Winter Climbing Round-Up - The Big Freezeby Jack Geldard - UKC Chief Editor Jan/2009
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Firstly, this year has seen the birth of the Welsh Winter Wiki, which is turning in to a valuable on-line resource. You can get topos and route descriptions for Clogwyn Ddu and for the Black ladders and up to date information on conditions. Credit is due to Pete Harrison for his efforts in this area.
Secondly, Jack Geldard and Tim Neill have produced a topo for the Black Ladders. This is available below. It will be updated as we gain information for the missing routes. When the topo is complete this article will be updated with a new completed version.
To go to the main UKC Page with this full size topo - click here.
Winter arrived for the second time this year in North Wales on the week beginning the 24th November. Some weeks before the area had a large amount of snow, but conditions didn't really materialise. This time, things were different!
Saturday 28th Nov, Owen Samuel and Matt Stygle visited Crib Goch and climbed Reade's Route (Severe) thinking this might be the first winter ascent, no such luck. Dai Lampard and Dave Green first climbed this in winter in the early 90's. However it is believed it is the second winter ascent. Grade V-5 with that exciting step off the pinnacle adding to the fun. The same day they climbed Crazy Pinnacle Face on Grib Goch for the first winter ascent. Close behind were Mark Baggy Richards, Ian Hey and Rob Johnson claiming the second ascent two days later and agreeing with the grade of IV-5 and it being a very good route.
Sunday 29th gave Matt Stygle and Mark Baggy Richards the chance to visit Glyder Fach main cliff. Here they climbed East Gully Arete (Diff) at IV-4, this may have been climbed before but Baggy has been unable to find out. After this they climbed The Needles Eye Climb (V Diff) and first winter ascent at IV-5 they reported 3 really contrasting and interesting pitches in particular the Needles Eye.
Owen 'The Samulator' Samuel was back out on the Monday (1st December) teaming up with his wife Rocio Siemens. They took a trip up to Clogwyn y Ddrysgl, Northwest Face, Infidel Buttress (left side), spied a line, climbed it and called it Tabula Rasa, 125m VI,6. This starts just left of the Infidel Buttress.
A break in the weather meant a day off but not for long. Wednesday was a cracking day, alpine in character, crunchy underfoot and blue skies above. Mark Baggy Richards, Owen Samuel and Rocio Siemens went to Glyder Fach main cliff. Here they climbed the first winter ascent of Arch Gully a Diff in summer but grade IV-4 in winter with absorbing and cracking pitches
Next on the list was Arc Chimney first winter ascent (HS 4b) this went at IV-5 with an interesting few crux moves. Finally that day they climbed a new route and called it Cilice Belt, 75m VII. This has an independent pitch 1, V-6 shares ground with Arch Gully for pitch 2 IV-4 then finishes up mainly new ground at VII/7. The crux pitch not being steep but technical, precarious and lacking good gear to start the crux. To finish was a great sunset
Gareth Davies also had The Black Ladders to himself on the following Sunday, alongside good neve and frozen turf. The Black Ladders is a 1,000ft north-facing cliff, if this was in Scotland then it would be busy!
The weather and temps fluctuated for a few days then started to go cold again Monday afternoon.
Later that week Owen Samuels and Mark Baggy Richards climbed a new route on Castell Y Gwynt. This short but nice route climbed turf and ice at III/3. From here over to Glyder Fawr to check out conditions that prove to be poor so they headed up in Nameless Cwm. whilst gearing up for another new route some one got hit by a rock so help was provided. The cwm was busy this day, no doubt due to the weather and condition
Another day arrived with no wind and a good forecast. Nameless Cwm seemed to be one of the places that were holding good conditions. Quite a few teams on a thicker Left hand branch going at V-5 and right hand branch at III-3 IV-4 depending on route chosen. Lots of team cruising around Tower Gully and Slabs.
The Crack Nick Bullock's IX-9 was tried alongside a few other new routes. However thick rime stopped play but a fine effort for the teams trying to crank it out.
Update - Blenderhead at Clogwyn Ddu (pictured) has now seen a few repeats, including one from Mark Walker and an on-sight ascent from Ian Parnell. Rocio Siemens took a big lob from this tricky pitch (see photo montage on the left).
There has been quite a bit of action since this report was written. Up to date conditions info can be found on the UKC forums, with THIS THREAD being extremely popular.
You can also see Welsh Winter Updates on the Ground-Up Climbing Website.
Thanks go to Baggy Richards, Tim Neill and Lou Neill for this report. Baggy is supported by Mountain Equipment and DMM. You can keep up to date on Baggy's Blog - Welsh Winter Conditions.
Scotland had an impressive early season with many taking advantage of the sustained cold weather that brought cliffs across the country into condition. Numerous classics, both ice and mixed were climbed as well as an impressive number of new routes. The undoubted highlight was the first ascent of the God Delusion on Beinn Bhan by Guy Robertson and Pete Benson, a scottish winter tour-de-force tackling possibly the steepest mountain cliff on the mainland. Elsewhere, over a dozen new grade VII's and above were established by many different teams.
Commenting in the UKC Forums, Simon Richardson said:
"It has been a remarkable winter season, and in terms of challenging new routes probably the best Nov and Dec ever! In my view The God Delusion (UKC News Item) is the pick of the bunch so far, so hats off the Pete and Guy.
