Welcome to the Cambridge University Mountaineering Club's website. To find out about the Club please look in the About Us section where you will also find details of the current Committee. All Club business is done through this website and the mailing lists. To subscribe to the mailing lists or come on a meet, please register. You only need to pay for membership if you come on a meet or want to borrow gear.
|Kelsey Kerridge and Pub||03 Mar|
|Indoor bouldering at KK, followed by a well earned beverage at a nearby pub|
|Indoor meet Milton Keynes||06 Mar|
|Bouldering, top roping and lead climbing indoors|
|Yorkshire Dales Weekend||07 Mar to 08 Mar|
|Kelsey Kerridge and Pub||10 Mar|
|Indoor bouldering at KK, followed by a well earned beverage at a nearby pub|
|Peak Lenin in the Library!||11 Mar|
|Slideshow of a climb of Peak Lenin (Kyrgyzstan) by club member Will Kernick|
|Winter skills 2015||17 Mar to 21 Mar|
|Winter Skills Information|
|Scottish Winter Meet||22 Mar to 27 Mar|
|The Scottish Winter Meet|
|Varsity Climbing Competition||09 May|
|Cambridge Vs Oxf**d|
AGM and Annual Dinner
It may have been Friday 13th, but it was a lucky day for CUMC members who attended the AGM and annual dinner. Not only did they have the excitement of a number of hotly contested elections, especially for President, with Alex defeating Phil by a single vote, they also enjoyed a delicious meal in Clare Small Hall, as well as the 16 bottles of wine which Lucy had lugged in a rucksack all the way from Hugh’s Hall.
The meal also saw the handing out of the club’s two annual awards: the Nick Leyland Trophy for social achievement and the ice axe for biggest contribution to the club. Fittingly Alex, the incoming President, won the ice axe, mainly for hours spent persuading drivers to make 6 hour round trips to the wet, cold peak district by offering them (usually false!) hope of free chocolate or fish and chips. The Nick Leyland Trophy was more difficult, as social achievements usually involve being sociable, a condition which seemed to rule out a large proportion of those present!
The helmet was therefore deservedly awarded to Lucy for her gallant, though often fruitless efforts this year to get all the rest of us to join in with organised fun. She is getting married this summer though, so maybe she’s right that being sociable does have its advantages…
After the awards, the traditional fines began, a highlight being Will’s fining the one person who abstained in his vote, for which he was the only candidate. Then came the sock wrestling, which this year resulted in surprisingly few injuries, but nevertheless saw a number of intense contests.
Eager not to get too rowdy for fear of ruining our reputation as a club entirely devoid of social achievement, we then sat around chatting in a civilised manner, as Lucy dutifully continued to ply us with the remaining wine. This concluded a great evening, lots of fun and a good celebration of the past year.
A big thank you to this year’s committee for doing a great job, and good luck to the next committee, keep up the good work from this year!
The positions for next year’s committee are as follows:
Kris Cao & Ed Wheatcroft
|Alpine & winter||Will Kernick|
It’s now Christmas which means we’re halfway through LUBE! This year has seen the best ever CUMC turnout to the annual 4-round student bouldering competition, as we have entered full teams in both rounds so far.
The first round took place on 8th November at the Vauxwall in London and was set by Gaz Parry. There was much debate over who should join Liam and Amelia in the A team, Luke or Philip. In an interesting twist, Philip argued it should be Luke and Luke argued it should be Philip, but as it turned out it should have been Gwilym, who beat them both and drew with Liam as top CUMC boy! In her usual style, Amelia rocked up having done no training for yonks and topped the girls’ table with a record score of 220. CUMC newcomer Clare also put in a great performance, coming perilously close to beating Luke. Katie and Kris also put in good performances to round off a reasonable round for the club, with our A team finishing in 5th place and our B team in 11th. On the way back, Liam was delighted to spot a massive croissant at the cafe, and it was only after purchasing that he unfortunately realised that not only did it disappointingly contain ham and cheese, but was also in fact larger than him.
