Steve Pardoe's uk.rec.climbing Trip Report Archive Pages

Arnaud Garçon's Reports

Edition of 13/01/2009


Index to Arnaud's reports...
Kinder Downfall (winter), January 2009
Bowfell Buttress, November 2005
Gogarth, August 2005
North Face of the Pointe du Vallon des Etages, Sept 2003
La Meije, Ecrins, Aug 03
Chew, Aug 03
Lakeland pleasure, July 2003
Clogwyn d'ur Arddu, June 2003
Egerton, May 2003
Froggatt, April 2003
Froggatt, March 2003
Burbage, February 2003
North Wales, February 2001
Bourg d'Oisans, January 2001
Ben Nevis, February 1999
Cairngorms, January 1999


----- Original Message -----
From: "Arnaud Garcon"
To:
Sent: Monday, January 12, 2009 10:26 AM
Subject: [mailinglist@rockchat.co.uk] Aid climbing (TRish. Actually more of a brag)

Friday night when more sensible souls were leaving the pub to go home or head for the club, me and ex-colleague's husband Alex were standing at the bottom of the Peak District Flying Circus: Kinder Downfall. It was mostly frozen and undergoing a severe beating from 4-5 parties. Alex took the first pitch getting slightly embroiled with the rope of a pair of students from Nottingham, taking a R hand zig zagging line to reach the half way ledge. The gear being mostly low down, I took a more direct line up the centre of the R fall (the left did not touch the ground) which probably went at grade 4 (although it's so long since I actually did any ice climbing I could be way of the mark). Access to the upper icefall is guarded by a narrowing in the rock with verglas on top which gave a good couple of moves of mixed. By the time I reached the upper icefall the party of student was on it and it was too narrow to fit two ropes (and it was dripping hard with water) so I went off to the L for some more mixed moves to reach the foot of the third icefall. A circus never being without any clowns the second of the student party took a fall on the steep ice, followed by a good swing and a relatively comfortable landing on the ledge I just left. In the process he lost an axe which added to the piquant of the situation. They decided that he would be lowered off to fetch the axe then climb round the side to join the path. I offered to rescue their last icescrew in the third fall. Got to the top uneventfully by 1:10 am had a good chat with the surviving student and a cuppa before heading back down. Got to bed at about 3:45 am and realised the subsequent days that I'm now too old to get away with that kind of schedule.

There you go.
A.-

[Duncan's TR from the same venue at Kinder Downfall (Winter), January 2009].

Hi all,

Well, there you go, as it is just snowing out of my window, I'm still buzzing of the great day we had yesterday. After keeping our fingers on the pulse of the weather condition, Dunc and I settled for the Lakes and Bowfell Buttress as a mean to entertain ourselves.

We left our loved ones at the crack of dawn and drove up at just below the speed limit (tiny car allowing just that) to Langdale in the rising lights. Got there just before 9. The walk up is always surprisingly long. So by 11:20 we were at the foot of the climb.

Bowfell Buttress is great it's like a miniature version of the Eiger 1938 route. You'll see what I mean. As we were reluctant to get stuck in the Entry Chimney, we took a turf line further to the R. 20 min later we were both on the Swallow's Nest ledge below the first real difficulty. Duncan took the lead of the pitch starting by a very thin and exposed slab leading to the Hinterstoisser Traverse. This bit involved some fairly high steps with marginal placements above reasonable gear. There were a couple of shaky moments when both his axes ripped and found himself out of balance for a second before getting a placement in extremis. After an attempt at lassooing an unlikely spike, Dunc found himself on the Broken Pillar (in fact a fairly easy crack apart from a couple of involved moves to get in and out of it). This lead to the First Icefield (big ledge). After traversing across it we got to the Difficult Crack, summer crux of the route with safe but strenuous climbing.

I went off leading, finding good placements and gear in cracks. The exit was a bit problematic but with a bit of commitment I found myself below the slab leading to the Second Icefield. From memory of a summer ascent this slab is quite thin, devoid of gear and turf. In yesterday's conditions I could not find any purchase worth mentioning for my axes. I chickened out of it and went round the corner to the right to the base of a steep smooth corner by a wee jump onto a snowy ledge. Climbed up the groove which felt hard (probably Tech 6) by careful torques and high steps, reaching the big flake and the beginning of the Traverse of the Gods. Dunc followed on and we met for an evaluation of the situation at the belay. It was now 2:30 we were roughly 1/2-2/3 of the way up, but Dunc had to be back in Manc for 7:30 and Noddy (me) had forgotten his head torch. After a quick inspection of the Exit Cracks, we bailed out and abbed off the big flake.

As it should, the rope got stuck, but Dunc managed to free it by doing a crevasse rescue operation on it. We now have a 70 m rope each. Got back down to the road by about 5 where a very kind man gave us a lift back to our car. Managed to get back to Sale just in time for Baby Alfie's bath.

A.-

----- Original Message -----
From: "Arnaud"
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Sent: Wednesday, August 31, 2005 8:51 AM
Subject: Wind up (TR quick one as I had sommat on the hob)

It all started by a confusion about the forecast. The beeb said bright and sunny, the otherone drizzly and windy. And until we passed Britannia bridge it looked like the beeb could be right. But then the rain splattered on the windscreen and by the time we reached South Stack the wind was playing up as well. Oh well lets just cross to Wen Zawn anyway so see if it's sheltered.

Well it wasn't much. Nevertheless the drizzle had stopped and it did not look too bad. As we scrambled down towards the strong sea start of the route, the waves were crashing down into the cave. We geared up at the notch in the arete and our confidence was starting to decline. Dunc set off on the first pitch noting that it's not often that one find oneself alone on Wen Slab on a Bank holiday Sunday. Maybe we had it wrong somewhere.

He did a good job of it, despite looking very concerned a few times along the way, made it to the hanging belay in Wen. I carried on with the second pitch as a seal was looking up at us puzzled. By now the wind had significantly strengthened and things were getting sketchy. The comfort indicator had decidedly moved from the top of the green zone well into the orange zone. That second pitch is very similar to the first pitch of Britomartis just round the corner: a line of big flakes offering the occasional jam and good hand hold but fairly unpositive at times. The wind was quite frightening on the lead. I felt like my helmet was being blown off my head a few times and looking back at Dunc I could see the ropes flying high shaking the runners. After taking what felt like (and probably was) ages I reached the belay in Concrete chimney and took the rope in for Dunc. The waves were now quite wild with spray reaching us at the stance and making the gear greasy. Dunc took a deep breath and led off for the last pitch. He was making good progress and was putting in very little gear indeed along the way to my concern. As I set off it all became clear. First the climbing eases considerably after the first 3 m or so, then at the back of the zawn when I thought the wind would be at its fiercest it all went quite and the whole experience turned from fairly gruesome to very pleasant. The climbing was easy enough to appreciate the scenery and it was two very chuffed climbers that walked back across to South Stack where things had decidedly not improved. A quick look at Mouse Trap for future reference and we were driving back, Duncan getting quite excited by some cricket or other.

A.-

[Editor's note: Duncan's report from the same trip is here]


----- Original Message -----
From: Arnaud
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Sent: 08 September 2003 17:01
Subject: TR Part II: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (very long)

Difficulty in climbing does not always comes where you expect it. Sometimes you embark on a climb that on paper is much easier than the one you just done and when you get there, well. That's just not it. In fact it's one thing to plough through a long involved climb with every clog in the machine turning perfectly, not one grain of sand coming in the way, and it's another to get on a climb where things just don't completely go to plan. Nothing goes fundamentally wrong, but things get niggly. The psychological strain that comes with every glitch even the most minor can be testing to say the least.

The first mistake we may have made on this climb could have been our leisurely attitude towards it. We'd just got back from the Meije, were fully recovered after a few days of unsettled weather. So how hard could be 600 m of TD climbing even on a north face when we just powered up 800m plus the traverse of the arêtes? Complacence is the one trap I had promised myself not to fall into before I came over. It had claimed too many lives of too many good climbers. This year we would stay focused to right until we reached the bar, all abseils would be backed up until the heaviest in the party got to the bottom etc, etc. And then.

