/ A Misadventure on the Ben
I anticipate a traditional UKC welcome.
Good report, well written. Defo agree on radios and malt loaf. Expect others with more knowledge than I will give you more 'constructive' feedback!
Cheers for that
A good write-up
Thanks, I enjoyed that
The belay had held but the snow below had taken the brunt of the impact previously. Having had close calls abbing on bad ice before i didnt fancy it, and we had traversed well right of the route at this stage so there was only snow and rock below us, as far as we knew. It certainly felt like a last resort, like all things in winter its very hard to draw the line, and it certainly felt like we overstepped on this occasion - but it can be so hard to know sometimes!
A good tale well told. Adjectives are for wusses, I liked the style.
Well into the Incident Pit, eh?
Good writeup and do bear in mind that experiences like that will make even better climbers of you.
Given a screw in good ice I do trust it (otherwise whats the point!?) HOWEVER that doesn't mean that I think falling is an acceptable option due to the runouts & how vulnerable ankles are. Also I wouldn't say that being leashless contributed to anything as at no point did I think my grip was failing and i think I would have seriously injured my right arm if I was climbing with leashes as I would have ended up hanging by one arm on a leash having fallen a full arms length onto it.
THe fall I took actually on the route wasn't onto a screw - the axes held and the leashes came tight. However, we did manage four fall onto screw trying to get through the cornice, three of them when the axes popped in crap ice/powder and the other when I tried to aid through (when the screws ripped), which rattled us a bit!
Every day's a school day.
Thanks for the responses everyone, very much appreciated!
Cheers, yes indeed we were bloody lucky indeed. Certainly took a couple of lessons away for the future, especially regarding cornices and half ropes.
The apprenticeship of climbing continues!
Great write up. Just unlucky with the cornice. A couple of friends got caught out by a massive cornice at the top of Aonach Mor once - didn't see it from the bottom due to clag. It was way too large to try to get over or through so they had to ab off - fortunately they found enough ab points all the way down. Then had to go back up the descent gully and all the way down on foot as they had missed the lift. I was on a neighbouring route and there was hardly any cornice on it. Some you win, some you lose...
As for failing on the steep pitch, if you never push yourself you'll never get better!
I'd recommend always taking a pair of 60s and dry tooling to get stronger/fitter.
Been there, done that! :) Not actually quite as bad as you think; in my case I was swinging one tool when my feet popped. I suspect if I had been leashless (no one was back then) I'd have proper fallen off, as it was my arm just straightened and I was left hanging (facing out ward too! must have barn doored) off my lower tool. I'm sure it gave my arm a jolt but no injury. Anyway, the adrenlin kicks in and I managed to set my other three points of contact in and finish the pitch in better style! I do remember having trouble falling off some mixed silliness on a top rope and not being able to let go of my tool that remained jammed in a placement, my mate had to heave on the top rope to help me. It's funny to think that just 8 years ago or so most people were still dry tooling with leashes, let alone ice!
Loved the blog, at times I cringed with fear and then smiled.
This years carnage owes something at least to over confidence but i guess it was ever thus.
I'm not sure I agree fully with that, I do agree that leashless helps a lot mixed climbing, but on ice, I've found I climb most mid-grade (for me) stuff leashless as that's where I find all the advantages of leashless (easier and quicker to place gear; warmer hands from shaking out, less placements needed as you can 'climb up' the tool more etc.). But leading hard icefalls (again, that's relative to me, so not very hard!) that's when I still use my wrist loops because I want that extra support to be able to hang on longer - to get a screw in, or to hack through crap ice to get a good stick in better ice etc. Exactly to avoid that pumping out feeling that Ronan's blog describes so well.
It might just be with blogs and videos you hear about people falling off more these days, but when I lived in Scotland and climbed most weekends for four winters I was in a pretty keen group and you heard a lot of stories and gossip so it still feels like people fell off less then. Different attitudes now maybe along with different gear?
That was a good read and recognisable to me in places. Thanks for posting.
Who are?... People climbing leashless in general, or those pushing on steep ice?
What do you mean by "this year's carnage"?
> I'm not sure I agree fully with that,
I don't agree with it at all ! it wasn't leashless that got him into trouble it was his crap crampons, but without enough in reserve to compensate.