The second round was held at White Spider on 29th November, involving a significantly longer train journey, which meant there was more time for f large quantities of sweets and cakes to be consumed. There was also great drama as Liam temporarily lost his precious bike helmet at Vauxhall station. This round could only be described as nails, with many extremely hard problems, which most of us could only watch other people attempt. Gwilym, however, had a great round, finishing with the top CUMC score. Clare stepped up to the A team and once again came very close to beating Luke, with only one point in it, and with Philip just 3 behind Luke and 4 behind Liam it was all very close. Katie, Beth and Melody also put in good scores. The difficult nature of the round though meant that a lack of beasts in the CUMC this year cost us a few places in the table, as scores were quite spread out at the top. The A team came 12th and the B team 24th, although there was very little between 12th and 6th. The journey home proved amusing as Clare and Katie dashed off early to get back to Cambridge, but after missing a train ended up on the same one as the rest of the team.
Overall we have had a successful first two rounds and are looking forward to the third and fourth rounds next term.
Ogwen Valley Weekend Meet
17 CUMC members enjoyed a great weekend in the Gwern Gof Uchaf camping barn in the Ogwen valley. Despite arriving late on Friday night, everyone was keen to get going on Saturday morning with the weather looking sunny (yes sunny. In Wales.) and leapt out of bed. Well when I say everyone I mean Rose, who thinks that a lie-in is the Kiwi pronunciation of that big cat she wrestled on her last visit to Africa. Everyone else, meanwhile, moaned, then hid under their pillow, then slowly rolled out of bed when they realised the vital importance of securing a good position in the porridge queue for the microwave. Keen to fulfil his role as president, Tom did his best to raise team morale by gleefully showing off his wild boar pâté, while everyone else filled their stale sandwiches with 5 year-old peanut butter.
Despite these travails, everyone set off in good spirits, with five heading to the Idwal Slabs to take on the classic HS Tennis Shoe, and the others walking up to Heather Terrace to climb the classic VDiffs Grooved Arête and First Pinnacle Rib, topping out almost at the very summit of Tryfan. Everyone made the most of the day, so much so that those climbing Grooved Arête required headtorches to descend as the darkness closed in.
In the evening, conveniently forgetting our implacable enmity toward all hillwalkers at the promise of food, we headed to the bunkhouse where CUHWC were staying, just a short walk away. A lavish array of delicious feasts were prepared: from baked camembert to jambalaya, from sticky toffee pudding to freshly baked banana and walnut cake, it was hardly your standard weekend climbing trip fare. After thanking our hosts for their hospitality, we hastily departed before we could be forced into too much interaction with the hillwalkers. Upon our return, a brief meeting to discuss plans for the next day provided the perfect opportunity for Alex and Dan to show off their matching pyjama bottoms, and a couple of people actually thought about which route they might want to do as well, then we all headed to bed.
Another 7am get-up was enforced on Sunday morning, but again we were amazed to find there had been no rain, and soon everyone headed off, eager to fit in some good climbing before we had to head back. Most of the group went to climb at the Idwal Slabs, enjoying the classic lower grade climbs there. The five who had been there the day before headed for Milestone Buttress on Tryfan’s west face, tackling a couple of enjoyable VDiffs, followed by a long, greasy abseil.
Tom, keen to prove his credentials as the alpha-male of the mountaineering club - or maybe just keen to protect his much-vaunted sandwiches from the possibility of theft - went on a ridiculous walk/scramble which seemed to take in most of Wales, but still arrived back before most of us had even completed a single route! This conveniently gave him plenty of time to clean the bunkhouse, while everyone else chivalrously decided the most helpful thing they could do would be to get out the way, and promptly sped off back to Cambridge.
Overall the weekend was a great success, so thank you very much to Alex and Tom for organising it.
And if you think this sounds fun… come along to the next weekend meet to the neighbouring valley next term!
CUMC / CUEX / CUHWC Swap
After the huge success of last year, this swap had a big reputation to live up to, but it did not disappoint. We somehow managed to squeeze about 50 people, a hillwalking teddy bear, a couple of climbing ropes, and some suitably ridiculous outdoorsy attire into one small room at Curry Garden, and great fun ensued!
Liam boldly fined anyone who could do a one-arm pull-up, before disappointingly refusing to attempt one, despite the fervent chanting of the whole group.
We then moved on to Downing bar, which seemingly might have been designed as a playground for lovers of the outdoors (or equally for 5 year-old children!)
