Tuesday, July 31, 2012

UK rock round up...

Looking at my friends blogs (aren't we sad, we all have blogs?) each post seems to have some witty and profound title, followed by reams and reams of eloquent prose (actually that bit was a lie). I'm not that witty or profound so I usually just go with the name of the crag, or the route, or the area. Unoriginal, I know but at least you know what you are letting yourself in for.

I got back from Alaska and had two days back in Wales before heading to Lofoten. In between the whirlwind of washing, unpacking, discussing how crap the weather has been while I was away, discussing the weather in Alaska and a well done for not dieing BBQ I manged to get a quick route in with Burrows.

Apparently a constant deluge covered North Wales for the whole of June. It might have been a coincidence, but my return coincided with the first sunshine for a month. Obviously everywhere was wet so there was one option: Gogarth. We abseiled into the Wen Slab and set off up A Dream of White Horses. This was the fourth time I'd done this route and it never disappoints. The last pitch was pretty soaked, which added to the entertainment.

Ollie on Dream...
Back from Lofoten Duncan, Ben and I headed down to near Blaenau Ffestiniog for some dogging. We started at Craig Yr Wrysgan. I set off up an E1 called Condor, which had tricky and pumpy crack, followed by a bold top out onto a slab. I got up to this point and was too gripped/pumped to do the final moves. I took a hang on the gear and after shaking the lactic away surprised myself by doing the move first go. Duncan then had much the same expirence on Green Wall (E3) taking a hang right near the top.

Dunc on Green Wall.
Dunc and Ben sorting gear at the bottom of Clipiau.
We finished the day at Craig y Clipiau. Ben lead Great Feat/Mean Feat in one long pitch. At the top he untied and dropped his ropes. I then lead it on his gear, but had to belay half way when I got a rope stuck in a crack. Dunc then lead the tricky top corner crack. The climbing is excellent and although slightly esoteric is one of the best E1s in North Wales.

The next day we headed to Pant Ifan. I love Tremadog and seem to spend far too much time there, but Dunc and Ben had hardly climbed there. Dunc set of leading Mangoletsi and seemed to be enjoying it until Mason stomped up to the base of the crag like a petulant child. Having already ditched one belayer, for having the audacity of not answering his phone for thirty minutes, Alex was in need a of a new one. Mason had to climb E6 that day and Duncan was whisked off to the Lleyn to hold his ropes.

Ben lead the excellent top pitch of Itch. After that I fancied a go at Harvey Proctor's Spanking Slab. Ben lead the easy access pitch. I then set off, pulling through the sadly overgrown corner of Monkey Puzzle to find myself at the base of a very thin crack on a very thin slab. Apparently Dai Lampard gave it HVS! Whilst I contemplated my fate I enjoyed watching two elderly gentleman climbing Poorman's Peutrey, and exclaiming things like: "I say Nigel, the exposure on this route is outrageous." When they were at most twenty metres above the tree line. I up climbed and down climbed the crack for a while, before deciding that discretion is the better part of valor and escaping up Monkey Puzzle's flared crack.

Dunc and I had to be in the Lakes at the weekend for work, so we drove up on Thursday night with the plan of cragging on Friday. We went to Goat Crag in Borrowdale. We'd planned to climb the classic E2 Tumbleweed Connection but thought we'd warm up first. I set off up DDT a HVS I'd not done. It had ideas way above its' station and was pretty hard and scary. Thankfully I managed to gibber and shake my way up it without too much trauma. Back at the bags Dunc realized he'd conveniently forgotten the lunch and we ran away.

Dunc showing DDT who the boss is.

The tree belay mentioned in the guide didn't exist, so I had to make do with this. Luckily Duncan doesn't weigh much!

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Nikki and I have just returned from a two week trip to a very cold, wet and windy Lofoten Islands. The place would be cragging paradice if the weather was half decent! We flew to Kiruna in Northern Sweden (Cheaper flights and much, much cheaper car hire) and drove east to Lofoten. With the frustratingly slow Norwegian speed limit (80 kph) the drive took about six hours.

Then, in the evening light, the Presten loomed into view. A beautiful granite slab, five hundred metres high and home to Vestpillaren the route I was most psyched to climb.