The Vallon des Etages, which overlooks the Vallee du Veneon to the South, is a very secluded and wild place. Despite being fairly short and close to the road, one is very quickly out of sight from any sign of civilisation as one walks up the slopes from the hamlet of Les Etages.

While reaching the flat bottom of the valley at 2040m we are taken by a feeling of isolation and loneliness. If anything happened tomorrow would anyone know where we are? Above us, the North Face of the Pointe du Vallon des Etages looks pretty forbidding sitting as it is atop the brownish glacier at the end of the valley. It looks steep and dark and in that wide triangular face features are hard to make up. From our selected bivvy spot, Jon and I are getting perplexed looking at it. Guidebook in hand we are trying to pick up the line of the Voie du Grand Diedre. According to its introduction, this latter should be a wild climb in a wild place, on good or excellent rock. Difficulties are mainly in the first and last 200 m. The climbing time given is of 9h from the rimaye to the top in both French and British guidebooks. From the top, the NE ridge should bring us to a col and from there back down the valley via a "F" climb.

From where we are standing, a few questions come to us. First the glacier at the bottom of the face looks quite rough. The guidebook has it easy showing a winter picture of the place and drawing a generous red line around the rognon at the base of the climb. For us it looks a bit more tricky. Then is the route itself. We could do with getting a vague idea of where it goes before we got to its foot at dawn. Finally is the descent. Its line is tucked behind a spur on our left so we can't really see what it is like. We pack away our sacks and set off on a reconnaissance mission.

That is indeed very good thinking. The stream flowing from the glacier is seriously swollen by the heat of the season and crossing it takes some doing. Passing that at 4 am in the dark with no previous knowledge would have made me loose my sense of humour earlier than I did.

We climb the moraine to the point where it strays right and roll down on unstable blocks to the foot of the glacier. There are two possible ways to get to the climb. One is to follow the general line described by the guidebook, i.e. climbing first right then coming back left above a rocky rognon. The second is to climb directly below the central spur of the west summit where the climb begins via some dirty streaks of ice. From the moraine we draw an imaginary line across the crevasses in the right hand option. It does not look too bad and seems both less steep and more protected from rock falls than the direct line.

Looking at the face, the route starts to make sense. The central spur is obvious. And from a breche that we can only guess we have to traverse right and up towards a very phallic looking gendarme, and after climbing a "rib of brown rock", back left towards the "Grand Diedre" just below the western summit. As for the way down, well, it should be OK, shouldn't it? Down those slopes, bit of going left and right and we should be down the caf' before tea time.

We run back down to prepare our culinary fest of couscous with tomato coulis and sardines a l'huile. Yum, yum.

By 8 pm it starts to rain. Hoo bloody ray. Jon settles under his rock and I slip into my bivvybag hopping the goretex membrane will cope with the wet and that it won't get any stronger.

By 9, I am about to say to Jon, let's sack it and go back down. Tomorrow we go to the Dibona instead. But then I fall asleep. By 10:30 I can't hear the splitty splatter of the rain anymore, so I open my bag by 10 cm and tempt an eye out. The clouds have lifted and above me is the most stupendous starry night. Grand.

3:45 I get up in a jump. We're already late. Jon is putting the brew on. By 4:20 we're walking across the floor of the valley towards the cairns we built to mark our stream crossing point.

At 5:30 we're putting the crampons on at the foot of the ice. It's still quite dark and as we climb the bottom slope of the glacier, sparks are flying from our feet on the scree covering the ice. We trend left along ramps that look like they're going to take us just above that rognon.

Perspective sucks. From where we were yesterday the crevasses looked small enough to step across them. Now they are huge and intricate. It does not look good. We're loosing precious time trying to find a line across them. We 're crisscrossing the glacier, stepping over deep cuts, traversing the ridge of monster gaps. Every now and then the gap between the two edges of the crevasse is too wide or the step over a serac is too steep and progress requires two axes and proper belay. And of course we did not bring any screws.

Slowly we're progressing. By 7 we're at the foot of the spur on its left side. The route starts on its right. But if we manage to get to the rock from here, we save another 3 monster crevasses to pass. Jon goes up to the rimaye. I stay way back just in case it collapses. Looks down and turns around "No f*cking way". From someone who hardly ever swears, this is a serious statement.

We walk back down a bit. I'm ready to turn back. If the climb takes 9 h, we' re going to be so late. But Jon is determined to at least have a look at the rimaye. We skirt a couple more chasms and manage to get back to the foot of the spur. This time the rimaye is crossable. What the hell. 600m face in 9 h they must be joking. Let's go for it. As soon as we reach the rock we put the rock boots on. It's now 8 am.

The climb first follows the right hand side of the spur via some cracked slabs (IV). The rock is quite dirty and the cracks as filled with soil. Jon takes the lead. After a long pitch I take over. We then cross the spur line to the left and after a quick rib we cross back to the right hand side by a ledge. From the middle of the ledge I climb a slab (V). That feels hard. I'm still cold but it's no time to linger. We continue by a groove and reach the breche mentioned in the guidebook. From then we get to the easier ground. The description that confused us yesterday now makes perfect sense. We're moving together along the faint line of the spur on shattered delicate rock. The climbing is easy but the protections are sparse. Then the quality of the rock improves but it becomes fare more compact and without using pegs, which we don't have, it's quite difficult to keep 2-3 pieces of protections between us.

Further up the spur hits a bar of overhangs, but well before that a rising traverse allows us to cross over towards the rib of brown rock mentioned in the book. The rock goes rotten again. We're once again faced with a conundrum that will stay with us all day: seeing the quality of the rock, if I'm going to take a long fall and we're talking 25-30m here, do I want to bring half the mountain down on me by putting any protection behind those loose flakes, or will I just go for the air-miles with not much in? In other words, is it better to risk a short fall with follow through or a long fall with only the landing to worry about?

We reach the brown rocks and apart from a few very big unstable blocks the rock improves. Slightly. We are now just below the phallic gendarme. From here it looks like a huge middle finger raised to us. Soon it will feel like that too.

From the top of the rib, Jon climbs down and left across some loose bays of rock and past a couple of spurs and gets into view of the Grand Diedre. The rock is bad enough that although the climbing is not hard, we feel the need to pitch.

From where he stands, I now need to get up a slab of reasonable quality and then up and left across a wall of very loose looking slabs. I put a couple of protections in the better rock and sets off on the 80m rising traverse, hoping to find a belay in the way. This is a very puzzling place. Sometimes the rock is grey and hard covered with lichen, very compact. The climbing's quite hard but the rock is reasonably sound. Then it suddenly turns brown and flaky. The climbing eases considerably but most of the flakes are holding by the dirt stuck behind them. It feels like climbing on sloping piles of plates. I am very unnerved by now. Jon has stopped moving with me and released his coils. I tiptoe across this ground with as much care as I can. My friend Laurent with whom I did a few seasons climbing calls this "making oneself light". There can't be a better description to what I'm trying to achieve. As I step up, pull on holds, transfer weight, I count and recount what I've got in my pack and how heavy I may be. Me: 78 kg. Boots: 2.5 kg etc, etc. I'm here trying my best to mentally take the weight of my feet. After 30 m of run out, half way across the wasteland, I manage to find a wire. Belay.

Jon takes on the lead. For me the only difference is that now it's him who's in charge of our destiny. I can only pay out the rope and look at this lonely wire in the eyes, wishing it to stay put. Jon passes and climbs just above me. He tries a few steps straight up but it gets quite hard. Climb back down in front of my nose. That's when I see it. The foothold on which he put all his weight, is gawping at me. Christ! That's gonna pop! "That foothold is crap Jon! Move, move!" I say as calmly as I can. "Which foot?", "Right, the right one!" He moves sideway and the hold gets back into place.

You have to understand that for me, this is the highlight of my career. At best my notion of left and right is shaky. In fact should you be stuck in a car with me and me giving directions, you'd have more chances to get it right by doing the opposite from what I say. After I just moved to Manchester, Jon found my house applying this technique. But this time, call it fate or what, but he moved his right foot. I was that close to find God.