The cereal-box game proved far too easy, as many people demonstrated a level of flexibility and coordination, which was clearly testament to many hours dedicated to perfecting their technique for picking small pieces of cardboard off the floor with their tongues.
Table-bouldering was another popular activity, and Shahid proved himself the master, claiming the first, and thus far only, ‘ascent’ of the Downing Bar coffee table in a lengthwise direction.
Everyone had a great time, thanks to Lucy for organising it and hopefully it won’t be too long before the next great social!
Freshers' Meet 2014 - Stanage
Freshers’ Meet 2014 - Stanage
On Sunday 26th October a coachload of climbers headed to Stanage for this year’s freshers’ meet. Some had a reasonable level of experience of climbing outdoors, quite a few had only climbed indoors, quite a few more had never really climbed at all, and some of these, who had associated ‘mountaineering’ more with hiking than rock climbing, were shocked to learn only as they got on to the bus that rather than a day of leisurely rambling on some peak district hills, they would be subjected to a gruelling test of strength and perseverance in buffeting winds as they took on their first ever rock climbs at one of the premier venues in Britain and possibly the world. Despite this confusion, everybody had a great attitude and made light of the difficult conditions, following the great example set by Phil with his very optimistic decision to wear shorts on a day when most people were wrapped up in about five layers!
After each leader was assigned two or three partners, they were free to do as they pleased, climbing a variety of routes at Stanage Popular, ranging from Diff to VS. Everyone seemed to enjoy the challenge, and soon got used to the technical differences from indoor climbing, Harry even made use of the shoulder of a handily-positioned and very obliging nearby climber as a foothold!
If the aim was to tire everyone out, then the day was certainly a huge success, as the return coach journey was almost completely silent, the peace disturbed only by the occasional snore as everybody felt the effects of a tough day. From the odd murmur of conversation which could be heard (we’re a sociable lot us climbers!) it seemed like everyone had a great day. Thank you very much to Alex for organising it all and to all the leaders, hopefully if it was people’s first time climbing they weren’t too put off, frozen, or terrified, and might even consider coming again!
Volcan Aguilera first ascent
A brief account by Wherry Librarian Evan Miles
Cries of ‘estaca’ rang through the night, punctuating the ceaseless blowing of the wind and the horizontal flurries of snow illuminated by 5 headlamps moving slowly down the north ridge, the only signs of humanity for at least a hundred kilometres in any direction. The 5-member team of the UNCHARTED:Aguilera expedition had just completed the ascent of the volcano, and we were determined to make it back to camp together and in one piece, in spite of the pain in our feet and the voice in the back of our minds telling us it was time to sleep.
The ascent had promised so much – we left our camp at 980m on the South Patagonian Icefield at 4:30am under a star-filled pre-dawn sky, and made rapid progress up the slopes of the north ridge, ascending nearly 1000m in the first 3 hours, to arrive at a much-hoped-for pass onto the heavily-glaciated northwest face. Discovering the pass to not only exist (a point of strong doubt when scoping from below) but to be walkable, the summit seemed within easy reach. But the mountain hadn’t even begun to fight.
Roped up, we ascended the steep, crevassed terrain, finding a fantastic couloir that appeared to lead directly to the summit ridge – this should be a piece of cake. And it was, until Camilo discovered an utterly impassable gaping bergschrund directly beneath the summit ridge’s ice mushrooms, forcing us to retrace our tracks. Considering our options, we elected a longer traverse across the face’s glacier, and I set off traversing beneath 5-story seracs, kicking steps into the soft, unconsolidated fluff. Pitch after pitch, slow progress 8 pickets at a time – the glacier broken enough to demand a rope, and steep enough to require protection for us to avoid the most classic of mountaineering accidents. So it was picket in, kick 30-40 steps, picket in, … , and regroup to collect the ‘rack.’ Camilo took over, and slowly the weather deteriorated. Again we were just below the summit, now maybe 50-100m directly above us, but denied by a different bergshrund. Here the mountain tried deception, as a bridge appeared, but the void was only veiled by a thin 30cm of fluffy snow.
