Reports - winter conditions and activity

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Lakes Conditions 12/12/12


 Helvellyn Range

After a soggy start to the week a lot of the easier snow and ice routes have come in to fairly good condition. The snow that had been very wet is now frozen hard and any ice that survived has now got better.  I was up at  Blea Water yesterday and there was some climbable ice about but the main Gill only had some overnight ice on it, it might be better by tomorrow though.

Elsewhere Great End is in good condition, there is some good ice to climb and the snow is well frozen with a frosting at the top of the crag.  Central Left variation is reported as being good.  With the turf getting better again there may be a chance of some good mixed tomorrow as well with the crags starting to frost up a bit.  Tomorrow will be the day to be out with a great forecast, after that things will change fairly dramatically for a spell of warmer wetter weather.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

First Winter Ascent of '1984' IX/9, Flat Crags, Bowfell.

'1984' is an E5 6b summer route on Flat Crags and climbs the huge bottomless groove that is situated on the eastern corner of the crag.

'1984', this photo was just before the 1st ascent

With many visits to Bowfell and Flat Crags I often walked under this route and always tried to imagine how it would go in winter, it was obvious that the entry to the hanging groove was going to be hard but the eye catching groove itself always looked like it would provide great winter climbing in an amazing position.  So taking the detour up to the base of Flat Crags a couple of times and looking up the pitch it clearly had cracks and slots that would provide potentially good, and very steep winter climbing, so I decided to give it a try...

This was a few years ago and it wasn't until the following year that I was able to get up with Steve to have a look.  Many many visits were made with this route as a possibility but ended with climbing on Bowfell and North Buttress as Flat Crags were not in condition.  Having walked past the crag many times, usually in winter when conditions were good, we knew that whilst the top corner is often snowed up or frosted, the steep sheltered roof section and below doesn't often look white or iced...  So when we arrived to find the crag white and the overhanging wall beneath frosted I decided to give it a go.  This attempt failed as I ran out of steam and couldn't get through the steep crux moves which involved high heel hooking and pulling up on a couple of very thin hooks whilst carrying a large winter rack.  I lowered off a nut and retrieved the gear.  Last season, despite a lot of watching I failed to find the crag in condition, it was not the best winter for the Lakes generally and many of the reliable venues were in condition much less than normal.

So over the last week the Lakes has seen some good conditions developing, the combination of good freezes, unsettled snowy windy days, and then settled cold days, there was a chance that Flat Crags would be snowed up and the turf would almost certainly be bomber in the upper groove.  So a visit with Tom earlier in the week was rewarded with a plastered crag, with ice hanging below the overhang and snow blown around the route.  I decided to get on and have another go, eventually managing to get over the crux section and start into what I'd later find was the last hard moves to gain the upper corner I heard the clanking of a falling tool, the hook I'd stored the tool in was blind and the rope must have rubbed past the tool and knocked it out, unable to get stable I lowered off.  The effort required at the crux and time meant another go was probably not going to happen.

So yesterday, having had another windy snowy day Thursday and knowing the turf was still good up high, and with the added pressure of a stripping thaw forecast, me Brian and Tom went back up.  At this stage the 'on-sight' was obviously gone but I was looking for a clean 'ground-up' ascent.  So arriving at the crag it was obvious that the crag was plastered but we couldn't see the overhanging wall start without detouring to the crag, so going up around the corner we saw that the ice at the grooves bottom and icicle was still there, there was more fresh snow blown around the lower part of the route and now was also ice in the cracks to clear.  So happy with the condition of the lower section of the route I gave it another go.  Repelled with some sequence confusion on the crux which I new from before and then the pump setting in I returned to the deck, rested, and started again...  This time I got through the crux, gained the upper corner still with both axes, and climbed the brilliant upper corner to the belay.  The pitch was seconded and cleaned with initially some aid to gain the corner.  On the belay with a short exit pitch to gain snow to the Great Slab it was clear the thaw was arriving, the day had changed and things were starting to drip.  We topped out up the upper pitch at about IV and returned around to the crags base, by this stage the lower part had stripped bar some ice and the rest of the crag, and other crags in the area were stripping fast.  It was great to get this climbed and the climbing quality, hooks, and nature of the route gives a brilliant winter route with 2 contrasting sections.  I am not really too sure about the grade but would suggest IX/9 possibly... The on-sight is there for the taking, but the bigger challenge could well be finding the route in acceptable condition...