Jon moves on, up and left. He now heads for the Diedre, which is in fact a huge chimney. In normal times, it seems that snow and ice make progress in that chimney quite awkward, but this year it's rather the opposite. The chimney is bare, so the climbing is OK but the bottom of the chimney is full of loose blocks of considerable size. When I reach Jon at his belay we can see the sun on the summit above. We must be just about 150 m below the top. I take on the lead. One of the advantages of the snow is probably that it pushes you out in the chimney, so that you have no choice but climb in opposition on its sides. Here I'm always tempted to climb the broken ground at the bottom but every time I grab one of the huge flakes it rocks precariously. And to top it up Jon is belaying just in the line of fire. If one of those goes, we're done. I'm getting tired of that game. I tread carefully up when Jon shouts "We should try to gather some speed". I snap "It's full of loose crap in here. If you don't want to get 100 tonnes of rock in the face let me do carefully! It's only 1 pm and we're 100m from the summit! Get real!" And I carry on.

Comes his lead. This is the technical crux of the climb. He climbs up the gully bed. I am careful to belay behind a rib to stay clear from rock falls. As he progresses, a staccato of little stone drums past regularly. He puts pros in and moves up. He's a bit too far in the chimney in my opinion and probably should have gone up the rib to his right, but he's doing OK and I'm to busy being grumpy. Few more pros and he rocks over onto the rib clip the first worthy peg of the climb (we saw 3 before that all probably dating from the first ascent). I follow him up and take the last pitch of the climb. Up the chimney for 10-20 m then up a steep wall on the left side, mantle, sorted. From then I need to traverse up and left towards the N ridge of the Western sub-summit. Guess what. After some very reasonable rock in the chimney (apart from at the bottom), I'm back in never never land. The whole side of the mountain seems precariously balanced on that wall I just climbed. Blocks the size of rugby balls are dislodged by the rope. Every time I expect Jon to get squashed to bits and me dragged after him, but he keeps on saying he's OK. I pick the biggest blocks to stand on based on the theory that they should be the hardest to pull out. And anyway, if these go, we're in trouble.

Just before the summit Jon calls out the end of the rope. I do one last move to get established on a ledge of loose rocks. The place looks a bit like a nest made out of stones with rocks instead of feathers. I step up into it. As I straighten up a rock falls from behind me and I feel like the whole ledge is collapsing under my weight. That's it! We had it! I launch forward to a solid looking flake with both hands expecting to be hanging from it in a second and probably for a second. I can already feel the tug on the rope when Jon gets the impact and wait for the pull that's going to rip me from the face. But no. Nothing happens. The ledge is still there and so am I. I throw a sling behind the flake and bring Jon up. He carries on up the N ridge to the sub-summit.

From there we traverse a breche and get up to the western summit of the mountain. We'll have lunch at the real top. We cross the arêtes, now more relaxed towards the Eastern summit and after passing a couple of pinnacles and gaps take out food and drink on the top. It's 2 pm.

As we chew on our food, we're both contemplating what we don't want to admit. That descent back into the Vallon des Etages looks terrible. The scree slopes are steep, they are interrupted by rock steps and the glaciers that we thought we could descent are in a bad shape. As for our plan B which is to try and abseil on of the rock towers further to the East, we've come to realise that finding solid anchors to abseil from is not the easiest thing and launching ourselves down an unknown face on that base does not tempt us too much. The only sensible way to get out of here is via the Voie Normale, a PD climb which has the distinct disadvantage to lead us down another valley.

The guidebook is very succinct in describing the route up. From the glacier below the SE face take a loose chimney then follow the ridge. That's it. It' s probably obvious when coming up, but from where we stand all we can see is a ridge, and about a dozen of gullies fitting the "loose" description, all along the SE face. We start down climbing the ridge. Where the hell is it? Jon leads the way. He gets to a peg with some tat on just above a big step in the ridge. We'll abseil from that. He backs up the peg with a wire and slide down the rope. I take the wire out and follow. At the foot of the step there are gullies everywhere. We decide to choose one and see what comes. We down climb on loosish ground. Every time we climb down a step in the wide opened gully there is another one just below, which means that we can never be sure whether it will lead us to the foot of the face or just end up in an abrupt drop to the scree slope. Jon has a gut feeling that we ought to go right. I don't have anything better to propose so down we go. Down a step, can't see what's below, let's go down a bit more etc. Eventually we get to the point where the slope steepens drastically. I wedge myself in a crack a belay Jon as he climbs down looking for an abseil anchor. He finds one but it seems like we can carry on down climbing. I join him and go have a look further down. Yes it down climbs OK. Finally I get to some abseil tat around a spike. Damn! And we though we were new-routing! I belay Jon as he joins me and he has a look further down. Well, no need to abseil in the end. We reach the top of the scree slope. A bit more searching over some slabs and we put the rope away and scramble down more slabs towards the Glacier de l'Ane.

We have a rest on its moraine and a look at the map. If we go downstream from where we are it looks like we're going to hit some bars of rock and some steep grass slopes. The guidebook states that to go up to the Pointe one needs to follow the Voie Normale of the Rouies up to a point at 2900 m then down and right to contour some crags before taking the slabs we just climbed down. Looking at the map there is a ski-touring route up to the Rouies that goes up via the Passage de l'Ane and the 2900 m point. So I decide that's what we have to do. Back up to the Passage de l'Ane, then down on the Glacier des Rouies then down to the Glacier du Chardon from where a stiff walk on the moraine leads to the path towards La Berarde.

We walk back up the moraine towards the Passage de l'Ane. By now we're starting to feel the strain and we're trying to pick the least resistance path across the rocks and scree. Reaching the top of a rise, the Glacier des Rouies comes into view. The Passage de l'Ane is an expanse of smooth glacier eroded slabs. No way can we go down there. It's probably an easy way down under snow but not now. Looking around for a way down, we pick a line of cairns and what looks like a path. We follow that to the edge of the moraine but then the slope just drops steeply towards the glacier below. There's no way through there. We climb back up. It's now 6:40 pm, 2 hours of daylight left and no obvious way out. The two solutions we have is either go back up and back down the Glacier de l'Ane and try our luck on steep grass or try to find a way down those slabs. We're too knackered to go back up and take our chance on seemingly uncharted territory. Jon spots a ramp, that gradually goes down towards the lower end of the Glacier des Rouies. Since according to the map that's the way down there should be a way from this latter to the Glacier du Chardon. After all the Rouies is a very popular summit and an easy climb so maybe there'll be some ladders or steps further down.

We look down at that ramp. It's smooth and fairly steep. Jon forges ahead. He does 3 m and says, "You were joking about putting the rock boots, but you may be right". So we put the rock boots on and pack our biggies on our back. We start climbing down. It's nothing too technical but a slip can get you a long way and we are both tired, time is ticking, the packs are heavy and my boots are perched right at the top of my bag doing nothing good to my balance. Jon is making good progress. Looking between my feet I can see him below me. I get to that point where I have to make a conscious effort to concentrate on the climbing. Thoughts are racing through my brain. That's no good, I'm getting distracted. Keep focused. Feet. Think feet. But I keep wandering. I see my daughter, she knows that papa's in the mountains. Before I left she wanted to come with me. She asks her mother when will I be back every night. I see my wife and my unborn son. And I'm perched in the middle of this slab in the middle of a mountain. What the hell am I doing here? I've got problems keeping it together. Concentrate. Feet. Think feet. Slowly I get down onto the bed of the Glacier des Rouies. OK. We should be there now. Sure we'll see some signs of passage, a busy route like that. But no. All we can see are the smooth slabs dropping steeply towards the glacier below. Jon goes on exploring. If we manage to traverse to the left over a groove and a steep rib, we should be able to reach some scree slopes and from there it would be a bum slide to the glacier.

