & had a fantastic day climbing Cold Couloir.

Colin on the 1st pitch of Cold Couloir 600m grade 4+, Valeille, Cogne

Me leading the 2nd long pitch on Cold Couloir

Me leading pitch 7 on Cold Couloir

Colin seconding the final pitch of Cold Couloir, Cogne

But I felt that this also was the last day of ice in the Valeille, everything else was falling down & sun affected & it was 14degrees in Cogne when we got down.
There wasn’t much else for us in Cogne & with the weather getting hotter by the day we decided to sack the ice & head into the mountains.
We organised ourselves on Thursday & bought bivi food, packed sleeping bags, stove & planned to head up onto the Argentiere glacier & head up to climb the Ginat route on the North Face of Les Droites.

A fantastic view up the Argentiere Glacier with Aiguille du Chardonnet 3824m on the left, Aiguille d’Argentiere 3902m in the middle & the striking pointed summit of Mont Dolent 3823m at the head of the valley.

We walked into the Argentiere hut as the winter room is open year round. The hut was full of ski tourers & we were the only climbers which surprised us as the forecast was sunshine & blue skies where else would you be?

The Classic 1200m North Face of Les Droites 4000m

With little sleep & not even needing a sleeping bag it was so warm, we headed over the glacier in the dark up to the bergshrund/rimaye at the base of the Ginat. I didn’t even have gloves on travelling over the glacier it was that warm.
Just below the rimaye the white snow was being peppered with stones released from above. We stood underneath the steep overhanging wall of the rimaye which stood between us & the start of the route & the stones where ricocheting down & clearing over our heads. It was still dark & I thought it will only get worse as the day warms up. The freezing level was around 3600m. The rimaye was like a wave of soft snow, steep at the bottom & overhanging at the top with layers peeling off it also looking like thin waves within the big wall of the wave. It was a wave of about 10m which I needed to climb to exit out left onto easier angle snow & the gulley above.
A close up & foreshortened view of the 1200m La Ginat ice route grade IV 5 on the North Face of Les Droites, Argentiere, Chamonix
I stepped up onto the white wave of snow curling up above me & I was immediately arching my back trying to weight my feet as my axes where just slicing through the soft snow with no purchase to take any weight, the snow under my feet kept breaking away. I looked for a screw placement & then smiled at the ridiculousness of my thoughts. I could see where I needed to go & if it had frozen overnight I’d have been in with a fighting chance. It was the only way up & over, every other way looked even worse.
The sun was coming up & more stones ricocheted down from above.
The soft snow mean’t that even if I was to be able to inch my way up to the overhanging lip of the wave, it would have been far too serious pulling over the top to get to the easier angled snow above.
My mind switched back to the stonefall which may only get worse, then to the heat of the day, then back to the steep overhanging soft snow at the rimaye, then onto the long descent of the sunny south side & the potential hazard that was going to be.................

Disappointingly we turned around & headed back down the glacier.

Some great morning light catching the Grande Rocheuse 4102m below the Aiguille Vert & the super classic 1200m  North Face of Les Droites on the left still in shade.
We hung out for a while watching the sun come up hitting the tops of the peaks & felt good again!

Looking back up the Argentiere Valley, Chamonix

Back down in Chamonix it was 16degrees in the sun! it was too hot for this route today.
Next time.