Other highlights (that I'm aware of at least) include Heidbanger (VIII,8 Ben Nevis), Yo Bro (VIII,9 Mamores), Hung Drawn and Quartered (VIII,8 Skye), The Cone Gatherers (VIII,7 Ben Nevis), The Great Gig in the Sky (VII,7 Quinag), Gnome Wall Direct (VII,7 Beinn Eighe), Critical Mass (VII,7 - Bidean), Devastation (VII,8 Ben Nevis), A Wall Too Far (VII,8 Lochnagar), Brass Monkey (VII,8 Ben Nevis), Spitfire (VII,8 - Beinn Eighe), Full Frontal (VII,8 Grey Corries) together with early repeats of The Duel, Sioux Wall, The Secret and the second ascent of Cold Play (VIII,8 Ben Nevis).
Phew! Over 20 climbers have contributed to this impressive haul - the number of those involved is something to celebrate in itself?"
The now popular early season venue of Ben Nevis saw plenty of attention. The third ascent of The Secret fell to the local team of Blair Fyffe and Tony Stone, while Rich Cross and Andy Benson made the long drive from the south to make the first winter ascent of the summer E1 Heidbanger.
Heidbanger was climbed on sight by Cross and Benson, after they 'warmed up' on Sioux Wall (VIII 8). Reported in detail on the DMM website, Rich Cross described the route:
"Veins of snow promised hooks and gear, but delivered only blank rounded seams slightly disappointing! Thirty foot of teetering, thin hooks, long reaches, and spaced pro finally brought a blob of turf into reach phew! Andy dispatched the final pitch in the dark, a time consuming combo of powder covered slabs, unhelpful blind grooves and hard won gear."
Ian Parnell has been getting in on the action, repeating The Duel (IX,9) with Andy Turner. There is a write up on the Big Stone website in which Ian gives a blow by blow account of the crux:
"Close up it became obvious that the wall pitch not only had a winter blanket of snow covering its secrets, beneath that the thin seams and blind corners were coated in a layer of verglass. Enough to hide many of the gear placements but not thick enough to provide secure sticks for my axes. The following 3 hour lead was probably the toughest I've had particularly as the weather was rapidly deteriorating sending waves of spindrift crashing down. Things eventually culminated in a terrifying crux hooking half centimetre edges chipped into the verglass. This wasn't helped by the fact that the minimal footholds seemed to have disappeared and the each bit of gear 10ft below me felt like it would rip right through. I hoped in combination the sum of the protection would work its tricks."
Dave Macleod (how does he manage to squeeze it all in?) and Malcolm Kent made the first ascent of Yo Bro (VIII,9) on a cliff on the ridge of Mullach nan Coirean in the Mamores.
Macleod described the route on his blog:
"Donald had spoken of an overhanging groove with an undercut start that looked hard and bold, with potential for a large grade. It was both. It took me nearly an hour to make 20 feet of progress off the ground, and get two dubious runners in, too low to be of any use. The climbing was harder than the final of the dry tooling comp the night before, but without the luxury of nice bolts and brightly coloured blobs to go for next."
Viv Scott and Tony Stone found a new route in the Grey Coirres, Full Frontal (VII,8) is described by Viv as:
"Tony's route really - I did the first pitch which as tony very accurately described it was 'extreme ledge shuffling'- prob V,7, then Tony went for the top..."
"Crux was probably gaining the upper groove, though all pretty sustained. Above - steep walls and a bold, thin slab to ledges, then a final overhanging offwidth (thankfully easier than it looked) to the top. An excellent lead by Tony..."
Causing quite a stir on the UKC forums was the first winter ascent of Hung, Drawn and Quartered (VIII,8) by Martin Moran and Nick Carter. The line is on the north face of Am Basteir in the Cullins and follows a summer E4. Martin commented on the Alpha Mountaineering Website that the route was:
Harder than any grade 8 I've done, so maybe VIII,9" however the site then goes on to state: "After further thought it's been decided that a stiff VIII, 8 is probably the best grade for the route."
After Christmas, perfect cold weather settled across Scotland, bringing spring-like conditions to the mountains and freezing the glens. Low lying streams provided rare easy-access cascade climbing while teams enjoyed late-season ice conditions on Ben Nevis with Point Five and other gullies seeing numerous ascents. Tony Stone celebrated the end of 2008 by linking Point Five with Glover's Chimney, The Cascade, Expert's Choice, Comb Gully, Green Gully and Central Gully Right-Hand - not a bad day out. With plenty of snow and cold weather forecast the season is looking promising.
There has been lots going on this season - much goes under the radar. However, UKClimbing.com want to support and celebrate all forms of climbing. If you hear of an exciting winter ascent - please let us know.
Thanks go to Viv Scott for his help with this report
In early December good conditions hit the Lake District. This is an edited excerpt from the DMM Website:
Rich Cross teamed up with Andy Turner and the Lakes mixed master, Steve Ashworth, to make the most of the "brilliant winter conditions on the steeper high crags: good turf, rime, powder etc. The best in recent years according to the locals."
They visited Gable Crag, Steve's favourite Lakes winter venue and despite some savage weather chose a direct line up the middle of the crag, linking the start of Engineers Slab into the main groove of Interceptor, then finished via the spectacular overhanging groove line of Mome Wrath (an obscure E2). The complete outing has been called Winterceptor (VII,8).
The next day the team headed up to Scafell and climbed the first winter ascent of Xerxes (VII 7), a steep and dirty HVS groove/crack line high up on Deep Ghyll Buttress.
See the DMM Website for a full report.
You can see photos of these routes at the Alpine Guides Blog