We scramble down to get a better view. We get to 40-50 m of the tantalising glacier, but the slabs are very smooth and down climbing gets really airy. At some point Jon seems to spot some rock knob from where we may be able to abseil. But on closer inspection it's too rounded and the rope would not stay behind. And of course the slab are so polished that there are no cracks to put any gear. We look again at the groove and the rib to our left. The rib splits the slab we're on from the one that lead to the scree and runs their whole length. Climbing it does not look that easy and there is nowhere to put any gear for a belay. I'm thinking about crossing the Glacier des Rouies below the serac fall hoping to find the way we're looking for on its other side. But that's a silly idea. It's now 8pm, we have 40 min daylight. We're still stuck in rock boots 50m above the lower glacier. There may be a way to fit some cams in the fold between the slab and the rib. There won't be enough rope to come down on two 50s but if we tie them together and abandon them we should reach the bottom. Drastic measures to drastic times. We look again at that rib. There may be a way to cross it next to those flowers. Or maybe higher. I think I can see a line. I show to Jon who sets off to check it out. I'm managing to regain some composure. Immersion in the action. As long as I move I don't flutter. Following a short traverse line and then a short mantle we get to the top of the rib and onto the next set of slabs. Things are looking up. We find a descent line on the slab. Slowly we're progressing. We're now 20 m from the snow patch at the foot of the slab. I look down between my feet once again and I see Jon taking his pack off on the glacier. Yes! That's it. Well done that man. A few more steps and I'm sliding on the smooth soles of my boots on the neve just past the rimaye. We made it. Now emotion overwhelms me and I flutter for good. I offer my crampons to Jon. I don't think I'll use them ever again. He refuses, says we'll see later. We dig into our last bit of saucisson sec, stock up on energy gels and start the walk down on the dust and rock covered Glacier du Chardon. It's a pain of a walk but with about 15 min of daylight in front of us we want to clear as much difficult ground as we can before we have to put the head-torches on.

Eventually night falls fully and we search for our way among the chaos of rock and the wide opened crevasses. From now on we're on safe ground. Soon or later we'll hit the path that crosses the valley further down. From then on we'll be freewheeling. We play hide and seek with the path a few times, and after what felt like ages, Jon shouts out: "Look: the footbridge!" That's it. Now we are sorted.

We walk down that path like robots, stopping occasionally to drink out of streams. We can see high on the hillside across the valley the lights of the Refuge de Temple-Ecrins. After an eternity of focused lightbeams and squirted energy gel, the lights of La Berarde appear. We stride through the village like ghosts, then through the campsite. We start cooking some food. It's now 10:45 pm.

It's the cold that woke me the next day. With our bivvy gear up in the Vallon des Etages, all we had to sleep in were, our closes, a down jacket each, some thermal underwear. Jon was lucky enough to have a therm-a-rest, but my only foam mat was at the bivvy. I get up and stretch my limbs. I don' t feel too bad, considering. In fact if we did not have to go and fetch our gear I could have gone climbing I reckon.

I pass the previous day through my head. Finally it was not as bad as I felt it was. We kept it together for 19h, found our way down and technically we were never really limit. A good adventure in the end. But some detail bother me. Why did we not find any sign of passage at all on the way down apart from those cairns thad lead to nowhere? I grab the guidebook and the map. On first examination it looks as if we were right and that it's just the conditions that were against us. We dealt with them. Then I look again at the description of the Voie Normale of the Pointe du Vallon des Etages. Follow the VN of the Rouies up to point 2900. I look at the actual description of the latter. "From the path [the one we finally ended on] follow the left bank of the glacier before grassy slopes and rocky step lead to the Glacier de l'Ane. Walk up it on its right bank to the point 2900m." What an arse. Whatanarsewhatanarsewhatanarse. From the first armless glacier we got to on the way down, all we had to do was walk downhill and we would have been sorted. Probably saved 2h on the day. Finally it wasn't even the mountain's fault. Just a mistake I made. Well that's positive, in a way. One learns from mistakes. And boy, I did. I look at my crampons at the entrance of the tent. I get the stove out start to make some coffee. Maybe I 'll keep them.for a while. See what comes.

A.-


From: Arnaud
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Sent: 01 September 2003 09:47
Subject: TR:Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. Part I (long)

There are in mountaineering routes that one looks at in awe. Then one looks at the date of the ascent and the jaw drops a few more millimetres. Those routes are aesthetic to the extreme, bold and approach the Comicci ideal of the falling drop line while using the weaknesses and logics of the rock. Wherever you look at la Meije from, the mountain is impressive.

From La Grave, her north side is covered with ice and snow with some ncompromising lines that defeated the boldest Victorian adventurers. From La Berarde, the Bec des Peignes as she was known is a huge wall baring the end of the Vallon des Etancons. Her summit, the Grand Pic (3984m) was one of the last one to be climbed in the Ecrins. It turned down the small talks of the biggest climbers of the time, the Whymper, Brevoort, Coolidge, teamed up with the crème de la crème of the Chamonix guides. It only succumbed to the persistent assaults of Emmanuel Boileau de Castelnau guided by Pierre Gaspard Snr and Jnr in 1877, 13 years after the Barre des Ecrins (4102m), 7 years after its secondary summit the Doigt de Dieu (3970m).

Even today, La Meije has the same reputation of "Grande Difficile". Like the Aguille Verte in Chamonix, there is no easy way up or down and getting caught by a storm on her ridges could be the beginning of what may end in violent death.

The first sight one gets when walking up from La Berarde is breathtaking. Passed a curve in the path and there she is standing 1500m above you, her forbidding walls unfolding as one progress. Some heavy clouds were drifting in the sky catching on the surrounding summits of the Vallon des Etancons. From time to time, a break in the cover let us size the project we were taking on: the ascent of the South Face of the Grand Pic by the classic 1935 Pierre Allain Route. This route climbs the 800m face from directly below the summit by series of ribs, ramps, walls and chimneys. It has a reputation for loosing people on the way by tricking them towards seemingly easier ground. The guidebook times vary from 7 to 12 h from the foot of the face. The few accounts I gathered before I left, included unplanned bivouacs half way up after abortive attempts, broken ribs, pain, loss and suffering.

We fill our water bottles at the Chatelleret Hut before bracing ourselves for the climb of the steep moraine leading to the tiny Promontoire Hut. This later sits on a spur of rock at 3094 m at the very foot of the very popular Voie Normale. It's a tin of metal tethered to the rock by cables and bolts. The view from it is incredible. The comfort less so. The young lad who wards it caters there for up to 50 people in a kitchen, which would be more at home in a ship than on a mountain.

As I lay on my bunk at 8 pm in the cramped dormitory, I try and reassure myself. It's my first climb at altitude, I'm completely unaclimatised but I trained hard for that trip. It's TD and it's long but technically I can do it easy peasy. We've tried to rationalise the packs but could not help taking a down jacket each and a bivvy bag for 2. Hopefully we won't use them. The forecast is not excellent but has improved since this morning so maybe by tomorrow they will have changed their mind and there won't be any storms. Finally trying tognore Jon's snoring and the whispers of the late arrivals, I force myself in an uncomfortable sleep.

At 4am the warden wakes up everyone. The large majority is doing the Traversee de la Meije: up by the Voie Normale, across the top ridge to the Doigt de Dieu and down towards the Refuge de l'Aigle on the N side. This route is given AD-D depending on the guidebook with a highlight on its length and its committing nature: once abseiled down from the Grand Pic, there is no easy going back, one has to press on and finish the route. For the Pierre Allain, there are 3 other parties involved. A crowd. The people for the traverse scramble for breakfast. They need to leave ASAP and climb the first few difficulties in the dark. We're not in a hurry. There is only 1h approach and we need to be able to see were we're going before setting off in the face.

After the rush we get ready and catch up with the other 6 at the abseil station behind the hut to reach the glacier des Etancons. From the bottom of the abseil (we are the 3rd party in line) we plough on and catch up with the other 2 parties before they reach the bergshrung. The route starts on the left of a chimney dripping with water. The first few metres are a bit demanding as the dropping snowline has revealed some smooth rock. After that the climbing eases and the route traverse the waterfall to reach a sloping ledge to the right. We traverse along this ledge, pass a rib and climb a steep chimney (IV), which leads to ascending ledges first left then right. We then arrive in the area known as the Fauteuil des Allemands.

This wide sloping area is normally covered with snow, but this year with the exceptionally dry conditions prevailing the only snow patch is as large as a tennis court. We climb the Fauteuil towards its right end rib. From then things get more serious. We stop to put rock boots on and so does the party just behind us. They seemed to be motoring pretty well and I guess they'll soon overtake us. But they seem quite happy to sit on our tail and let us do the route-finding.

