Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Big G

Fit and light after ten weeks in the Alps, I became obsessed with Gogarth when I first arrived at Bangor University. To the extent that some in the climbing club gave me the catch phase, "Wanna go Gogarth?" as that is all I seemed to say in the pub. I'm not sure what it is that I love so much about the place: maybe it's the outrageously good climbing, maybe it's adventurous situations, maybe that it's often warm and sunny there whilst the mountains are shrouded in clag, or maybe it's the seals! During my four years as a student I must have climbed close to a hundred routes at the Big G. Recently I had been neglecting the magical place. I'd only visited Goggers three of four times this year and each time doing a route I'd done before. In fact I lead Emulator twice! This had to change. I had to get back on new ground.

Duncan wanted to try and lead his first E5. He didn't really want to climb as a three. I ignored him and elbowed my way into Ben's car. Soon we were abseiling into Castell Helen and I was racked up and squriming my way along snappy breaks on the 4b first pitch of Kalahari. Duncan lead the main pitch and I seconded the traverse with alarm as I looked right and saw two runners which my rope wasn't clipped into. Thankfully I didn't fall off. Ben lead the excellent and tricky finishing crack, before we all headed over to the Main Cliff to Emulator yet again.
Check out those legs - Dunc on the tricky start to the main pitch on Kalahari.
DC on the tricky top crack.
Duncan on Emulator - Would you want to be anywhere else?
The next day I was back. This time just with Ben. The plan had been to do Tyrannosaurus Rex (a much, much better name than T Rex), but the sun wasn't on it yet and it was still greasy. We tried to scramble across to Zeus but the sea wouldn't let us, at least not without some extreme jumping! Instead I escaped up a no star VS on the wall opposite the Wen Slab. We coiled the abseil rope and descended down to Zeus with no expectations. Ben lead the first pitch, excellent 5a climbing leading to the Quartz Icicle stance. I set off up the excellent middle pitch. Reasonably sustained climbing with just enough fiddily gear and a couple of hard bits. I had to reverse to a ledge to remove my shoes before committing to the final overlap. The 4b top pitch described in the guide was nonsensical. Ben followed his nose, which provided brilliant jug pulling in the sky.
Ben nearing the belay on Zeus pitch 2.
A few days later I returned with Fingers. I abseiled into Easter Island Gully to climb Hombre, a bĂȘte noire of mine. Many years ago I'd ended up on perched on this ledge a short way up the route, unable to climb up or down and with no runners. Instead of committing to it and taking the lob, I slid my rack down the rope, untied and jumped into the sea, before escaping up a VS. Thankfully It turned out I'd been on the wrong route and Hombre climbed the next arete over, which looked near identical. I lead the first pitch, which wad brilliant and James jammed his was up the awesome second pitch. With two contrasting and sustained pitches the route is a strong contender for the best E1 at Gogarth.
Jimmy reaching the belay at the top of Hombre Pitch 1.
James wanted to do Supercrack so we abseiled back down. Unfortuantley he forgot his half rope and the route is too short to do on a doubled over one and too hard for a single half. Instead we escaped up Merchant Man, which was utterly brilliant and totally desperate for E1. You wouldn't feel short changed at E3!
Like the Beacon but outside - Jimmy on Merchant Man.
In other news I got engaged last week!
Nikki psyched for her new sparkly!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Mountain cragging - a.k.a: Why employment is overrated...

On Monday 3rd June I handed in my final assignment and finished my degree at Bangor University. After four years in at university I am now out in the real world. On one hand I have had a brilliant time at university. I met some amazing people, climbed more routes at Tremadog and Gogarth than I care to remember and have been on some very cool trips. On the other hand I hated it: the boring lectures, the pointless academia and all the other bullshit that went with it.

The previous weekend I was down in Norfolk at a family 'do'. I spent the weekend trying to avoid getting asked my two least favorite questions - "What do you want to do and have you been applying for any jobs?" - and coming up with a convincing answer when I did. "I don't" doesn't seam to rub with my relatives. I think I might start telling them I'm a tax lawyer or something equally mundane.

Unusually for the exam period the weather hadn't been playing ball. For most of May, instead of the usual, and immensely frustrating, wall-to-wall sunshine it rained. Even better as soon as exams ended the summer arrived. Nikki picked me up and we drove down to Mid Wales for a night in a B&B to celebrate the end of my academic career.

The next morning we got up early and headed to Craig Cowarch. This is a slightly dirty crag, home of the Classic Rock tick Wil-o-the-Whisp. Sadly Mid Wales was left out of the otherwise excellent North Wales Rock and with no modern guide book the place is seldom visited. This is a real shame as it is a truly stunning location and the climbing is pretty good too. Hopefully its' inclusion in the new Rockfax guide book, will mean more folk venture down there. We climbed Doom, a three star VS, which had been recommend to me. The climb was superb, four sustained, bold and really quite difficult pitches. Nikki did really well seconding it and by the top of the route had gotten her climbing mojo back. The once well worn descent path is now overgrown and quite spicy so we took the scenic route back to the bags. It was too hot to climb so we spent the rest of the day at the beach.