Now, in the midst of the cloud, an end run seemed less probable, but we began to traverse, following the gap in a descending arc. About to resign ourselves to yet another double-back, the clouds parted for a brief moment, and – it goes! A further descent and traverse would take us to a path of snow zig-zagging between rime-crusted volcanic outcrops and more crevasses. A bite to eat and a sip of tea, but it was now late afternoon in the short daylight hours of the austral winter. Camilo placing pickets in front, we continued up left, crossing the bergschrund, then up, inside another bergschrund to connect to another steep slope, through yet another to one final thin bridge. Countless snow pitches, but we had made it to the summit ridge. As the light dimmed and the temperature dropped, the weather worsened to a moderate wind carrying freezing rain, crusting our jackets, packs, goggles, and trousers with ice all up one side. But now we were on the summit ridge, with the peak only 100m of short stroll away, according to the GPS. Elated, we walked the hundred meters. Summit? No – the ridge continued up, and we spied another rime-crusted high point. Another 100m, the same thing. Does the mountain ever end? Finally, 600m of ridge from the summit identified in maps, we were on top of the easily-identifiable rime mushroom of the peak's highest point, at dusk. Thus, we found ourselves placing gear on descent in the dark, on our way to a 25-hour round trip.
Concierto de Rimayas was physical, but not exhausting. It was not technically challenging according to mountaineering grades, but it was committing in its own way. It may not be a test-piece for modern alpinism, but it required 10 days of approach across the icefield, a lot of luck in fickle Patagonian weather, and a mentality of caution and self-sufficiency, of endurance. In return for our patience, caution, and persistence, it rewarded us with the first ascent of Volcan Aguilera (2480m).
Annual Meet 2014 - Pembroke
It was 7 o’clock on a wet Friday morning in Cambridge, but this could do nothing to dampen the spirits of the eager team of CUMC members, with Luke valiantly turning up in his pyjamas after just 4 hours sleep to drop off some kit. Sure enough, in a statement of intent, we set off just one hour later than our intended departure time, and made good progress, our only major delay coming when Alex and Cameron spent half an hour looking for Laurence in a service station, only to eventually find him nonchalantly sipping his second refill of his Starbucks coffee.
We arrived at the campsite in the afternoon, and after setting up our tents set out to walk along the coast path to St Govan’s, the nearest crag. This proved optimistic, as it was actually about a 10 mile walk with full climbing sacks, so, deciding we’d quite like to get there before midnight, we quickly returned to the car, and arrived in time to fit in a couple of routes. Laurence set the tone for an exciting trip with a dramatic fall on the first route of the trip, after deciding the E1 variation looked more fun than the VS he was on, and I suppose if your idea of fun is dangling head first in mid-air after a fall of 5-10 metres then it was!
Tom, Imogene, and Rose arrived in the second car in the middle of the night, with our team spirit shining through as the three of us already there decided they’d be far better off without our help putting up their tents in the pitch black.
Saturday was everything we had hoped for from the trip: clear blue skies, not a breath of wind, and beautiful sunshine all day. Everyone was keen to make the most of the day, particularly those who were only coming for the weekend (the super-keen, super-efficient Rose was ready before most of us had got up!) so we again headed to the St Govan’s area. In perfect conditions, Tom and Alex both led the brilliant HVS Army Dreamers, before also later in the day doingthe classic traverse Riders on the Storm, with both declaring it one of the scariest routes they’d ever done. Meanwhile, Rose exhausted Laurence by dragging him up an E1 and 2 E2’s. After a full day, we all headed back for some dinner, enjoying cooling off in the sea and the revelation of warm, powerful showers on a campsite!
Tom, Imogene, and Rose had time for a morning’s climbing before heading back in the afternoon, fitting in some great routes at Mother Carey’s, including the classic 3 pitch severe Threadneedle Street.
Cameron and Phil also decided to give it a go but somehow mistook the first half of the neighbouring E1 for the first pitch, meaning Cameron led 10 metres of E1 with only two pieces of gear, somehow battling his way to the top of the pitch, but not before he had utterly terrified both himself and Phil with his increasingly frantic running commentary, which was more befitting of a rhino about to have a heart attack than a Cambridge student!