This change of footwear increases my confidence by no end and I lead on the rib of rounded granite with confidence. The rock here is good solid granite. The protections are not plenty but the rock inspires confidence. Jon and I move together up the rib then an open couloir to the left then back on the rib on the right, throwing in the occasional pro. When the leader of the hour runs out of gear, he belays, bandoliers are exchanged and gear reorganised, the lead change hand and on we go again.

We arrive below a beautiful corner with pegs in it, but we know for a fact that this is not the way and fork out right before the corner. The route takes a series of ribs and wall in a steep rising traverse all around the grades of III-IV allowing us to progress rapidly. After a while we find ourselves below a short wall. Looking up one can guess where the main features of the face are and we get that gut feeling that we need to go back left to join the famous Cheminee Verte, which leads to the half way ledges. Jon leads on. He climbs the wall (V) and finds behind, slightly left, a crackline, which could correspond to the guidebook description. The line is pegged but as he progresses the climbing becomes too hard for what we are after and he bails out right.

Maybe we're not there yet. Maybe we need to carry on rightward before traversing back left. He goes and has a look but I'm convinced we need to go left. The party behind us catches up and I tell them of our feelings. They descend slightly left along the ramp I'm standing on and find another crackline. Jon abseils off and we follow the others. By now I'm suffering from the altitude and Jon is doing most of the leading on the more technical ground. We climb the crack (IV) and as the others carry on up the crack past a smooth inclined ledge, we decide that this is the ledge mentioned in the guidebook and that we need to traverse further left.

We cross on gentle slabs before reaching the foot of a large chimney. Moving together we reach the foot of the Cheminee Verte on a large ledge. A few minutes after Jon has left, the other party joins me on the ledge. Jon climbs the chimney up to a jammed block (IV+) then traverse out left. I take on the next lead up the pillar bordering the chimney (IV+/V) and then traverse back right. An other short pitch and we are on the Vires du Glacier Carre, which cross the face at mid-height. So far we're doing well. We have 300-400 m left to climb and we already taken 30 min off the fastest guidebook time. Jon leads on. From the ledges, he climbs a groove then move right to below the "Vire a bicyclette" (ie. a ledge large enough one can ride a bike on) and climb a lung busting overhanging crack (V+), then goes back left to a peg belay.

I follow cursing his name as the groove to the left looks much easier. I take on the lead and climb a series of grooves and cracks (IV and V) trending rightward. We get to a niche of brittle rock. From here two choices: up the overhang above the niche and then a slab (V+) or cross R then up on dubious rock in exposed position via a "rateau de chevre" (IV+). I go right. Can't see anything looking like a rateau de chevre. In fact I don't have a f*cking clue what a rateau de chevre is, but the position is exposed all right and the rock doubious enough. In fact the rock is quite rotten. We've been spoiled until now but here I pay the price. Over a 40 m pitch of IV-V, I put 4 pros. Most of the time when I put something in, the crack laughs at me in unfriendly fashion. I tread carefully. Check every holds. Can't find many that I like. Sometimes, a move is accompanied by a muttered prayer ("please stay there, please don't break, please") and to top it up the ropedrag is horrendous. I finally find a place to belay.

Jon comes up and carries on on an easier pillar facing the Breche Zygmondy to the R. The position is indeed awesome. We finally reach the breche in the S face indicating that we're nearly at the top. We move together along the S ridge finding the easier way and finally come into sight of the wooden madonna at the top. The final 100 m on the exposed summit slabs and we shake each other's hands and pat our back in old fashion style. It's now 1:50 pm. We climbed the South face Direct in 6h35. Our modest original plan was to come down by the Voie Normale, a fast if tidious way to loose height quickly. But now we're in advance over our best predictions and the clouds are nowhere to be seen, so we give in the temptation and carry on with the traverse of the aretes. The second party join us 10-15 minutes later and we take their congratulations for our "sens de l'itineraire" with false modesty. After a 20 min break with peanuts, saucisson sec and energy gels, we start abseiling down towards the Breche Zygmondy, on the E side of the Grand Pic.

At the second abseil we can see some people below starting the traverse of the breche. These are people doing the traverse via the voie normale, but they are incredibly slow! We finish the third abseil and rope up with one rope for the traverse. The Breche Zygmondy is very impressive. A bit like 50 m of Crib Goch stretched between 2 peaks, 700m above glaciers on either side. We catch up with the slow parties (2 parties of 3) as they are contouring the Dent Zygmondy on its N side. This is the most awkward part of the traverse and this year especially since all the mixed ground that is normally of snow is of shear ice. There are some cables in places to help traversing around the Dent and then coming out a gully behind it. We manage to overtake the first party by taking a converging line. But the members of the second one are hanging from the cables and as we neglected to put our crampons on hoping to reach dry rock at the end of the traverse, we can't pass them as easily as the first ones. We monkey about on the cables and as Jon overtakes 2 of the party, we realise that we need the spikes to come out of the gully. We acrobatically put them on (not so proud anymore in front of the "should have put them on earlier" looks of the punters) and I set off in the gully, hands on rock, feet on ice. We manage to come out of the gully in front and carry on the traverse.

Traversing the aretes of the Meije, is like tight rope walking at 4000m. The views are exceptional. The route follows the ridge over 4 pinnacles with huge drops on each side. The descent of the 4th tooth is normally a snowy walk down, but this year with so little snow about a diagonal abseil was necessary to pass a smooth slab of white rock. From the bottom of this abseil we climbed up towards the last top in the ridge, the Doigt de Dieu. From that last top, the ridge is cut against the sky right to the Grand Pic. The profile of the south face is stunning. A bit more scramble down snowed up rock and a couple of abseil and we land on the glacier. From there it's a 30 min walk down to the Aigle hut. We get to the hut by 6pm. The descent from here is timed 2h30. We don't really know how we're going to get back to La Berarde which is 60 km away, but the prospect of a good meal in the valley wins the day and we head down. Boy is that descent tedious. I can't think of anywhere worse. It never ends. First glacier, then rock steps, then glacier, then moraine, moraine, moraine and path, path, path.

Half way down I've got a master plan. My friend Gilles lives in Grenoble 1h30 drive away and was planning to come and see us in La Berarde. I give him a call and bribe him with a free meal in La Grave and a day out climbing tomorrow. Bingo! He agrees to come up. By 8:45 we're waiting for him at the car park at the bottom of the descent. We are wrecked, we just did 2200m descent in 4 h but the prospect of something nice and filling is keeping us up. We get to La Grave just in time to grab a tartiflette at the Vieux Guide (recommended) and get back to La Berarde at midnight for a night cap and a deserved rest. Part II will (one day) tell the tale of a full on adventure in the Vallon des Etages.

A.-


Chew Valley, Arnaud Garcon, August 2003

----- Original Message -----
From: Arnaud
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Sent: 19 August 2003 10:08
Subject: Re: TR Cairngorms

[Actually a Chew Valley Report - Ed.]

Just a quick one as I'm tying loose ends at work before going to the Alps.

Way up in the Chew, just before the eponimous reservoir is a small crag. Rob's Rock. It is the kind of place where you really expect to be on your own. It has mainly easy routes, plus a few harder ones probably from people desperate to put their name in a guidebook. As we walked up the sloping track, Tony and I were quite surprised to see an other party on the crag. Tony started off with Zacharias (VDiff) which has one move at the top, I followed with Cascade (HS), which is light on protections. We then moved on to Cripples Way (VD) then Ylsnod Rib (VD) a J. Putrell route from way back (Dunc claims there's an anagram in there).
Bit of food and we moved on to Letter box VD and then finished ourselves on the pumpy Nameless One (VS 4b, yes, pumpy 4b).
By which stage it was time for the pub, so off we went...

