We somehow managed to squeeze in more than just the one season – climbing season that is. From an alpine-like Crib Goch, Ladies Gully and Idwal Stream, we hit the coast for some bouldering at Port Ysgo and on the way home, a trad route and some sport at Penmaen Head.
The weekend couldn’t have been improved on to be honest. Those who were there happened upon calm winds, blue skies above and a warm sun. Mountain Rescue were busy due to people being unprepared in one way or another for the high reaches, a shame, as they could have been out enjoying the conditions themselves. NLMC had a big turnout and lots was done, just how it should be.
Finally fulfilled a dream the other week and found myself wandering up Trinity Face, you know, the big hideous pile of rubble that masquerades as a cliff face on Snowdon – every winter, when it freezes up and gets a coating of snow, it somehow garners an attraction that’s not there in summer. The snow working somewhat like beer goggles I guess.
It had been a cracking weekend, tootling up along Seargent’s Gully with Liz and George and after a solo up some Grade II pitches of ice we’d headed up Parsley Fern past an unseen dead badger that had it’s ten minutes of fame in the next few days.
Megan joined us on the Sunday for the trip into the Snowdon massive and she and Liz headed off to our right – George and I having decided that RH Trinity was our goal for the day. We’d never climbed together before and whilst I’ve soloed bits of Grade IV, neither of us had led a III – we were slightly excited. Beaten to the start by a rope of three, we hung around on the belay for a while and enjoyed some stunning views. I managed to slip off the crux due to my frozen gloves having less grip than discarded chewing gum and George found the ropes slightly short for the next pitch, which necessitated a hurried belay as I had to strip mine and move on up after him. We had a decent climb, it all went well enough and hopefully there’ll be more routes like that in the future. Of interest to some may be the fact that my Black Diamond spinner leash caught my fall and just on the one strand too.
I had a bit of an epic as we headed over Crib Goch – dehydrated over the weekend, I kept getting incredibly dizzy and irritated. It took a few hours to get down and pretty much wasted me out for a few days. I was sick all that night and when I finally went to the docs three days later, it turned out I had blood pressure of 84/55. No wonder I was slightly light headed. A good lesson learnt for me, as I quite often push the boat on matters of food and drink. George was a star and I need to apologise for being grumpy up high.
An unexpected weekend after me thinking my winter season was over. Grand, just grand.
This year I managed to get a fair few days in wearing crampons, weeks actually. As the years have past, the spikes in my hair have fallen by the wayside, only to be replaced by woolly hats.I bought the daughter an Indianna Jones replica hat once, to go with a replica knife my mate Matty found in Torture Garden. Anyway, I digress…
I now own three pairs of the things, seemingly a little greedy on this wet isle we call home. In my defence however, the Petzl Vasaks did need resharpening this year after the mixed climbing abuses they received in the Atlas and the Hillsounds where a surprise addition from stage right.
I have some Grivel G10s and what’s to say about them? They work well, have a flexible bar that enables them to be used on flexible boots but it would be remiss of me not to mention – you shouldn’t be doing that folks. Anyway, I have and it worked fine for me on both Meindl Borneos and Asolo Flames. Put them on my B3 boots however, strap them tight and they are rock solid. I’ve happily gone up Grade 2 winter stuff in them and have heard tales told of people using them on tougher technical terrain. Grivel surpassed themselves with the anti-balling plates and snow clumped underfoot has never been an issue. Whilst they’ve not been used much this year, I can’t see me ever getting rid of them. They’ll be loaned to friends, kept as a back up and used when ice and steep snow isn’t in contention for the day’s route. Top kit.
