Warm Up Day
Grrr 2 minutes out of Slough and we are already stuck in traffic!
Give me a detour on that Sat Nav!
And so the journey to Fort William began for Ag, Chuck and Jason.
An hour and a half of traffic jams may not be the best start to a 9 hour journey but at least they were on their way!
And there was more to think about than why every man and his dog was dodging the motorway via this particular back road in the wilds of Maidenhead – tomorrow’s forecast was looking warm… 3:30am and the lads were finally in the bunkhouse and about to turn the light off. But what time to set the alarm for? The forecast was still looking warm and they were knackered. Ah well, let’s just go for a recce and have a bit of a lay in 7:30 ok?
First light saw snow on the peaks! Coffee and porridge all round and off to the ski lift. Hmm… Seems to be a bit of snow up there and those blokes over there seem to have twin axes with them… Be a bit of a shame to go all the way up there and not have our kit.
It was up on the gondala. Then a hilarious mixup getting on the chair lift, entailing Chuck hogging too much of the seat, and Jason sitting in his lap. What a morning! Cold wind on the cheeks, three friends having a great laugh on a small swinging chair about poor judgment after you’ve had 4 hours sleep…
A bit of a stomp and they are at the top! There’s a few people here all excitedly getting ready for a day’s Ice climbing. Then a bit of a faff with the positioning of the snow bollard. Ag had to watch while Jason and Chuck did this, his tools were far too serious for anything like an adze. No problem, it looked like they were enjoying themselves. Chuck abs down first, wow it’s completely still down here, none of that gale above.
Once they were all down they traversed over to the route they wanted to do. Hmm… Two teams on that and two teams queueing. How about the other one? Same deal there. Hmm… A check the watch, Chuck suggests the Grade II right where they are, just to get out. Alright then. Ag is eager to get something done. Oh, you want to do the direct start up that melting ice fall here instead of the snow ramp there? Melting… 4 hours sleep… Chuck immediately starts looking for a rock anchor to back up the ice screws. And Ag’s off making short work of the first pitch, no problems! Jason follows next as Chuck has to deal with his extra anchor, oh what a pain!
It’s all smiles at the first belay point. And it’s Chucks lead, it’s just a snow slope really. 4 meters up there is a bomber nut. It’s going ok. Twenty meters and it starts to steepen. Twenty Five and everything is still this kind of rotten snow ice and steeper still. Chuck cannot get purchase with his ice axes. Hmm… Chuck isn’t happy. Chuck is not happy at all. He cannot down climb the snow is too steep. And he sure as hell is not keen to climb any higher – He hasn’t got any gear in, not for 20 meters at least, and can’t see any higher up…
He then has a great Idea! Well, he thought it was great anyway! He would sacrifice a small Ice screw and get the weight of the rope above him. It went half way in, tied it off. It held! Thank God for that! Slowly, slowly, at first, he makes his way down.
Chuck says he wants to walk around and climb out the way they came in, at least they knew they could get out that way. Ag says he is going up for a look. Hmm…
The rope goes out and several spindrift avalanches come down, then the rope goes out again. More spindrift avalanches, not much rope left. Then the rope comes tight to Jason, off he goes! Woohoo! We should make the last cable car down! Well done Ag! Chuck could almost taste the beer! Chuck starts off, the ground he covered before feels easier now he has a rope above him, his axes even stick where they didn’t before, perhaps it’s dropped below freezing again? Dunno. Ah, Ag, Jason, Oh… That’s a bit of a big cornice… Chuck it’s your lead again. My axes are the Belay station and besides they have no adze. Maybe you can pass it on the side? The sound of deflation is almost audible…
Up goes Chuck. 6 meters up is a wobbly nut placement. He spends a while trying to make it wobble less. Then it’s up and right to what looks like a shallower plane. But no. It’s a sharp snow arete. Where do I go now? Try the Left! No! That looks just as bad, plus how would I get there! Chuck looks up, Chuck looks down. Can’t ab off of Ag’s Axes and that wobbly nut is suspect… Looks like he is going up then… The snow gets softer and steeper. It kind of sucks his boots in. Pretty soon he has to start digging with his adze to make more progress or he will topple of over backwards. An hour of digging, Ag and Jason are looking cold. Chuck is tired. And he has only made a third of the way through the cornice. There is still six feet to go.
The light is fading too. This ain’t looking good… can’t down climb this, and with his energy sapped it could take 3 more hours to get through this thing… … … …
Then Chuck spots some climbers on the route they wanted to do to start with!
what are they saying? Have they heard me?