The Presten in all her glory.
The first route we climbed was the excellent Piano Handler Lund's Route. A real fun Hard Severe with a couple of interesting jamming sections. The next day we climbed two brilliant routes Applecake and Light and Shade. The Lofoten Islands are really beautiful and we were really enjoying the granite cragging and the scenic views. 

Nikki topping out on the excellent Piano Handler Lund's Route.
Nikki on Applecake Arete.
The cost of living in Norway is astronomical. Thankfully there is free camping at the bottom of Gandalf one of the most popular crags. We had a pleasant day climbing there. Enjoying Guns and Roses (although I wussed out of the steeping jamming section), Gandalf and the first pitch of Gamle Rev, a really fun E1. I would have like to climb the second pitch, but rain stopped play.

Our campsite at Gandalf.
Nikki on Gandalf.

Four days of unwelcome rain followed, when it cleared up we headed west to the end of the islands for a change of scene. We climbed a HVS slab climb called Sea Breeze. It gets top 50 in the Rockfax, but I'm not convinced either of authors had climbed it to check! It does have some good climbing with lots of bold slab padding. It also has some pretty crappy over grown climbing and some loose rock. The clag came in at pitch 4 and the by the penultimate (crux) pitch it was raining lightly, which made for challenging climbing. Nikki knocked a big block off and watched it bounce down the slabs, across the road, narrowly missing our hire car and into the sea. I thought this was pretty cool, but it freaked Nikki out a bit. At the top of the route we were both pretty drench. We then spent the next few hours abseiling down the wrong descent gully, which was now a scary, loose waterfall.

Sea Breeze.
It's getting atmospheric.
A traumatized Nikki.
Abseiling down Death Gully...

Back at the car, soaked to the skin.
The next day the weather cleared up and after drying all our gear in the sun we had an enjoyable climbing at Festvag. We started with a cool E1 called Cuckoo Crack. As I arrived at the top the easy access pitch the leader of the team in front of us whimpered, "take" and then proceeded to take a horrible gear ripping inverted fall. Thankfully she was ok, but I was pretty sure Nikki was going to have use her doctoring skills.

The crux pitch wasn't too bad and I laced it with even more gear than usual. The top half was superb with brilliant, steep climbing on massive hold with good gear. In the afternoon we climbed a crowded Puffin Club, which was also very good. The layback section through the overhang on pitch 2 was excellent.

Nikki on pitch one of Puffin Club.
The next day we went to do Vestpillaren, but there were already eight parties on it at 10 am so we sacked it off. The next day it rained again and continued to do so for the rest of our trip. I'll definitely be back to climb it though.

A cool fountain thingy near Narvik that we stopped to look at on the drive back.
If anyone wants any beta on how to do Lofoten on the cheap get in touch. 

It pays to be attentive in Norway - Our crag swag haul after two weeks!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Livingstone's side of the story.

Tom Livingstone has written up an account of our trip to Alaska, which is worth a read if you've got a minute: http://www.tomlivingstone.co.uk/Tom_Livingstone/Blog/Entries/2012/7/18_ALASKA_2012.html

Tom Livingstone descending the West Buttress at sunset after our acclimatization ascent: by far and away my favorite photo from the trip.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Cassin Ridge

4:22am. Shit! As usual the alarm on my expensive alitimetre watch had been too quiet to wake me. I shook Tom awake and he quickly got the stove going. Over the next hour we ate oatmeal and brewed up. At six we shouldered our miniscule rucksacks and set off. We soloed the first part of the Japanese Colouir to the start of the difficulties where we put the rope on. Tom lead a steep bulge reminiscent of the Rouge Pitch. The wide gully above looked straightforward so we simu climbed, reaching its’ top three hours after we’d crossed the ‘shrund.

My block was straightforward easy snow climbing followed by the alleged crux. The guide said 5.8 so I was expecting a VS fight but was pleasantly surprised to find a straightforward gully that was barley Scottish IV. Tom lead off up the Cowboy Arete finding secure snow with the occasional bomber screw. Stupidly I’d put my water bottle in my sack and was suffering for it. I had a big drink and clipped it to my harness before setting off up the towards the First Rock Band. At the ‘shrund below we stopped and brewed up for an hour. The weather was still perfect and we were both pretty upbeat and pleased with how well we were moving. We talked rubbish and tried to pick out Nick and Andy’s tracks on the glacier below.