 The climbers traverse yesterday

 Flat Crags as seen from the climbers traverse.  1984 climbs the obvious corner right of centre, the overhanging start is out of view below

 Gearing up for the successful FWA yesterday

The crux roof on the first attempt

 The bulging upper corner yesterday

1984, Flat Crags.  IX/9 ***

Pitch 1 - 26m  9  Climb the overhanging crack through the footless bulge (crux) to below a capping roof.  Move right with some awkward moves around in to the groove, great climbing leads to the belay at some stacked blocks.  A brilliant technical and strenuous pitch with generally good hooks needing an inventive approach.  

Pitch 2 - 20m  4  Climb the groove behind the blocks being careful not to trust the blocks too much (!) and finish up snowy ramps to the top.  If you don't like the look of the blocks there would be some other Pitch 2 options left and right of the belay...

Generally the thaw will likely have stripped most steep routes, there was some drizzle coming in later which will speed up the strip.  If the turf doesn't thaw too much and we get another good freeze then we could get some brilliant conditions coming in, perhaps not for steeper routes at first but the saturated snow will freeze hard and some ice could survive and hopefully get better.  Gully routes, for example the Great End gullies, could be worth watching when the temperatures drop again.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Alpine Lakes Unleashed!

Yesterday Tom and I went up to the Bowfell area.  We had a few options in mind for a days new routing depending how the conditions panned out...

On leaving the car park it was obvious that it was going to be one of those awesome Alpine days we occasionally get in the Lakes.  Due to wind and snow on Tuesday and having had a good freeze the crags were looking plastered, Bowfell Buttress was as white as I've seen it! It stripped very slightly in the sun but remained climbable and looking good all day.  There was some ice build up in places and the older scoured snow was hardening up well.  Today we are getting snow down to the valley in the east Lakes but the freeze line is due to rise and give rain to a fairly high level.  As long as things don't thaw too much this could be the start of a build of some really good conditions for a range of routes due to a steady freeze thaw cycle.  No others out climbing on the Bowfell crags yesterday, Helvellyn will likely have had some climbing and routes have been getting climbed there since the weekend and reports are that the conditions are good.  Also plenty of skiing going on on Raise and touring in that area.

Crinkle Crags looking plastered

Traverse Crags and the top of Bowfell Buttress catching the sun...

Plenty of trail breaking on the climbers traverse, Bowfell looking great despite a very slight strip in the sun.

We tried something new yesterday which was going well, with all the hard climbing more or less completed I was placing some gear and heard the clanking of a tool disappearing down the crag, I'd knock my axe out of the hook I'd left it in... with no option for getting stable to get it sent back up I was forced to accept failure and lower off....  I like a quote that I heard the other day that said 'success is going from one failure to the next without loosing enthusiasm for what your doing', so I applied this to the situation!

 Back on terra firma after a dropped axe spoiled the fun!

All in all though it was a great day out with good climbing and perfect conditions, lets just hope things shape up now for a full on Lakeland winter!

Monday, December 03, 2012

Cairngorms 01-03 December

We had a great 2 days out over the weekend with 16 students from Lancaster Uni on a winter skills course. We had brilliant weather and conditions in Coire Cas and on Sunday in Coire an t-Sneachda.  There were many people out climbing over the weekend with a lot of effort going into clearing the inches of rime and frost build up off the routes, some routes were so white they were barley recognisable!  Thanks to the crew from Lancaster Uni for a great 2 days out...

 Loch Morlich

 Looking at snow bollards

 Looking at bucket seats backed up with a buried axe

 Putting some new skills into practice

 Some climbers clearing the way on Fingers Ridge

Invernookie and the Seam cleared

Coire an Lochain

Before heading back to the Lakes tonight Tom and I headed up to Lochain for a climb.  Some fresh snow overnight and a change in the wind had caused some fairly spooky wind-slab conditions in places, a loud 'whoompf'! from an approach slope caused us to look for another route on the way up....  Today was a bit warmer but the wind was stronger than yesterday so it felt cold, we ended up getting on Savage Slit, a classic mixed route that neither of us had been on before.  The traverse to the other buttresses was not a good idea today so we decided against the route we had originally intended, that and also the fact that it was plastered in rime up to about a foot long in places.  Another team arrived and felt the same about the traverse and so got on Fallout Corner.  These routes were both cleaned on Sunday so progress was quick on the routes.

 Tom on 1st pitch

Abb back down

Plastered crags, The Overseer Direct had been climbed and cleared Sunday