Out with the whistle. Ah, they have heard me. It’s ok, just wait, we’ll throw a rope down when we get to the top! :-))))
15 minutes later over comes a rope. 5 meters way. Think, man, think. Chuck starts throwing snowballs up in the air. That does it! He’s got the top rope.
Heave! Heave! Chuck is stuck fast in the cornice, a bit more digging and he can get a knee on something. Heave! And Chuck is being dragged across the plateau by two huge Scandinavian men! 15 minutes later and they are all up!
Hooray! Thank God, and Thank You for that!
We’ll see you in Fort William and buy you as much beer as you can drink!
Off go the Scandinavians and we pack up. And so does the sun. The last gondola left an hour ago. It’s going to be long way down, in the dark. Fortunately 2 of us brought head touches. The third wasn’t planning on climbing this late…
The Other six days
On getting back to the bunk-house they met Simon. There was much excitement about still being alive, discussion of the best ways of attacking a Cornice, and the benefits of a big Adze and a head torch. Then it was off to the pub to water the Scandinavians, surprisingly they weren’t that thirsty. Then off for a late night Curry, which JB joined straight from the train from London. We were a full contingent now.
The next day involved a trip to the gear shop for last minute kit purchases, then food shopping, malt loaf anyone? And no Chuck, we can’t take 6kg of porridge, 2kg will be plenty. Then much fussing over packing. It was to be a big walk up to the CIC hut on Ben Nevis later that day and everyone wanted to make sure that they had not taken too much or too little stuff. Simon was flabbergasted at the weight of Ag’s Rucksack as was Ag of Simon’s. Simon’s seemed to be twice as heavy, tho he did take 5 pies much to the envy of everyone in the hut! And then they all had one last meal that had it’s basis on taste rather than calorie intake!
The walk in to the CIC was tiring but uneventful. They arrived to find a nice warm hut twice the size they were expecting (the size of Miles flat rather than Simon’s front room).
After much discussion, everyone decided to do the same route the next day. Some nerves were a bit frayed and Ledge Route (450m) is considered to be a classic at a grade II. The Weather was amazing, not a cloud in the sky and it was below freezing! The Route was done as two teams moving together. Ag and Simon who later unroped completely and JB, Jason and Chuck. They then bagged the summit and lapped up the views while eating lunch. Then it was a recce on the decent, such good weather should not be squandered. This involves down climbing through a notch in the cornice of number 4 gully then down the gully itself once the gradient lessens you can then walk down towards to the hut.
The next day saw JB, Jason and Chuck get up early for a shot a classic grade three gully simply called Central Gully. Chuck was off on the first lead. The guide book said up and right. Chuck did more right than up… Pretty soon he was out of rope! Just 3 meters from the most bomber belay known to man! Heave! Heave! What is he doing up there? Neither JB or Jason were sure.
Three more meters!
did you hear something?
THREE MORE METERS!!
Jason looked at JB, JB looked at Jason. I don’t see anymore rope, do you?
T H R E E M O R E M E T E R S!!!!!
Ok, Ok then. They undid the belay and moved up to the first bit of gear. Then it was a off up and across to the Belay. JB’s turn to lead. Hmm… Where to go, we were are bit off route here. It didn’t faze JB, he tried left then thought better of it, and went right, and then left, through better again, back tracked, and bit more right. Up and bit, up a bit more and a nice ledge with some great gear! Ooo but the proper route is just to the left! A bit more swinging and kicking and JB was attached to the beginning of some fantastic looking climbing. Chuck and Jason followed. Unsure as if it was necessary to jig backwards and forwards as JB had done.
Chucks lead again. There was a choice between a grade III chimney on the left and a grade IV on the right. Chuck went left, there was loads of Ice, solid too. Plus with walls of the chimney were bare and had cracks for gear! Chuck was in his element. Swinging his axes and bridging his way up with his feet. Then he got his axe a bit stuck. Come on now, out you come… Thack! Chuck scones himself right on the brow! Well at the lest the axe is out now! And off he goes again. Swinging and bridging his way up. Jason, follows first. He is really enjoying the climbing, this route is great! Ooo what’s that spot of blood on the ice there? He gets to the top and it’s straight out with the camera, not to take a picture of the climb, or the scenery for that matter, oh no – he wants a picture of Chucks wound! JB follows next. Chuck you alright mate? Yeah. You’ve got blood on your face! Oh! A bit of snow rubbed on the face reveals a cut on the eye brow. Right whose lead is it next? Nobody seems too keen so JB steps up to the mark. Some Guides had wipped up the IV next to us and pinched our line so, JB tries out left. It’s tiring work. Every move up requires the carving of a bucket step in the nerve. At least there ain’t no cornice! And who do we meet at the top it’s Ag and Simon!
