Easter? This was North Wales

The start of Crib Goch

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.

Truth - Port Ysgo

Idwal Stream

 

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.

Chris on Chris' Corner

Liz at Penmaen Head

I fell off…

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Back in the game.

A busy winter that started with the hot aches on Wen Zawn one cold November’s day. It was nice to get on my first E2 and feel comfortable, with just a fall when my hands had gone so numb that I couldn’t feel the rock.

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Aladdin’s Mirror Direct was dispatched by Chiz in lean conditions before a trip to the west coast of Scotland for new year. A play on some Torridan sandstone cliffs resulted in my best ‘lead’ to date – a HS 4c solo.

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Only last weekend, a trip to Wales for winter fun appeared without warning and some classics were ticked but for me, a dream was fulfilled. Trinity Face has loomed large on many a walk and I finally wandered up there with George. Our first climb together and Right Hand Trinity was negotiated without drama… well, I fell on the crux.

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Winter is coming…

No foreign trips this winter, unless crossing the borders of both Scotland and Wales count but I’m starting to get just a little excited. This was me last January, nearing the top of an 800m climb up Biguinoussene, the top here being part of an existing route but it was an amazing day, the best of last winter.

 

The lad I climbed with that day has just won UCT Sportsperson of the Year over in South Africa – Joe’s a top geezer and the award is well deserved, he’s seriously pushing the boundaries of trad climbing and   this link shows you some of what he managed during their summer.

Strangely, when he won the award, the 800m route we pottered up seemed to get more attention. Big hills eh? Far more dramatic in pictures? Needless to say, I had a chuckle to myself as what I consider perhaps the best mountain day I’ve ever had compares not a whit to Joe’ trad adventures. I’ve been reflecting on what an amazing year it’s been since I heard he’d won the award and I’m pretty confident that it’s been the most amazing of my life. The route we took is in red and the green line is our descent route, a D+ in the upper part. I’m hoping for some similar adventures this year but a little closer to home.

 

Turn that heating up and let the winter come!

Big Agnes Encampment – A Winter’s Tale

I’m not sure one night’s sleep should count as a review but it was certainly more than a first fondle. With me turning out to be a regular catastrophe when it comes to getting a decent night’s kip out in the mountains, I was happy to have the chance to experiment… like most of us, I’ve made mistakes with kit purchasing and it’s cost me dear. Looking at a dozen or so Big Agnes bags, my gaze fell on one that had a compressed volume pretty similar to my PHD Minim 300 and that’s a top quality down ball of fluff that weighs just over 700g with a full zip. There’s only so much you can fit in a rucksack and size matters – the Big Agnes Encampment packs small, so imagine my surprise when Ollie declares it to be synthetic! What magic is this? How could it be so small? About the only question I asked was ‘how cold will it go?’ Both the Insulated Air core mat and the bag were rated to -9c, I pounced and both items were carefully placed in The Villain.

I have a bit of a regime nowadays in winter, learnt from others and by experience.

1 – Get into bed warm. The bag will only retain heat, not create it. This has seen me doing star jumps from time to time on a lonely hilltop.

2 – Eat late. That way your body is kept busy for a few hours processing that three course meal you’ve whipped up in the Jetboil. A busy body is a warm body.

3 – Make sure your bag doesn’t touch the sides of the tent, it often can at the feet end. If it does, throw your waterproof over your tootsies, as a wet bag can make for a very miserable visit to the small hours.

But you all know this anyway – what was the Big Agnes kit like? The tent, a Vango Helium 100, was erected in howling winds, sub zero temperatures and on a fair few inches of snow. The mat came out first, 680g for a full size, 2.5 inch pad. Impressive, it contains Primaloft Eco too. I own an Exped Downmat and a Synmat  by comparison, this packed small and felt sturdy but the rating was lower at -9c and Big Agnes call it a three season pad.

The Encampment was next and I finally realised why it had packed so small – a top bag! A new experience for me then and one I would never have considered if I’d been laying down hard dollar. It was too cold for faffing about and the mat was promptly placed into the lower sleeve of the sleeping bag, bent into the tent and promptly sat upon. Time for a good nose at what turned out to be a top piece of design. The lower sleeve would take an Exped, Thermarest or any other 20in mat, so if you’ve already spent good money on what’s below your back, there’s no need to change to the Insulated Air Core from Big Agnes. The bag itself was pretty voluminous,  certainly around the chest and head, it had plenty of room to pull your knees up and this was quite novel. It dragged me back to camping holidays with my parents were sleep was attained in cotton rectangular bags. There was a built in sleeve for a pillow, Big Agnes do one but I just stuffed my waterproofs in there. It cinched up well around the neck without the usual feeling of ‘get me out of here’ and I was looking forward to clambering in it a few hours later.

I then ignored my regime and broke all the rules. I ate early, I stood around chatting and pottered to bed freezing. Idiot.

The tent was way too small, ridiculously so. Head and feet pushed against the inner and my waterproofs were being used as a pillow, I’d normally use an Exped Air pillow. It was a long cold night and I couldn’t even make a brew as the porch was far from big enough to safely use my remote stove and the internal guys were needed to keep the tent standing in what was turning out to be a bit of a hoolie. It was -5c in the tent that night. I didn’t sleep much, a norm for me, and had plenty of time to ponder the Big Agnes gear.

First the Insulated Air Core mat. I liked, it worked, it was comfy and it packed well. If I was in the market again, then I’d certainly put it on the list of options. Not as warm as my older model Synmat but I’d have bailed that night if it hadn’t been up to it’s rating, a decent piece of night time insulation.

Next the Encampment. I was happy it was synthetic, the poor thing was rather wet in the morning. Soaked in fact  and mostly at the head, due to the condensation that the Vango managed to produce, or was that me? I’m blaming the tent, hideously small and it wouldn’t have happened in my Comp. A down bag would have had me running for the van, somehow the Encampment managed to hold onto the tiny amount of heat I’d given it to play with. I was proper cold, my fault for ignoring ‘the regime’ and the night was long. The pillow sleeve was ace, the best I’ve ever used in fact and that was with wrinkly Proshell in there and not fleece. The space inside probably didn’t help with heat retention but then I’d not brought any heat into the Encampment to start with. The zips worked gratifyingly easy and the mat stayed put underneath.

I’m not going to say I had good night’s sleep because I had very little. Was I warm enough? I’m was as cold as a freeze pop. However, I happened to be exceedingly comfy and in my own tent, with food in my belly and after a hard days walk – the Encampment and the Insulated Air Core would have made for a grand place to be. The pair come in at about 2200g, a quick hunt on the interweb finds them to be reasonable in terms of pricing and I’ve never slept in a bag quite like it. It’s plusher than other top bags I’ve fondled and during those long hours, I started to wonder why they haven’t made an eVent skinned version. Who’d need a bivy bag or tent then?

An idiot camper, a tiny tent I’m still shocked by and a Scottish winter – Big Agnes got me through the night. Thank goodness it was synthetic, cheers Ollie.

https://www.bigagnes.com/

http://www.9point9.co.uk/ourBrands.html

Spikes for feet… and not for golf.

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…

Crampons.

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.