I wonder what the crampons were? I've been climbing quite a lot this winter in my old G12s as well with my Terminators, and am starting to come round to the 'Gaddian' line that some classic 12 points are all you need, for ice at at least.
If he means what I assume he means he's talking rubbish
They're not crap crampons - a decent pair of G14s. I suppose I just wasn't used to that kind of ice - quite dinnerplatey (if that's a word) and not plastic.
My partner's crampons were quite blunt though.
I can't see that having leashes would have helped either, I'd have ended up hanging from both arms with no strength to pull back on and losing feeling in my hands. A dose of strength training and a bit more mileage on easier stuff I think.
Well written - Sounds like a good day to look back on....
...and learn from. Glad you weren't hurt.
I can confirm from seconding the crux of Smith's that it is indeed bloody steep. At least there's gear, which is more than can be said for pitch 1, which is steeper than it looks too.
Cornices do vary in size ~ I'm sure the one above Smith's grows and diminishes. I guess you had to be there last Saturday afternoon, in what were very trying conditions, to realise there was no way to outflank the cornice.
I find I can just hang on a bit longer with a wrist loop normally meaning I can get a screw in and slump onto that! Your chest rig seems to have worked sort of in the same way, so no harm done. :) Better luck next time!
On a statistical note, there can't be many falls onto ice screws carried out at higher altitude in UK than these ones!
We couldn't find a way round. To the left was vertical powder and to right just bigger cornice, all the way to the ridge. We at first discounted retreat as we could find no anchor above the route (what we did find was well right) and what we had come up - which was left of the proper line, which itself wasn't obvious from below or above in the clag - was hollow and not protectable or safe to downclimb.
Falling off the cornice is not an experience either of us would like to repeat, certainly not something i think we could get away with too many more times in those conditions. You're quite right that if we kept that sort of thing up we'd be killed - cue the introspection that led to.me writing that blog post. I've had so many good days in the mountains (in Ireland, Scotland, the Alps and Kyrgyzstan) and gotten through a few sticky situations before, which has taught me to learn from experience. I don't see myself as a foolhardy climber, although of course on this occasion in retrospect its very clear that i was. I'd like to think it means i'm less likely to be so in future!
Hi Foxy, we were the guys you met at the mantrap after doing minus 2 and we did minus 1. Bad luck on minus 1, good effort for giving it a go. as you say there are far softer VIs out there, astral highway, Slav route, psychedelic wall etc. the main thing is it's more technical icy mixed than pure ice on the crux, did you spot the good rock foothold out right, makes the steep bit much more doable. I have fallen twice on ice and gotten away with it, and like most vowed never to do it again! the first time on cutthroat at Ben udlaidh while sketching in blunt g12s on a steep pillar, fell back to belay ledge maybe 8m, bought new crampons after this, monopoint rambos. second time in NZ on steep WI5 at Wye creek, this fall was in the region of 15-20m as I'd been running it out to get to easy ground, belayer said it was the most impressive fall he'd ever seen, windmilling arms and big bounce on stretchy ropes. Luckily didn't hit anything and upgraded axes after this from vertiges to lovely quarks. the tools make everything a lot easier and leashless also helps as you can shake out at will. I always wonder why people don't get a good axe placement and clip into that to rest rather than falling off? Axes are great extra belay points so why not.....liked the write up to, rather you than me boys, glad you got away with it...
Oh yes forgot to mention after huge NZ fall, climbed back to the highest screws on adrenaline only to find they were both bent in half at 45 degree angle at which point adrenaline wore off and I lowered off shaking!
Yes, and as you saw on the mantrap i'm no mixed climber :P. I did find a foot placement out right, was nice to get some weight off the arms. Only used one and it was really obvious so maybe you mean another, I fell properly when I was bridging our right and moving my left foot up and my only high axe ripped. I am not beyond clipping my ice axe as I did it for the first time on Minus one while I placed a screw. Those falls sound scary! bent ice screws 45 degrees! bloody hell!
Sounds like you'd done the hardest bit, getting up to the obvious foothold and bridging, was easier above that, though second bulge also pretty feisty....
Yes Slav, astral and psychedelic may well be technicaly easier, but you would still not want to be lobbing off, the belays are not exactly bomber, just saying like!.
The belays are not exactly bomb proof on minus one either after the first pitch if I remember rightly, conditions dependant of course.