A.-


Dow Crag, English Lake District, Arnaud Garcon, July 2003

From: Arnaud
Subject: TR: Lakeland pleasure (Long, obviously)
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Date: 2003-07-07 09:43:34 PST

Saturday morning saw my mate Jon and I frustrating on the slow traffic through Windamere, cursing caravan drivers and holidaymakers. Stoped for a wee while in Ambleside where Jon wanted to buy a pair of crampons before our trip to the Alps. Came out of Rock and Run with 2 pieces of essential equipment for the week end ahead: a midge repellent spray and a full set of Black Diamond microwires.
The weather was overcast but nevertheless we headed up towards Dow Crag above Coniston after dumping the car at the campsite in Torver. A brisk walk up lead us to the foot of A buttress by early afternoon. We had been here 5 years ago and on that occasion had climbed the awesome line of Eliminate A. This time our intention was to take on the buttress direct by Samba Pa Ti (in fact a combination of 2 routes one which I forgot the name up to the cave on Eliminate A and Samba Pa Ti proper from then on). The first pitch goes up a wandering line on the lower wall. In itself it is graded HVS 5b. Jon having lost (won?) the draw on who's going to lead the main pitch, leads on. An easy slab leads to a small bulge. This is quite tricky to overcome when one is still cold. A small ledge is reached and a short crack with some powerfull moves lead onto a wall capped by an overlap. This latter is taken to the left by again a couple of fairly hard moves. As I follow I am starting to panic a bit. "Blimey! this is HVS and I find it hard on a top rope. The main pitch of Samba Pa Ti is E2 and quite bold. How am I gonna do?" As I reach the belay in the cave in the middle of the face, I'm seriously considering bailing out onto Eliminate A. After psyching up for a bit I decide to go and have a look. Climb up the slab to the right of the cave to where the roof starts. I manage to fit a friend in a mossy crack by the slab and go up to take a look.
First hold is monster jug. So far so good. I fiddle a friend in there as well.
I'm not sure how good. I climb back down a couple of metres and holding the rope yank a good couple of times on the friend. Well, seems OK. Go back up. Second monster jug above the lip of the roof. I launch for it. My legs are just long enough to keep in touch with the rock below the roof. Pull, where does it go? I try a few holds to no avail. Then I see it. Monster jug No 3, much higher. Man! That's a stride!. I climb back down to recover my senses then launch again. Jug 1, 2, 3, I'm out of the roof in the overhanging groove above.
Good hand hold waist height and resonable feet. The position is quite strenuous. I try to fiddle a wire behind the flake of jug 3 but it is now behind me so the manoeuver is not the easiest. Finaly I give up. The wire is shit, but I need to get on. Good technichal couple of moves on good but unpositive holds, the adrenaline is rushing through my veins. I'm looking at a 10 m whipper if the friend in jug 1 holds, if not.... Feet a bit higher, face right, Bang! Jug 4! Phew! I get a foot quite high and manage to get to a semi restfull position sitting on my heel. I'm not moving until I get some gear.
I fiddle a microwire behind a solid flake. Move up and right then left. Couple of steep moves on good holds and the steepness relents. First piece of trustworthy gear in the pitch, I'm 16 m from the belay. Exhilarating is the word your looking for. Contour the last doubious bulge by the right and get to the belay.
Jon follows, quite happy that he lost the draw.
Second climb is Catacomb (E1 5a, 5b, 5b). It starts quite high up the descent gully that splits B Buttress. The first pitch start by a wide crack, then a tricky move allows to enter a rising traverse below a set of roofs. The position is excellent. Jon belays on Giant's Crawl and brings me up. I take on the short second pitch. It's a raising traverse which follows a line of good hold on steep ground. I plough ahead full of confidence after the showdown on the previous route. Half way across I start to pump. Gee this is harder than I expected. Hanging from those good holds I start a pretty good imitation of Elvis. Lets get a grip. Swap feet, lean left, sorted. I get to the belay ledge, and propose to carry on since the third pitch is also very short. From the ledge one needs to get up on sidepulls to overcome an overlap. The gear at the lip of the overlap is excellent, but I seem to have exhausted all my boldness.
I go up and down a few times, poking at the holds, thinking of droping back to the ledge and let Jon get on with it. After all, technically speaking that's *his* lead....Just one last go. Move on, take the side pull, feet up, get hold of that small flake with the left hand, arse! no more hold for the right. Rest well on the feet, right hand goes to a poor undercut too high for comfort, left shoots out for a three fingers ledge on the left. Feet smeering above the overlap I reach up, that's not too good, move feet again, reach high and right yes! excellent fingerlock. If I fall off now my hand stays in there. Piece of gear and to the top. Jon follows and as we're packing it starts to drizzle.

We get to the Church Inn in Torver 5 min before the kitchen closes. That makes the Lamb hot pot even nicer. This is a nice pub that I recomend. Beer is good, food is very nice and keenly priced and they have occasional live bands that claim on their posters that they will not, under no circumstance, play the Wild Rover. Hourah!

Sunday, we're off to Eskdale. This is after all an alpine training week end. We park in Dutton and go north up the valley towards Eskdale and specifically Esk Buttress. The sight of the buttress from the other side of the valley is breathtaking. Its main feature is a tower of 80m high and 20m wide surounded by smaller narrow buttresses on each side which only increase the imposing feeling oozing from it. By 11 we're gearing up at the foot of Central Pillar (E2, 5a, 5a, 5b, 5b, 4c). There is noone around, the clouds are low on Scafell, the atmosphere is of loneliness and wilderness. The route starts technically halfway up the buttress. The guidebook says to follow the first 2 pitches of Bridges Route (HS). An alternative which gives a far more homogenous outing is to follow the first pitch of the Cumbrian (E5 but the first pitch is 5a).
I kick off with that. The rock is lovely with lots of little edges. The climbing is runout at times but the holds are good. I belay at the top of the Bridge's route pillar, linking back with the traditional route. Jon takes on the second pitch which goes up a crack for a few metres then traverse wildly the whole width of the buttress. A few steep moves lead to an uncomfortable belay stance below a shallow groove. That's my lead. The guidebook states " a good pitch to second". I'm wondering what they mean as I set off up the groove. Half jokingly I put a microwire 1/4 into a tiny slot. Little did I know it was going to be my sole protection for the next 3+ m. The climbing is extremely delicate, and very bold. Small holds and ribs allow to go up to reach a better hold and from there a further move leads to a good jug. From there I fiddle a small wire in an horizontal crack, and without much illusion regarding its soundness, step high and right with no real hand holds to speak of onto a small ledge in the R of the groove. It's not over. Time to recompose, and to put a dubious wire 1/2 into a handhold and it's another 2-3 m of very thin bold climbing. A small notch in left hand allows to reach a rib and move the feet up towards some good looking holds below an overlap. The holds are as good as they looked and the overlap is quickly surmounted and a slab climbed to belay. Phew again. "A good pitch to second" right.
Jon takes on the final technical pitch. He traverses across the wall in an outstanding position, then a few moves on reasonable holds and he get to a big block that looks pretty weak. But it's been looking weak for at least 13 years so...From there he pulls on some small edges and get his feet on the block. A couple more moves trending right and easier ground is reached. From then, I think we're done. The last 4c pitch will be all lovely and edgy. In fact it consists of a huge undercut flake that look extremely scary. But as for a lot of those climbs once commited and in the right position every thing start making sense and we're soon at the top. After a bit of lunch we have a look at the shorter climbs on Gargoyle buttress. Two lines raise our interest, Gargoyle Direct (HVS 5a) and Grand Slam (E1 5b). Jon picks the HVS for his lead. Fine. The line is really nice, and the moves link together very smoothly, it's quite easy in the grade but nice nevertheless.
We ab back down and it's my lead with Grand Slam. The route follows a right slanting line up to below a roof. This latter is passed by its L edge "on small holds", this lead to a ledge. I start up a crack on good hold. As I look up the rising line looks devoid of protections. Oh no! not another runout route! I stuff the crack with gear and move up and right. Right enough there is nothing until a good resting hold on a rib 2-3 m below the roof. From there a couple of (small) wires can be arranged and up the rib to the roof. I compose myself for a while and peek above the roof. Monster jug! Is that the guidebook writer's idea of a joke? I pull over, get to a flake, arrange some gear. Should be over now shirley. Oh. That's where the small holds are, on the wall above the roof. I go up check out a few holds... that could get messy. I add more ironware to the crag and get ready for it. Climberus vulgarus dynamics rule one: what goes up, must come down. Rule two: When climbing 5b in the mountains, at some point, soon or later, there must be a jug. Rule three: If rule 2 does not work refer to rule 1.
Right. Lets get our head in gear. Up on the good flake, feet up on the jugs above the roof (and the gear) reach up and left. Nope. back down. Breathe, shake out the pump. Try again. Bit further left, right above. There's something not too good but that will do. Stand up. right. that hold I spoted from below is a red herring, try again. Bit more. feet up (again), reach out right...Yes! Rule 2 success! When I get to the top it's now completely sunny and the whole dale baskes in golden lights. Beautiful. Time to ab down and it's time to go.