We then headed back for a dip in the sea and an early dinner, before fitting in an evening route at St Govan’s, meeting Luke walking from the station on our way. A highlight of the trip ensued as Luke, waiting at the top as we had left his harness at the campsite, decided to cook himself some dinner. The student staple of baked beans may seem a simple meal, but Luke’s decision to leave the beans in their tin and then place this on top of his mess tin as he heated it left him with a nice circular hole in his mess tin and distinctly dubious-smelling baked beans!
On Monday we paid a visit to St David’s, about an hour’s drive away. Despite being baffled by the fact that our turning actually had a sign to the place we wanted to go, rather than being unsignposted as advertised in the guidebook, we eventually made it, and arrived to another day of perfect conditions.
Being the more experienced pair, Alex and Lawrence went to do Ethos, one of the area’s classic HVS’s. Their expertise shone through as they managed to forget the rope when they abseiled in, having to use prusiks to escape!
Meanwhile, Luke, Phil, and Cameron had a great day, with Luke deciding it was sensible to take on the classic E1 Sinecure, his first lead at the grade, as his first since coming back from injury after taking a groundfall on his previous lead. Yet despite any misgivings the rest of us may have had, Luke made impressively short work of the route, even if his first three pieces of gear did fall out. He, Phil, and Cameron all declared it one of their favourite routes of the week.
With Alex and Cameron starting to feel the effects of the previous four days and with the lack of a driver as Laurence left in the morning, with Lucy not arriving until the afternoon, we decided to take a rest morning, walking into town and taking a tour of Pembroke Castle. Ironically, the day also proved surprisingly efficient, as we still fitted in three routes in an evening visit to Saddle Head, the same number as we managed in a number of other full days!
After retreating from our initial intended route when a seagull divebombed Cameron as he strayed too close to its nest, Lucy enjoyed her introduction to Pembroke climbing, Phil was hugely excited to find that Saddle Head had not one, but two Diffs, and Luke enjoyed showing off by dangling from one arm halfway up a route.
After discovering that the whole St Govan’s area was out of bounds due to army firing, we again headed to St David’s, this time to the disarmingly innocently named Initiation Slabs. As Phil had pointed out, ‘initiation’ can have a number of connotations, and a few hours later we left with Alex and Luke having completed the extremely scary run-out VS Aries, and Lucy and Alex then being forced to prusik out as the tide came in to block access to most of the routes. Undeterred, we headed for the neighbouring bay, only to find a massive rockfall had made the routes unrecognisable from those in the guidebook.
After stopping for a late lunch at around 4 o’clock, we headed to Craig Caerfai, home of the area classic Armorican. Cameron and Luke abseiled in, but, perhaps in an effort to emulate the expertise shown earlier in the week by Alex and Laurence, forgot the rope, leaving them stranded for about 15 minutes as they waited for Alex to return from one of his many explorations of possible DWS routes (perhaps dreaming of Malta?!). It was worth the wait, however, and, with Alex leading Phil and Lucy up after, everyone agreed it was one of the week’s best lines. Our mixed day continued as we dropped three nuts in the sea and discovered a massive gash in our ab rope, but, as we relaxed in the classy venue of Haverfford West’s ‘Kebab’s ‘R’ Us’, we all agreed it had been a successful, if eventful, day.
Keen to make the most of what seemed likely to be our final day’s climbing given the less than promising weather forecast, Alex perfected his porridge-making technique just in time for us to leave for Mother Carey’s at the extraordinarily early time of 9.30. The wind seemed to want to make up for it’s lack of activity during the rest of the week, nearly blowing Phil and Lucy off the cliff as Cameron led them on a wild goose chase attempting to scramble through the raging sea in his blind desperation to do one particular route. After they finally persuaded him that the highest point for miles around might not be the best place to spend by far the week’s windiest morning, they returned to Alex and Luke, conveniently just as they had finished constructing the abseil. Everyone fitted in one final route, with Alex impressively leading the E1 Karma Waters. Rain then drove us back to the car, but Alex and Cameron’s indomitable, but perhaps misplaced optimism meant that we left the ab rope in place, only to be forced to venture out into the rain to retrieve it half an hour later. This left plenty of time for an afternoon and evening of almost constant eating and drinking, first in the pub, and then in the drying room at our campsite. As we emerged from our second pub of the day at about 11 o’clock, it suddenly began to pour with rain again, leaving us to sprint up the unlit road with just one small head torch, getting completely soaked just in time to dive into our tents. That may not sound bad, but Luke was less fortunate, forgetting his phone and so being forced to run alone through even heavier rain in pitch black, as we once again displayed true CUMC team spirit in a collective decision to abandon him.