The Vasaks were bought as my winter ambitions increased, leaving the G10s behind. In hindsight, I should have bought a shiny new pair of G12s to start with but that just seemed overkill back then, one never knows where one’s path may take one’s self to use a cliche. I was a fair bit more of a canny lad this time and bought secondhand from someone who had outgrown them himself and purchased something suitable for ice. Just the £40 and I was now a winter warrior, ready in my spikes to battle with mixed Scottish terrain and snow gullies. Hang on… didn’t I do that in my G10s? Aye, I did. The big benefit is the front points being nearer to the horizontal, all the better for kicking people in the shins. Ignore that, I’d forgotten it was climbing post and had sidetracked to a midfield maestro’s footballing nirvana. There were times this year when I was glad to have made the change, tiny cracks that the G10s just couldn’t have found purchase on and there I was, delicately balanced on a few millimeters of Petzl’s finest steel. It could only be referred to as delicate until the disco leg cut in and then all style went out of the proverbial window quite smartly. The trousers are no longer smart, full of holes from when I was daft enough to think I didn’t need a gaiter. A good buy, proof that secondhand can work and work well, provided you do your research and know that the fit will be right for your boots. All hail the interweb!
There’s plenty of folks in the hills that wear those seriously flexible crampons when it’s winter, those a bit like a big rubber band that you step into, with spikes on chains below your sole. ‘Not for me’ I’ve said more than once and heard much the same from people who’s opinions and experience I respect. I’ve also watched as other mates who garner the self same respect from me, head off into the High Andes with homemade, high altitude, insulated gaiters fitted to Inov8s, that were settled on top of baby spikes with that giant rubber band for attachment. Strange how we all differ as to what’s suitable, I reckon we’re all right and wrong as well.
I was given some of the Hillsound Trail Crampons to test in February whilst up in Scotland and can’t say I was thrilled at the idea. Trying to give the appearance of a rebel, I strode upwards on snowy paths with them slung on the pick of my ice axe. No pack for me, just a few Werther’s Originals in my pockets and with the aim of finding some icy rocks to put the Hillsounds past their limits. How could crampons provide security when they are attached by elastic? I had pictures of them squirming around and me taking a tumble. Fitting them was simple, step in and then secure with the velcro strap. Done. Some people find God and become born again, for once there was no such gore and amniotic fluid in this revelation but I had surely seen the light! No movement, no squirreling about and I was happy to stroll around in them. Happy to stand on an iced up edge, the photo is by ptc* by the way and there’s a link to his site at the side. It best illustrates the complete change in opinion I had over the Hillsounds.
They do have limits, a lack of points at the very rear of the heel being the main one for me. We were scrambling down some shallow chimney-like depression and at times there was no grip where both my Vasaks and G10s would have had plenty but then we were well outside the design profile. What can I say? I ended up buying them. They certainly have a place, maybe not in the High Andes but for walks were there may be an icy path, as a ‘throw in the bag’ solution to the usual spills and thrills that sub zero temperatures and a damp atmosphere provide – they’ve got me hooked. By a spike or twenty.
So I was wrong about crampons with elastic bands. Or was that right? I’d have died if I’d tried to use them on some of the routes I did this year but certainly, they would have gotten me to the top of Toubkal, by the South Cwm on the days I ascended it. Not that I’d suggest you do that, you’d limit your options when it comes to going off track and we all know that’s where the fun starts.
Crampons. Spikes for the feet, not the head.
It’s always the same – too much beer, wake up late, disorganized but this time, I’m in luck as the protagonist of the weekend’s play was a certain Pete AKA ptc*. A man well known for his colourful clothing and late starts. Sure enough I still managed to make it to the meet up point well ahead of Pete but many, many minutes after the rest and first dibs on all the gear that was to be tested had long passed by the time I parked up. John from Ardblair had a cavernous boot full of gear, Leki poles, Hillsound crampons, X-Bionic and the not yet on sale here – Montura. From time to time, this brand gets mentioned on UKC and seems to have a great rep amongst the many alpinists on those forums, often when someone is after a fairly technical piece of kit. Ollie from 9point9 was similarly encumbered with high quality gear from Big Agnes, Granite Gear and Princeton Tec… this was gear heaven and a man’s head could explode!