Good write up Ronan!
We were on Tower Ridge enjoying the perfect weather (until it started to turn...) on Saturday.
I have a couple of pictures of you on Smith's if you're interested!
> ( I'll be blunt - you'll end up dead if u carry on like this. Multiple falls onto screws beneath cornices!!!!! I've done smiths a few times - it's not hard to outflank the cornice.
Spot on comment.
These Guys lobbing off classics have bigger cojones than I could ever dream off. And are even bigger on learning - cos they confess on the internet.
So who are we to criticise?
or dig a slot - if the cornice was anywhere near strong and small enough to contemplate climbing (whilst not being consolidated enough to actually climb) then likely a slot could have been formed.
Yes, I was going to ask about digging. I've never had to do it, but after having held a very large fall off the cornice on Right Twin some years ago, where my partner tried to climb it when it was unstable, I have considered it as an option.
Good write up guys. I am still bimbling about on III's, as I am too scared to get into this kind of pickle..... ;)
We considered tunneling/digging a slot, but would have had to either hack away the patch of ice we were attached to, or dig slightly off to one side - and it wasn't really possible to stand in the fresh snow either side of the belay without 4 points of contact or being attached to something, so an attempt to dig would have ended with slipping down the slope below. And the cornice really was a monster.
Next time I'm going to bring a deadman and a second rope, and pay more attention to the cornice beforehand.
you can always dig a trough in to the fresh snow to get through to something more solid, this does lead to a bigger slot needing dug through the cornice though.
I've only dug a slot through one small cornice before and it was very hard work!
You'd want to dig to one side in any case - or the belay would end up buried!
Yes I've noticed that this is happening a lot now, as well as folk having problems with cornices!
I think new climbers are missing out on some of the basics from Scottish winter hillwalking gained over several years and climbing lots of easy graded gullies first. Through time you eventually build up the experience of avoiding and / or tackling cornices.
Falling onto ice screws under the cornice could so easily have been terminal. I'm surprised at folks trust in the ice screws, particularly with Scottish ice which is usually much weaker and more variable than continental ice. All this is best learned about by playing in safe(?) heavily corniced hollows rather than on winter climbs way past your limit!
Worth spending some bad weather days practising digging through cornices in some of the snowhole sites.
The best way I find is to cut a work platform and then dig diagonally to the side creating large compacted work steps to plunge your axe into as you progress upwards. This avoids the cornice debris dropping onto your face or large bits collapsing on top of you.
In the worst case scenario with a hugely overhung cornice, dig a compacted work platform and then dig in and diagonally up to the surface, a bit like digging a snowhole.
It'll likely take hours but at least you'll keep warm in the process, though this assumes folk have proper axes with an adze!
12 winter mountain deaths in 3 months. My memory is crap but I can only recall 1 or 2 last season. Carnage may have a touch intemperate, but its a bad patch.
Like you said the Ben deserves the greatest of respect, any time of the year.
That's because it isn't. As safe as you can make it would be more accurate but probably still wrong.
Great bit of writing Ronan. When I was in the CIC for a week in late Feb the 14 Italiens & French were carrying a deadman for each climbing party - they reckoned it essential kit for many of the finishes on the Ben. I've only used mine a couple of times this season but it was bloody useful.
Good advice on the Cornice cutting practice - I'll try that somewhere safe as suggested.
I've not seen figures for 2012, but there were 21 "mountaineering" deaths in 2011 and 16 in 2010. This year they've just had more publicity (perhaps due to being concentrated into fewer incidents?)
It certainly is, but I don't think this year's figures are indicative of anything other than what we always knew, that it's a dangerous business that sometimes takes lives. The numbers are skewed by two large multiple-fatality avalanches, without that desperate misfortune the totals would be a lot more "normal". In turn this has generated media interest that has ensured that any further deaths will be reported widely.
For all that some will try to read more into it, this year has probably been a statistical blip rather than indicative of any real change in the way that people mountaineer. Toby's post was about people lobbing on screws, which is a completely different discussion.
If I thought that, I'd give up. It does depend what you actually do, you know...
Odd, I'd love it to be safe and do everything possible to make it more so.
That was: "If I thought it was delusional to think winter climbing safe then I'd give up."