We had already decided to head home a day early due to the storm, and so the first part of the morning was spent attempting to squeeze five people and all of their climbing and camping kit into one small car. Everyone was very glad to take a break after about 2 hours, when we just about managed to shake the numbness out of our legs for long enough to fit in a few hours climbing at ‘Boulders’ in Cardiff. Luke’s impressive attempt at a 7a route apart, we all soon found that the effect of any fitness we might have gained from the week was far outweighed by the tiredness built up over a week of climbing and being woken up by the world’s noisiest sheep multiple times every night.
Nevertheless, we all agreed it had been a brilliant week and we had probably already done more than enough climbing. Thank you to Tom for organising the trip, as well as to everyone who came and made it so memorable. We look forward to another great annual meet next year!
A short week in the Écrins.
For me, exams finished on Saturday 7th June. After 9 in 8 days I was reasonably knackered, so what better to do than finish a saturday afternoon exam and head to Stansted for the night! Whilst in the past I've had no problem kipping on the airport floor overnight, this time things were different: you used to be able to put your head down anywhere and everywhere, but now they come round at intervals and prod you towards the arrivals lounge i.e. a space not condusive to sleeping, with flashing lights and megaphones going on for most of the night.
Oh well! After a rubbish night and an early flight we were soon at my parents' home in the Écrins, a southern part of the French alps. Rose, being the never-tiring, ever-energetic machine that she is, fancied doing a route that afternoon, so without further ado we headed off for 'Two Hot Men', an 8-pitch 6-something route. Arriving on top it was quite nice to think that less than 24 hours ago I was still sat in an exam hall! A short walk down and we were soon revelling in the delights of home food.
The morning of Tuesday 9th was a little more relaxed - so as to reduce costs and faff, I'd said that Rose could borrow anything that couldn't fit in hand luggage (or wasn't allowed). So, axes, crampons, harnesses, etc. In the afternoon we headed up to the Glacier Blanc hut with Mum and Dad, a pleasant 90min walk from 1800m to 2500m. The next morning, we all set off for the Cinéastes - Rose and I to do the Vieux Piton and my parents to do the classic traverse. Our route, TD 6a, would take us up the S face of the first point. From here, we would have the choice (weather depending) on either continuing the classic traverse or descending via the normal route. In good spirits and after an enjoyable climb we thought we'd push on. However, soon enough we realised that the weather was indeed coming in, forcing us to retreat down the E slopes only one point from the end of the ridge. Oh well! By the time we got down into the cwm the snow was coming down good and proper, but at least the way out was now only an easy walk. All in all, a good outing to get the week started.
The next morning, after a quick look at the weather forecast, which was essentially saying 'most afternoons you're likely to get some precipitation, but we don't really know when, nor where...', we decided that big routes were out. It would have to be shorter things that we could hope to be off by lunchtime. So, off we headed back up the Glacier Blanc, but this time continuing as far as the Écrins hut. The intention was to do the Barre Noire couloir, a classic 50 degree snow route. Alas, we couldn't see it from the hut and it had been described by another party as a thin film of snow on top of poor quality ice. Instead, we opted to go and do the Barre des Écrins by one of the N face (normal) routes. On seeing the Barre Noire it looked in good condition - 'what had they been on about?!' we thought! Still, onwards and upwards, at least as far as the long traverse beneath the rimaye. Here, I saw that the bergschrund was passable, and had memories of seeing an appealing line in the guidebook heading directly to the summit - the 'Couloir Coolidge', 200m of 50-60 degree snow with a mixed exit. We each had only one axe; the conditions looked good, so we went for it. Retrospectively, it would have been good to have had two, but we coped!