Life has often taught that there’s a price to be paid for a lack of punctuality and sure enough most of the kit had been dished out to the eager beavers who didn’t have a hangover, I said hello to everyone whilst my head was falling to bits and it was great to catch up with Sandy who I haven’t seen in a while. Most people had a fetching shade of green on their upper body, Montura like green it seems, and all of the various shells, soft and hard, had a temporary owner. No worries, I love my Berghaus Temperance, in it’s lovely shade of yellow and with the weather looking a little grim, I’d appreciate it’s ‘best bar none’ (IMO) hood at some point.
That was when John asked my waist size.
So it came to pass that I became the short term possessor of the latest cut of Montura’s Yaru pants – the North. In bright red, yes, BRIGHT red. Fabulous, they’d go well with yellow Berghaus and I could spend 48hrs looking like a long lost refugee from Sundissential. All those years going to Sundissential dance events and I’d always avoided the red and yellow colour clash, yet finally, I’d succumbed to a man called John and his bright red pants. There was no looking at the features, asking questions or having a choice. They fitted, that was that. In a Medium and I was chuffed – ‘less of the fat lads’.
So I wore them without having a look at them, apologised to passers by for damaging their retinas and slowly came to like my new Yaru trousers. The waist belt did up oddly in a very european stylee, just hoick up the very thin zip and tuck a small velcroed tab across. By tiny, I mean maybe less than 20mm and I wasn’t impressed with not having a button. More on that later. Nice zipped pockets in the right places, some zips at the bottom of the calves and these Yarus were rather a fitted garment on the lower leg. Much like some red jeans I had circa 1982, jeans that left me with stretch marks on my lower back they were that tight. These Montura’s were a brief reminder of new wave days gone past but that’s were any similarity ended. The material was cracking, a proper four way stretch, good wind resistance, snow shedding and some decent patches of a toughened material on the knees for the scramblers and climbers. I felt like an Italian guide on the Monta Rosa, swarve, sophisticated… then I’d hear someone whisper, “look at him – blimey”, there was no hiding from the red and yellow.
That waist belt bit of velcro and thin zip just wasn’t an issue, it worked and I didn’t notice it apart from when I put the trousers on. In fact, apart from the colour, I didn’t notice the trousers at all that weekend. Fit is everything and I dare say, if they hadn’t been the right fit for me I’d have had a miserable time in them. They stretched the right way, there was no wind noise due to flapping material and I was a happy man. I could grow to like these. Expensive no doubt but I could be persuaded to part with hard earned cash for these and I kept trying to find reasons not to want them. As they were so fitted on the lower leg, I just couldn’t imagine wearing my B3 boots with them (red of course!) without a gaiter and that would have been a shame, an unnecessary extra item of clothing. Speaking with John on Sunday’s saunter back down to the car park, it transpired that the trousers were about 145 euros, if my memory serves me well and in my head I’d been thinking about £130 anyway. Simple, well designed winter/alpine trousers… except they weren’t that simple. Once I’d taken them off to return them to John, I had a good look at what I’d been wearing. The discreet zips down by the calves hid an inbuilt gaiter, which had the most amazingly designed elasticated adjustment. B3 wearing and these trousers was on and further investigation of the Montura’s design showed them to be worth every euro of the proposed cost for next winter’s new line. I wanted them.
Here’s the deal – Montura as yet, are not for sale in this country. Buyers always seem to go, stupidly if you ask me, for the safe option. Over just two days, I’d grown to love my Yarus and I need some. Since I’ve returned to the Midlands, I’ve hunted on the web for Montura stockists – Japan anyone? Or Spain? Of course the alpine countries have them but I wanna try trousers on before I buy them! I don’t want last year’s cut either, I want these ‘new for next winter’ ones. Having a fondle of the various shells on show, I wasn’t so impressed by the hoods but that’s more to do with me wanting to wear a helmet often as not rather than a fault of design and everyone who wore a shell had grand stuff to say. Michael tested an amazing black and blue creation called the Vertigo Prime, which he reviews on his site here – http://scottishmountaineer.com/page/2/
Someone make me happy and stock the Montura range… or buy me a flight to the Italian Alps next winter. You know it makes sense.