Thats not really true is it Jamie, if this was really the case you wouldn't be going out climbing many days a year, wouldn't you just stay in the ice factor?. I'm pretty sure the fact that's its not safe and we have to use experience and judgement to reduce the risk is part of the attraction.
Have gone leashless now so having to adapt but will see what happens on steeper ice. Definitely better on mixed routes.
> If I thought that, I'd give up. It does depend what you actually do, you know...
You are deluded then.
No; like I say, there are safe bits to winter climbing as well as dangerous bits. I prefer the safe bits, personally.
As mentioned above, I am very surprised you trusted those ice-screws as much as you did. Specifically aiding off those screws, likely not in water ice but in inhomogeneous neve/transformed-snow-of-some-degree. This will greatly increase the outward pull on the ice screw, not the direction for which they are designed. I would have thought as an engineering (of any discipline) graduate/student you would have thought carefully about this.
As suggested by some other user, above, regarding pushing one's self to improve, that is extremely misguided. If one really wants to improve on steep ice/mixed climbing go dry-tooling or do some rock climbing at a reasonable standard. Perhaps it won't make one bold but one does not need to be bold on routes like Smith's (not these days in any case).
While more and more people seem happy to fall off in Winter it should be remembered the potential for injury is greatly increased by the pointy things in front of your toe! I can not understand why people think this is acceptable, just learn to climb better and stay within your limits or climb very steep routes with safe fall out zones.
I am glad you are ok but such calamitous incidents are an embarrassment to the climbing community and only add fuel to the media's fire of portraying winter mountaineering as reckless. There is nothing in your report that could not have been overcome more safely by reading a few instructional texts.
As for winter mountaineering being dangerous, I do not view it as such: know your limits, climb within them, keep an eye on snow conditions past, check the forecast, continually assess snow conditions, do not climb below others. Pretty simple, pretty safe.
Not for me. It's an annoying and potentially damaging by-product that must be tolerated (for all the many other wonderful things it gives), but can never and must never be embraced. This doesn't appear to make me less active, but it'll probably turn me into a sport climber eventually...
> > know your limits, climb within them, keep an eye on snow conditions past, check the forecast, continually assess snow conditions, do not climb below others. Pretty simple, pretty safe.
These things don't make climbing safe. They help to make it safer. I feel this is an important distinction.
And while I'm in cranky early-morning mode can I point out that "That's not really true is it" is a really bad way to start a sentence unless you want to establish (or reinforce) a reputation for opinionated hectoring.
To be frank being alive is not safe; death is always a potential outcome whether one is sat on the sofa or wing-suiting down the Eiger. I said, "pretty safe". I would stand by that but if you want some tighter language, lets say it brings the probability of serious injury down to a similar level as driving on the motorway in good conditions.
Multiple logins? Naughty Naughty. ;)
Today is definitely a good day to sit around the house and post on UKC ;)
I can agree on that. I went out yesterday and it was grim.
Get *you*, Jamie! Drink that coffee! :-)
"To be frank being alive is not safe; death is always a potential outcome whether one is sat on the sofa or wing-suiting down the Eiger. I said, "pretty safe". I would stand by that but if you want some tighter language, lets say it brings the probability of serious injury down to a similar level as driving on the motorway in good conditions."
I'm pretty sure winter climbing is much more dangerous for most people than driving on the motorway. I seem to remember someone doing the stats on here for summer trad a few years back and the reality is it's much more dangerous than the drive to the crag, winter climbing is a fair amount more dangerous again IMO.
Apart from anything else, motorway driving is about the safest there is.
I would be very dubious of all statistics, especially those appearing on UKC. But in any case I stated winter climbing would be brought down to that level of risk for somebody who followed what I wrote in my earlier post - I doubt many do.
I would agree the objective dangers in Winter are greater, however it does not follow that there would be more accidents on a per participant basis solely on that premise.
Regarding accident statistics, things are complicated considerably in that some ground that is termed winter climbing would be a walk in summer. For this, and a whole host of other reasons, a like-for-like analysis is probably impossible given the data that is recorded for these accidents.
That was my point. See above.
great read. definitely confirms to me that I want to get confident at grade 3/4 in all kinds of weather (had great luck last few trips so not challenged by storms etc) before thinking about anything higher.
out of interest what radios do you use? seem like a great idea and will definitely get some.
Excellent; thanks for that.
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