That evening Mum and Dad joined us at the hut, with all of us intending to do a traverse of Roche Paillon, Émile Pic and Neige Cordier. A nice little outing I thought, marred only by Rose's loss of her camera! As opposed to the Vieux Piton, a route on good rock, or the Barre des Écrins (purely snow) this was much more chossy mixed terrain - classic 'rocher type Oisans' as Chamoniardes kindly refer to it as. Whilst Rose might climb hard, the oldies with free bus passes and the like showed her (and me) up on the mess! Experience I guess...
That brought us to the end of a good, albeit short week away. Now for May Week, which in truth has already started...
Albula ski touring
This report served as an entry into the Eagle Ski Club yearbook, and has been lifted straight from it. No CUMC members other than myself participated in the trip.
Convening at the Hotel Post, Bivio, during the afternoon of the 22nd March, we sat and watched the sky darken, the ensuing snowfall lasting approximately forty-eight hours. Bivio’s lift ‘system’ struggled with Sunday morning’s power cut, though we were told that eventually some electricity would “arrive from Zurich” - not enough to run more than one teleski though, it would seem. Perhaps the highlight of the various Sunday excursions was the group’s descent of a black run: never had any of us descended a piste of this grade without putting in a single turn! Rather, we resigned to an iterative process, each individual using the tracks of the person in front to gain speed, departing prior to collision, and coming to a standstill a few yards in front.
Monday saw us lose Hare Senior whose already damaged feet, despite a full week's preparatory rest during unbearably glorious weather, proved not to be up to a week’s touring. The rest of us boarded the swish transport network, only to find that our destination, Preda, was cut off by avalanche. On arrival at the train station in Bergun, we were directed across the river to a café, where a complimentary hot drink awaited us - this could only be Switzerland! Arriving in Preda early in the afternoon, we set off for a 300m leg-stretch, which served only to highlight the difficulty we would have in the 2ft of new snow.
In mixed weather, Tuesday's 1100m ascent to the Kesch hut took five and a half hours, with only a relict set of downhill tracks to help with the trail-breaking. However, the reward was just: the only people in the hut, we were looked after well, with dinner that kept on coming.
Choosing a modest objective in cold, fickle weather, we departed for the Fuorcla Viluoch, with the option of lapping it if the descent was good, or potentially reascending to a minor summit further north. Whilst the majority opted to spend the afternoon digging snow pits, Mark and I made an ascent of pt3021. Back at the hut, home and hungry, we would regret our inability to finish the salad course the night before. This time, in a bustling dining room, we were presented with a disappointingly small bowl accompanied by a rather pointed reference to the previous night's failings.
The final two days were unequivocally excellent. Piz Kesch gave Colin, Mike and myself a mountaineering objective, with 200m of steep snow and a little easy mixed ground. Thankfully, forty aspirant guides had been up beforehand, excavating a trench from the ski depot to the summit as well as laying down beautiful, perfectly equidistant tracks in descent, much akin to accelerated, en masse synchronised swimming. The others having waited for us, we enjoyed skiing the glacier before skinning up to Kesch Pitschen, again to be rewarded with a fantastic descent. All that was required was a little white lie, for there wouldn’t be much re-ascent to get back to the hut, would there?
Well fed, and satisfied with a good mountain day, we deliberated over the options for the Friday, settling on returning to the Fuorcla Viluoch, but this time descending northwards. And what a final day it was! Wonderfully remote, with excellent snow and only faunal tracks to contend with, it exemplified quintessential ski-touring. All that remained was a tolerable flog east along a long valley, and a forty-five minute walk to the station at Brail. A well-salvaged hut-to-hut tour, this trip certainly served to whet the appetite for future visits to the somewhat underrated Albula alps.
BMC Winter Meet
This report was adapted from an entry to the NZAT blog, to see the full content click here. Although I was the only CUMC member on this trip, it serves to illustrate the joys of winter climbing in Scotland.
The BMC International meet is held every winter. It's a fantastic event bringing together climbers of all abilities from around the world to experience some of Scotland's finest Mixed and Ice climbing. When I found out about it in August 2013, I was particularly keen to attend on NZ's behalf as I was preparing to immigrate to the UK.
The meet is held in Glenmore lodge at the base of the Northern Cairngorms. We arrive Sunday evening and are greeted with an excellent talk by Simon Richardson 'An Introduction to Scottish Winter Climbing'. We are also assigned a host to climb with. Mine is Simon. Conditions are tricky with strong SE winds, which have left significant loading on North and West facing slopes. Simon asks what I think about climbing somewhere a little 'unusual'. I am intrigued.
