I'm very pleased to be able to report an outstanding and ground breaking new route on Ben McNaughty, the bastion of winter climbing in Tunbridge Wells.
The stunning line takes the left hand crack up the overhanging onion perched near the summit (See photo on the right). At 4.73m long it represents a new era for Kent winter climbing. The route was led in near impeccable style, which we come to expect these days. The team abseiled to inspect the gear placements and clean the route, before committing to the final yellow-pink-yoyo ascent. Winter climbing specialists Nick Keegan, Esmeralda and LL Cool J executed the raid from their Chamonix home taking full advantage of the snowy conditions.
“I'd eyed the line from the plane as I flew to Cham for the season” said Esmeralda "As soon as we heard the weather was cold - it was on!"
Esmerelda and the gang flew over from France and to save valuable seconds - parachuted into the base of the crag. They had their first set back here, as one of the equipment bags was lost containing all their sunscreen and anti-aging cream - essential on any winter rack. Not the sort of team to give up easily, they pressed on and set off to tackle the route anyway.
The first day they abseiled the line and cleaned off any bits of rock that might get in the way - or make the line easy. One particularly useful flake needed a car jack to dislodge it, but they got the bugger in the end;
“We thought about doing a small painting on the rock scar there” said LL, "but Nick wasn't up for it." Then, like the true adventurer 'Mr Growls' does in his TV series, they spent the night in the nearest hotel.
Day two saw Nick work the sit-down start. This was going to be the main crux, with water seeping into his Gore-Tex pants due to the damp conditions under bum. The team only had six bouldering mats, as space on the plane was tight, and it didn't take long before the crampons shredded them all. This really upset Nick, being a full time sponsored climbing bum he hasn't any money, and despite the fact that the mats were free (Thanks to MMD) he broke down in tears and needed a team hug after attempt eleven. Finally he stuck the upside down 'stein-pull' just as his feet popped. Fearing a death fall from here; LL and Esmeralda quickly stacked the 3 remaining mats, but there was still two inches of mind-numbing exposure pulling at Nicks feet. Mantling onto his axe, with ringlets bouncing, he reached the first belay, much to the relief of the crowd. With the 1st 1.7m of climbing in the bag and darkness falling both Esmeralda and LL decided to second the pitch via a trampoline - bouncing to the stance. Both felt they could confirm the grade of XVII 23.
Day 3 and the main pitch: It was Esmeralda's big lead. As he warmed up by covering himself in organic lard (a top tip he got from the channel swimmers) he expressed doubt about the proposed grade of XX 15 for the pitch. The team had graded, named and written up the route before they had actually climbed it - so sure were they of success.
The lead was awesome. Feet popped every few moves (for the camera), and there was lots of screaming (for the crowd), it was without doubt ground-breaking stuff on this, the premier mountain for winter bouldering. In the interview with me, Roberta Jinglestop from Lowland Ramblers, Esmeralda was to say the following:
“I was focused man, I had to do this figure of 6 into a Gaston palm down. All pretty tricky wearing marigolds I'll tell you. Anyway there was a Ladybird on the ledge and I couldn't kill it so in my heightened state of mind I dyno'd past the wee fella into a double stein pull. Man I was outrageous”. All this from a fully sponsored climber, I was getting a real scoop...
Meanwhile LL was pouting for his latest men's mag shoot, wearing an outlandish purple DJ that was absolutely no good for winter climbing, but boy he looked good in it. While trying to second the pitch LL was heard ranting about the number of airport runs to Geneva he has been doing.
So where does this leave the scene today. Well if I, 'Roberta Jinglestop', can't scream about three poorly talented climbers (who are sponsored up to their arm pits) and scream about their new route too, then I'm going to give up writing and start guiding for a job!
The Know-How got a fast repeat by a raiding Scottish team consisting of Guy God, Doctor Doolittle and English boy Ian Haribo. They confirmed the overall quality of the route but said the grade was way out. Ian lead the main pitch and was heard to say between celebratory haribos; “Man it was awesome but XXII 17? There is no way man! It's at least XXX 20, I was on the lead for so long taking photos of the sunset - I ran out of memory space!”
Watch the Exciting Video Footage of this Prime Winter Line
Dream Guides is run by Guy Willett and Kenton Cool, both keen enthusiasts and IFMGA Guides.
Kenton has been climbing for 14 years and in this time has established himself as one of the UK's leading alpine climbers with an impressive list of difficult ascents. In recent years, Kenton has been taking the skills honed by many seasons in the Alps and Scotland to the Greater Ranges with significant 1st ascents in Alaska, India, Pakistan and Nepal.
These ascents reached a peak in 2003 with a major new route on Annapurna III (7,555m) for which Kenton, along with his two partners, were nominated for the prestigious Piolet D'Or Award in France. (An international award given to the best alpine-style ascent of the year). Kenton has been a popular and successful Expedition guide, having led a number of teams to summits in Nepal, including Ama Dablam.
In May 2006 he became the first and only Briton to climb Everest three times, successfully guiding clients to the summit on each occasion. With Dream Guides successful Cho Oyu expedition in October 2006, Kenton made the first British ski descent of an 8000m peak. And if that's not enough, in 2007, Kenton summited Everest twice - successfully guiding all Dream Guides' clients to the top and in the process bringing his summit tally to five. Kenton is the only European to summit 5 times and to summit twice in a season.
On top of all this, Kenton is a thoroughly nice bloke, with bundles of enthusiasm for climbing at all levels and altitudes. He is a regular face around the bars and clubs of Chamonix and is always up for party.