It’s off down to the hut and some new arrival have moved in, eight people including two guides. We all settle into out afternoon meal. A Pie for Simon, and soup and noodles for the rest of us. All eyes, are on Simon. Can’t a man eat in peace?! Then it’s onto dinner prep and what to attack for the next day. JB, Jason and Chuck decide to go back to Central gully. This time do the actually route, including the IV variant and finishing right. This way every pitch is different from the day before. Then we hear the guides talking. They’re going to do Central as well, all eight of them! Bugger that! We’ll get up at 4am then! 5am was eventually settled on. This was still too early for Simon and way too early for Ag. They decided to take a rest day instead as It was looking to be a bit warm the next day.
The next morning JB was up bang on time. Jason and Chuck were a little bit sluggish due to a wild animal trapped in the hut the night before. Jason swore it must have been the Beast of Bodmin. The noises strangely stopped when JB got up… Off they went, up the hill in the dark with the dawn arriving just before the start of the route. Jason’s lead today! everyone kits up and JB and Chuck setup the belay and Jason’s off! JB doing the belaying. Up goes Jason. moving confidently pausing now and then to place gear. Then the rope stops. Goes out a little bit, comes in a little bit. This goes on for a while, JB’s starting to get cold! Chuck volunteers to climb around see what’s going on. No, it’s ok, he’s now safe. JB goes first followed by Chuck, a nice pitch with plenty of ice. Jason had just been excavating half the mountain side looking for a belay. JB leads off next and get to next belay in no time. Chuck and Jason arrive to see some guides starting at the bottom. Next up it’s Chuck and the grade IV ice pitch. And what a beauty it is! Even better than yesterday’s! Up goes Chuck swinging his Axes and kicking his feet. This time he is relying almost solely on Ice screws for protection. The best placements on the steeper sections. It’s below freezing, the Ice is very solid and Chuck is taking more care removing his axes! Jason follows next displaying some interesting chalk climbing techniques, learnt from Rocket, which involved hammering a axe in further with the other one. JB follows next looking more comfortable then the others despite his old school crampons. Dual point horizontal vs the modern vertical Mono point the others were sporting. Good job too as the guides has started to turn up at the belay. JB lead off next, with step cutting in nerve like the day before but a little easier to get established on the right hand line.
After a quick snack it was off down the number four gully. A “tastey” lunch of malt loaf (haha!) was taken at the bottom of North gully a quality grade II climb. Chuck was knackered so decided to take it slowly back down to the hut. while Jason and JB thoroughly enjoyed the outing, the others were definitely missing out.
No one really new what to do the next day. Simon fancied climbing with someone with a hammer and an Azde and Chuck fancied a rest. So teams swapped a bit and JB joined Simon and Ag joined the Chuck and Jason. Ag, Jason and Chuck decide to get up at 6am and do Tower scoop followed by Good Friday Climb. They were going with another two man team the’d made friends with at the hut. Simon and JB opted to do Number Three Gully Butress.
That night the Beast of Bodmin was particularly loud and many in the room could have slept better. JB was up first as usual looking fresh and left with Simon before the other three managed to tear themselves from their seats. Energy was a bit low amongst Ag, Chuck and Jason. So it is with the author! This day was a bit of a right off due to a late-ish start, It being too warm, a dropped glove by the other team, jammed gear that had to be abandoned and being over run by guided parties. Jason was quoted as saying “I wish I’d stayed in bed”. Needless to stay the second route was abandoned before it begun mostly due to the warm weather, resulting in many spindrift avalanches in that area, and lack of energy. They all finished up a grade I gully just to get to the top. JB and Simon had a more pleasant day but also had to change their objectives due to the weather.
That night some new arrivals in the hut gave us half a box of wine and we got out the travel monopoly, almost took our minds off the horrid food we had that evening. Tho Simon was still going strong with the gourmet cooking, individual packaged into one meal portions. Can’t a man eat in peace?! … Sorry it just smells Sooo Gooood!
The next Day was spent walking out. What a week. What a learning experience!