Lovely.

A.-


Cloggy, Arnaud Garcon, June 2003

----- Original Message -----
From: Arnaud
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Sent: 24 June 2003 14:32
Subject: TR: Sweat, Peanuts and Dodgy Abseil (long)

The magestic sweaps of granit of Craig an Dubh Loch were floating in my mind.
Solstice weekend in the middle of the Highlands. What a great plan. Then we looked at the forecast. Plan again. We don't do 400 miles to get midged and wet.

The majestic sweaps of rhyolite of Clogwyn d'ur Arddu were now floating in my mind. Speeding down the M56, I'm recalling all the climbs I fancied doing up there while browsing the guidebook at the climbing shop. As we approach Llamberis I catch a glimbs of the black crag. Promises. After battling an army of midges, we retreat, tent pitched, to the delights of the Vaynol Arms and Robisnon's best.
The morning arrives all to soon and after a quick breakfast we head up for Cloggy. Duncan's favourite approach sets one straight in the mood of a nice alpine day. Right behind the Vaynol is a footbridge. From there, unplug brain, put lungs in overdrive and trod straight up the left side of the valley through ferns, scree and grass. In less than 45 min we're topping out on the railway ridge of Snowdon. Down towards the tourist trail and across to the base of the crag. The view when one passes the ridge is quite breathtaking (if you have any left that is).
At the bottom of the crag we look for a climb to get in the mood. Duncan looks at me. "Have you got the guidebook?" "Err.. no". Do'h! We're at the foot of one of the most impressive crag in Wales and we have no idea where anything is. I've never been here before and Dunc hasn't been here for a long time. And obviously since it is friday, there is noone else around. We choose to phone a friend. Dunc calls a well known climbing shop in Cardiff (with an excellent picture of well 'ard climbers on their opening web page). "Carwin? Where are you standing in the shop? Go towards the guidebook shelf, and get the Paul Williams guide..." Once Carwin stops laughing, he reads out the description of the Great Slab (VS, 4 pitches). We find the bottom of the climb relatively easily. It's just between an E3 and an E2 so it should be fairly easy to stick to the line. The key feature to remember is a 4a traverse on pitch 2 towards a 40 ft corner.
Duncan takes the first pitch. Few scary moves to start with, then beautifull corner crack. Second pitch. The one with the traverse. There are 2 traverse lines one slightly below us, one above us, following the feature called the Arrow. I go up. It seems easy enough, there is an in-situ wire and it just looks right. The first few moves are fine. Exposed 4a, maybe slightly harder. Half way through the traverse is a small foot ledge. No other gear than a sling around a loose flake on the ledge. I move on. Gee this is getting hard! The foot holds get more spaced, the hand holds smaller. 4a my arse! Now the gear is quite far back and I have one last move before getting to a grassy ledge at the foot of the corner. Manage to fit a small cam at arm stretch, I can't see it so I'll have to trust it. Step step, lean down and across, foot on the grass, sorted! The corner is wet. But after a bit of examination the holds are good enough.
Dunc joins me at the belay ledge half way up the corner and then carry on on easier if wet ground. Back at the bags we have a light lunch of peanuts and cereal bars (don't ask). Then we need to phone someone again. Chris Shorrock who used to post here quite often a while ago is at home and very helpfull cross referencing the CC guide with Hard Rock and all. We're going to have a look at Vember (E1) and if not Curving crack (VS) or Pedestal Crack (VS IIRC). As we walk up towards the route, Duncan exults "Look at that!" there on the grass lays a CC Cloggy guidebook! slightly wet but very usable! (there was no name or address, but a lot of climbs were underlined if it's yours giz a mail) All chuffed we go up to the climbs. Vebmer is wet. The bottom crack is dripping and there is a huge seapage from the bright green crux. Call me a sissy but I don't fancy it. Curving crack looks awfully awkward and Pedestal crack is wet too. We retreat to the bags, have a kip, then decide we have to do something. I fancy White Slab but it's now 3:30 and 7 pitches of E1 are going to take us too long. We settle for Longland's Climb (VS).
Dunc sets of in the initial groove. It's all fairly easy ground but the mountain feel is there. He belais from 2 dodgy flakes and I carry on. I bring him up just below the last Overhang pitch to avoid excessive rope drag. A few powerfull moves and we're up on easy ground at the top. Walk back down to Nant Peris via the Short Cut.
A meal at the Heights and a few pints with a few people that joined the party at the Vaynol, set me off saturday morning with a throbbing head. This is quickly sorted by a brisk walk up to Dinas Cromlech. We get there just after another party and as it happens they're going for the Cimetary Gates. So we look for something else. Ivy Sepulcre is our choice and Duncan sets off on the main pitch with gusto. As he gets to the crux he's full of beans (figure of speech) and asks for more. But the crucial flake moves alarmingly and that (as I'm well placed to know after my experience on Plexus a couple of weeks ago) psyche him out completely. Fair enough. I lower him off and by the time we get back down the party on the Gates has moved on. So we gear up for that. I set off on the first pitch. The holds as mostly good, sometimes acceptable and none of the move is particularely hard but it's steep and they keep coming. At the main overlap, a long reach and a few steps allow to rest for a bit on a very narrow ledge. The party in front is still at the belay and don't seem in a hurry to move. I ask if they'll be space for 3 on the ledge before I launch myself on the last part of the pitch. By the time Dunc joins me on the halfway ledge, the crag is busy. There are people on Memory Lane, Left Wall, Cenotaph Corner, Right Wall and Cimetary Gates (3 parties). Dunc sends the top pitch and we ab off down Ivy Sepulcre to recover our gear. Bit of lunch, quick kip, and we're working on the guidebook.
There's a party on the Corner (phew!) so we settle for Curfew (E1 left of Sabre Cut). The first pitch wanders a bit and finished at the busiest belay in Wales in "the Forest" at the intesection of 4 starred routes below E2. That's were the Manchester Massive Flying Circus kicks into action. I'm at the belay, I pull the rope through and am waiting for Dunc to follow. I shout the traditional "Climb when ready" and a muffled answer is shouted back. I do not hear what he says, but hey! it must mean he's climbing, so I start pulling the ropes. Wow! He's flying up that pitch. Gee he's climbing really fast! I shout out "You OK Dunc?", no answer. Must be OK. Now he's going a bit too fast now.
That's when I hear "What the f*ck are you doing? You pulled the rope through!" Do'h! throw the ropes back down. Dunc follows the pitch with no gear and takes out what he can. He gets to me and tell me that he shouted out that he was going to get his fleece...Haaaaa. That's why.... Anyhow, after a bit more fannying around Dunc manages to get all the gear out and we get ready to carry on.
By this stage in the "Forest", there are 3 parties at belay. One on Sabre Cuts, one on the HS to the L and us. What a better idea could someone have on a busy weekend than throw a rope down Sabre Cut (*** VS) and abseil on it? The first guy coming down arrives as Dunc is setting off for the second pitch of Curfew. Dunc tells him how bad mannered their manoeuvre is on a day like today, especially when there is a path just to the side. The poor lad seems out of his depth. He seems very uncomfortable on this abseil, has no self locking device and has no idea whether the rope reaches the ground. He's the punter. He knows nothing. The master mind of this stunt is at the top of the abseil. He's the "leader". Dunc steps above the rope and carry on. The second guy starts abseiling while he's partner is still debating the length of the rope and is still only secured by his belay plate on the abseil line. He stops a few metres above me. If the whole operation was not nonsensical enough, he asks the punter to climb back up the rope (no prussik remember?) and to piss about recoiling it in the middle of the slab we're standing on. Looking at the way he shakes, the poor lad does not like these acrobatics but "Leader" does not seem to mind.
By this stage Duncan has stopped climbing and wait for the 2 clowns to stop messing about next to our rope. He speaks his mind to "Leader" who just ignores him ("Oi! Do you speak English?" Ask Dunc very a propos). Finaly I tell the beginner to clip himself into our belay because I'm worried that he's going to kill himself. After a lot of messing about Leader gets his way and now his abseil rope is under Dunc's. Why did he do that? I have no idea, but now our ropes are pushed back from the crag in an alarming curve of slack. Dunc goes a bit mad, but that does not seem to bother Leader who, with is pride firmly stuck up his arse, employs himself to set a belay further down and pull the rope down. Any word of apologies? Naahh... Anyway. Dunc start climbing again. As he goes for the (fairly bold)crux, his hands start to cramp and from where I stand it looks both scary and painfull. I propose to take the lead, but he's not even sure to be able to follow me. So he bails out into the HS to the L. As we are WALKING down the PATH to the side (did I mention that there was no need to ab off because there was a PATH to the side?) the rain starts to fall. We meet Dunc's better half at the sacks and walk back to the car. More beer at the Vaynol.
Sunday starts nice. We decide to head for mid-Wales and make most of Duncan's new Meirionydd guidebook. We're aiming for the South Ridge of Rhinog Fach (S, long). As we park the clouds are pretty low on the hills, but it's still vagely dry. After about an hour walk in a beautifully wild landscape, the visibility is down to 20 m and it's drizzling hard. We're standing by the lake at what should be the foot of the climb but we can't even see the hill which is supposed to be in front of us. After a wee pow wow, the appeal of a cuppa is stronger and we turn round.