It dawns gray and blustery as predicted. We drive to the lower Cairngorm car park then walk to the South East facing Creag na h-Iolaire. At 60 – 100m in height it was dismissed by the hard men of the 60's at not worth the bother, but as time has gone by tastes have changed. Simon thought it would be in good condition, and it is. We climb the central buttress (FA) and the right buttress both at III 4. Its great to be mixed climbing again! We return to Glenmore just in time for dinner through a substantially stronger head wind.
Simon suggested we head west of Fort William to a perhaps unknown Crag up Glen Finnan. After an early start, we still only reach the card base at noon after a long drive and walk in. Disappointingly the turf is decidedly unfrozen so we bail to the obvious line up the central buttress. This provides increasingly entertaining climbing, and Rolly Polly Finish (FA) comes in at III 4. Despite being unable to climb our initial objective, I relish the afternoons solitude. A respite from the ever crowded British Isles.
Tuesday night we interoperate the weather forecast to give stable conditions about Ben Nevis. Eight hours later as we strip off our soaked layers in the snow and wind outside the CIS hut, we lament the weather and Simon's forgotten key. But we were there, so we would climb. Simon had his eye on a 1908 summer line up the East ridge of the Douglas Boulder. Soon, I was braced against the wind belaying as Simon happily climbed up to a prominent notch. From there, I set off up over two steep but well protected corners before reaching the top of the 'Boulder' IV 5. As Simon put it 'A good route of a stormy day'. I am still looking forward to my first view of the Ben.
My time with Simon had come to an end; I was traded to Mark Stevenson. He was keen to climb the West Ridge of Ben Eighe (300m IV 4), so we joined the flocks heading to Torridon. The weather was great and Ben Eighe was crawling with climbers. The west ridge was no exception with three parties climbing up the wide open first two pitches simultaneously. A few pitches on we had an entertaining poke up the stunning corner system that forms the direct finish before abseiling back down to our spot in line. It was a great route in great condition.
The forecast looked grim, and so it was. We joined a van heading NW to the dry tolling Crag, Lochcarron. Its bursting with climbers when we arrive. Here Mark and Patrick Cooke proved to be an entertaining if not slightly terrifying double act. First, Mark caught Patrick's 5m fall on a 6m route. Next route and Mark is on belay again. This time he is tied down. Patrick's tool falls arching viciously toward Mark, who somehow manages to catch it and keep Patrick on belay. There are relieved smiles all round when Patrick eventually returns to the ground.
The weather was unsettled, but we decided to take a gamble. Mark, Patrick, Martin Cooper and myself set off early for Torridon. We arrived in heavy rain at 6:30. There were already a few other cars idling in the car-park, but they soon buzzed off disheartened. The rain lessened and turned to sleet as we set off. We turned off the track to Coire Dubh Mor on Liathach at dawn as the snow finally stopped, and we were at the base of poachers Ice Fall (V 5) at 9am. On the way up Mark asked about my ice climbing experience. My response of '… I've done two leads: WI 3 and WI3+' must have been less than inspiring. We decide he'd lead the first pitch, and I'd lead the second if I was up to it. Ah hour later, I sit in the belay cave drinking the offered hot cordial and gathering my courage. My pitch is great, but our 50m ropes were shorter than we thought. It's only after 9 ice screws, some rope stretch and a tiny bit of simul-climbing that I reach the 60m belay ledge. From here Mark charges up to the easy summit slopes before we sidle to the decent gully in white-out missing the clear summit views Patrick and Martin enjoyed 30 minutes prior. We all agreed this was a stunning end to a great week.
"Scotland’s vigorous weather adds to the overall satisfaction of climbing here" (Paraphrased from Simon Richardson)
"Little Mountains, Big adventures" (Simon Yearsly)
"Often you don't know if a route is in condition till you rub your nose up against it" (Paraphrased from Simon Yearsly)
- Strong winds can produce significant rope drag.
- Dancing at belays helps keep the circulation flowing in ones fingers and toes.
- If the wind if from the east, head west.