Nikki walking up to Craig Cowarch
Pulling over the roof on Doom Pitch 2.
The next day I got up early and headed up to Cloggy with my old friend Luke Hunt. I hadn't seen Luke for a couple of years and it was great to catch up and go climbing. We started with the Boldest with the Direct Finish which I was pleased to second free, eyes on stalks, as I made the crux step left to the belay. This was followed by the intimidating and excellent Cloggy Corner. Even in its' current bone dry state it felt a notch harder than Emulator on the Main Cliff, definitely an HVS that thinks it's E1. Luke then had a look at Purr-spire Direct, but wasn't psyched by the irreplaceable, thirty year old, fixed gear. Instead he decided to do Great Wall. Even seconding this peerless route in the evening sunshine is a magic expirence. After scrambling off we headed down to the llyn to bivi for the night.

Looking sporting a strong route beneath the crag.
Luke nearing the top of Cloggy Corner.
Great Wall at Sunset - is there a better climbing expirence in the UK?
The next morning I awoke aching and despite the stunning view wasn't that psyched. Luke had split a tip and we were both keen to for a quick easy route. After faffing around we headed up to the crag and began sorting the gear. We were quickly joined by Mason and Lee, who told us to stop faffing around and do the West Buttress Eliminate, a long hold ambition of mine. So we did and it was utterly superb. I was really chuffed to lead pitch two. Luke had work in Glasgow at 8am the next day so we headed back down. I quickly nipped out to do Direct Route on the Milestone Buttress with Clare that evening. Amusingly the rescued became the rescuers and we helped unjam a poor chaps stuck leg!
Not a bad view to wake up to!
Me leading West Buttress Eliminate pitch two.
George Ullrich nearing the top of Shaft of a Dead Man.
I had work in the Lakes at the weekend. James and I headed up to the Lakes on Friday morning and managed to squeeze in a quick route on Pavey Ark. We did Astra, which was as good as I'd hoped. I was pretty happy to lead the crux, which was pretty bold but thankfully well protected where it counts.
A beautiful excited by a beautiful crag.
Jimmy seconding Astra pitch 2.
Wicket W Warrick psyched to find the hidden finger jug at the top of Astra's crux.
After a productive weekend we drove round to Wasdale on Monday morning, with the plan of biving up at Scafell. We slogged up to find the crag in stellar condition. We stashed our kit at Hollow Stones and headed up. Choosing the route wasn't difficult: Saxon. The route of the crag and another longstanding route on my never ending tick list. Unfortuantley James wanted the crux, but I was happy to lead to the first and third pitches, which whilst not quite as brilliant as the crux were still superb. We finished the day with an ascent of the super classic Central Buttress, which was only tarnished by the loss of my Blue Alien in the Great Flake. Back at the Hollow Stones the midges were unrelenting and without a tent we sacked off biving and headed home.

Me towards the top of Saxon's crux crack.
Fingesr climbing the top pitch of Saxon.
Me on the Great Flake - climbing this in 1913 must have been mental!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Felix Kiernan RIP

It was with great sadness yesterday that I learned of the death of Felix Kiernan in Yosemite.

I didn't know Felix too well. I first met him on the Argenitre campsite in 2008. He probably saw me for the naive eighteen year old that I was. At the time I remember him and his friend Tom Brookes seeming a lot, lot older than me, despite them both only being twenty two!

The next time I saw Felix was in the Bregalia the following year. Hamish Dunn and I had got the train over from Chamonix to meet Luke Hunt, who together with Felix, Tom Brookes and Steve Barratt had been climbing in the Dolomites, ticking their way through hard classics.

We were all super psyched to climb the Cassin Route on the Piz Badile North Face. The next day the six of us slogged up to the spur beneath North Ridge and bivied for the night.

The memories from the next day are some my best from that amazing alpine summer. Our high bivouac paid dividends and we were the first teams on the route.  Luke and Steve - the strongest rock climbers - flew at the front, with Tom and Felix following not far behind and Hamish and I bringing up the rear. The route is totally classic, sustained and brilliant throughout. Soon Hamish and I were on the summit. We started down climbing the North Ridge and quickly caught up with Felix and Tom. Together the four of us abseiled the North Ridge, leap frogging each others ropes. Back at the spur we retrieved our stashed bivi gear and set off on the long slog back to the valley, reaching the valley shortly before last orders. The next morning it was raining. After a huge Pizza Hamish, Luke and I headed back to Chamonix, whilst Felix, Tom and Steve headed home.

That was the last time I saw Felix. As a fellow climbing lifer I'd always presumed I'd bump into him again at a crag somewhere, someday and share our memories of that great day on the Badile.

Felix you were too young. Why is it that the worst things happen to the best people? I am proud to have known you and wish I knew you better. Farewell my friend.

Strong team! - left to right: Tom B, Felix, me, Hamish and Big Steve. (Photo: Luke Hunt)
Tom and Felix cook up delicious feast the night before the Badile.
Just after dawn on the Cassin. Hamish leading, with Felix belaying on the left.
Felix and Hamish on the descent - Hamish isn't normally this miserable, but his rock shoe clad feet were pretty sore!
Felix and I just after getting down.
To Felix's family, Tom Brookes, or anyone else who knew him better than I did, I'm so sorry. If there is any thing I can do to help or if you would like any of these photographs please get in touch.