I then set off into the First Rock Band, moving together through easy mixed terrain until I ran out of gear. Tom lead a tricky goulette and I continued upwards on easy snow towards the start the second rock band. Both tired and out of water we stopped, brewed up and ate a freeze dried each. We turned the radio on 8. Lisa’s forecast wasn’t good: snow the next evening, but we still had twenty four hours she reassured us. Silently we packed up and set off, both knowing we had to get out of here.

I was pretty spent and let Tom lead us up the straightforward mixed ground through the Second Rock Band, while I plugged into my Ipod and escaped. At midnight we arrived at the small ledge that was the poor bivi marked on the topo. Even though there was only two more pitches of climbing to the top of the difficulties, after twenty hours of climbing we were too tired to continue. I brewed and boiled water for hot water bottles, whilst Tom struggled to make platform large enough to squeeze our tiny tent on. We slept tied in.

We didn’t set an alarm and were alarmed when we woke to snow, which had arrived early. This wasn’t in the plan. After brews and breakfast we set off, apprehensive about what the day would bring. Tom lead off and after dispatching the a tricky slab struggled up a tricky crux corner, with spindrift pouring down. We were now atop the Second Rock Band, the end of the route’s technical difficulties. However the prospect of 6000 feet of wading in a whiteout on North America’s highest mountain meant we were far from relaxed.

I broke trail across Big Birth, squinting through the clag for the colouir that bypasses the Third Rock Band, scared that I’d miss it or follow dead end. Thankfully I choose the right fork and kept stomping up. We were both concerned about the weather and the snow were considering bailing leftwards towards the safety at the earliest opportunity. After a while a tent platform appeared. We stopped, sat on our pads, and dozed while we melted snow. The clouds parted, the summit was back on.

We kept trudging upwards through the calf deep snow. Swapping over every hour and using my altimeter to monitor our progress. The top of the Cassin went on and on and on. We stopped to brew up at weather time and shared a freeze dried meal. We were both tired and would have gladly stopped for the night but the forecast told us we had to keep going. We kept going avoiding the freezing shade, eventually reaching Kahiltna Horn, lungs bursting, feet freezing around eleven pm. We dropped our sacks and walked the final few hundred feet to the summit.

Exhausted. I stumbled down, bent double, in a world of my own, wondering why Tom still looked fresh. My water had frozen. The final tiny hill back in 17k Camp was my stumbling block. Head in my hands I sat on the snow. Tom picked up my sack and carried it into to camp. We’d planned to just brew up and continue down to our warm beds at 14k camp, but our stove wouldn’t pressurize. Too tired to fix it we admitted defeat and collapsed into our tiny tent.

When I woke I went over to the rangers tent and sheepishly asked to use their stove. They knew what we’d done and were relieved to see us. They plied us with congratulatory hot drinks. After a couple of hours talking gibberish in their huge party tent we set off on our tired legs back to 14k Camp.

Anyway enough waffle from me here are some photos: 

Descending the Wickware Ramp with Andy Houseman and Nick Bullock.

Me in the camped below the Japanese Coulior. Photo: Tom Livingstone.
Tom Livingstone on the crux of the Japanese Couloir.
Me straddling the top of the Jap Couloir. Photo: Tom Livingstone.
Me leading the 5.8 crux. Photo: Tom Livingstone.
Brewing up beneath the First Rock Band.
Tom in the First Rock Band.

Tom in the Second Rock Band.

Tom in the Second Rock Band.


In the couloir that bypasses the Third Rock Band.

The weather cleared up so we kept going...

And going...

Until we got to the top!

Tom on the summit.
Summary: An account of a two day ascent of Denali’s Cassin Ridge in late June 2012. Tom Ripley and Tom Livingstone are indebted to following organizations who provide their expedition with financial support: British Mountaineering Council, Mount Everest Foundation and Welsh Sports Association. They are also indebted to the following companies who provided them with equipment: Anatom, Cotswold Outdoor, First Ascent and Mountain Equipment. Thank you.