A.-


Egerton Quarry (Lancs), Arnaud Garcon, May 2003

From: Arnaud
Subject: TR: Dumped wheels and pigeon droppins
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Date: 2003-05-15 03:07:00 PST

It all started by a big reaction to the diktat of the Eastern Edges and to the crossing of Glossop at rush hour. As a result Duncan hired a van and went to buy the Lancashire Rock guidebook. Thus loaded we headed off to the bucolic setting of Egerton Quarry, north of Bolton. Dunc was really keen and maintained that it was way better than Wilton which was my first tought. Alright then. Off we go. We find our way across Bolton and Egerton and after stopping at a pretty poor convenience store and getting abused by pre-pubecent teenagers for not buying them some cider, we get to the end of the road where the quarry should be. I say "should be" because instead of the "gate on the left, past the last house" there is a brand new house. I ask a local who after a bit of suspicion regarding the hippy driving the car, tells us that yes the quarry is there, we can't use the old entrance which has been developped, but it's up there and there should be a way in. So off we go. Looking over the wall overlooking the quarry (the path goes above it) we can see that all the area formaly known as Graffity Wall is now above a very nicely landscaped garden with lawns and flower beds. So either the BMC has been seriously redevelloping the area or smelly climbers are not welcome on that side. The main quarry is actually accessible and we soon find the way in, just past the "Keep Out" sign. The quarry is a big hole with walls of about 10-15m. I've got problems to believe that it's bigger than Wilton. Anyway, we set off to find Cherry bomb *** VS. Past some bog and swamps, fording some puddles we eventually get there. Dunc starts the lead. The route is a sharp cut corner with a crack at the back and is described as a good bridging exercice. It nevertheless requires a fairly strenuous layback to get to some foothold to bridge on. Follows a wee roof to overcome, then traverse on a ledge and finish up an arete. Duncan sorts the route out painlessly and it's the turn of our newest climbing pall Helen. She gets going in the layback and does pretty good job of it, but as she arrives in the bridging bit, her rope gets stuck in the roofcrack above and Dunc can't take in. Helen freaks out a bit and climb down. I propose to climb up, clean the route and send the rope back down for her to climb on both strand. And so we do. Free from the gear she climbs it is fine if original style. The way down proves more challenging than the climb itself, with brambles, heather, peatbogs and wet moss to get through, all on a slope, in climbing boots. It's about this moment that it downs on Dunc that this is not the quarry he wanted to come to. The said quarry is 30 miles further N towards Blackburn. Doh'! So maybe it was better and bigger than Wilton.... Next climb is a nice looking ** E1 called Dizzy the desert snake, up a thin crack starting at 4m after a long reach from a jug. I climb it by high step and rock overs with good protection from small wires. Helen is to follow. Unfortunately while trying to do the long reach, she twists her knee and trap a nerve or something. After trying to get back on the rock she gives up and gives the rope to Duncan who proves once more than height is might. After more troding though swamps and getting our feet wet, we try and decide whether we want to climb another route. Dunc works on the guidebook, and comes out with a masterplan. He leads us across the quarry (more mud, more puddles). We get to a part where the walls are fairly high (20m ish). It's quite green and there is a pond full of car wheels and other rubbish. I ask him "so what's the plan?". "Guess" he says while looking across the pond. Just overthere there is one of the most uninviting climbs I have ever seen. Big wide offwidth with overlaps thrown in and no gear after the first third. Green walls etc. Looks like an absolute struggle at best of time let alone at 30 min from sunset. This is the kind of things that Dunc gets sometimes excited about. Thank god not all the time. Anyway. I moan a lot, kick the dirt, complain of my wet feet and threaten to make him abseil to get the gear out because there is no way in hell I'm going up that crack in the dark (or at all in fact). Dunc only increase my rant by dropping the grade on me: E2 5b (E2 5b offwidth. That's harder than Left Eliminate at Crubar!). I manage to streer him out of this silly idea, and we have a look at the Woodwall area. Just as green, but less silly. First we have a look at the "Disappeared Chip Butty Traverse " E1 5b, which only for its name is really tempting. But after realising that one would probably fall off on some grassy holds before putting the first bit of gear in, we decide not to. Next to it is a tempting crackline, God Save the Queen HVS 5a. Dunc takes the lead and make a good job of slimy but positive holds and tops out just next to the road. In a moment of inspiration, we find a way not to have to walk back down in slippy boots by hauling all of our belongings on one rope while I climb on the other. I join Dunc, Helen and our bags at the top as dusk redened the sky. A quick few pints at the Lass o Gowry to conclude an interesting and finaly enjoyable evening.... A.-


Froggatt, Arnaud Garcon, April 2003

From: Arnaud
Subject: Feeling Lucky, Punk? Or Put Back Into Place (TR).
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Date: 2003-04-14 06:27:32 PST

For a while I'd been tempted. The good start of the season I had pushed me towards it, and at some point I would *have* to do that step, there was no question about it. So Saturday, I managed to convince myself it was a good day to try E2s (as Dustin Hofman would have said in Little Big Man, had he climbed on grit instead of fighting the yanks). Moreover I was running out of climbs to do below that grade at Froggatt. So I had fairly sweaty palms by the time we got to the crag. Despite all that self-convincing, I was not feeling as good as I was hoping I would on a day like this. So to avoid jumping straight at the deep end, Jon and I did Walkyrie (HVS, 5a,5a do I need to add?) to get into the mood, Jon leading the crack pitch and offering me the lovingly exposed top pitch. A good start to the day. Then it was time to face my ambitions. The routes I had in mind were The Big Crack, Synopsis (that I had seconded before), Brightside, and if I felt really good Brown Eliminate. The toss for the first attempt was between Synopsis and The Big Crack. Since I knew how Synopsis went, I thought it best to start by the Crack while I was still fresh.

It's funny how this Gritstone buisness always seems easier and shorter when sitting on the pot at home with the guidebook in hand. There I was standing between the Big Crack (blimey that first section is steeper and longer than I remembered) and my nemesis, Brown E. (Gee! I did not remember how long was the section above the gear, groundfall garenteed if you fuck up at the top. Remember Paul Williams!). After a lot of pansying around, moving back and forth to check the eventual rests and jugs, I set off on the Crack.

First couple of moves are good, steep but on good holds. Put a Friend superb in a parallel crack and go into layback mode to get some fingerlocks above a good flat hold. Ping! Goes the Friend, merrily sliding down my rope! Arse! Note here, not now, not on that route! There's nothing better to psyche me out! Down climb.

Second attempt, the friend holdsand I manage to put some wire above. But the position is quite powerfull and I run out of steam before I can clip it. Back down, leaving my set of wires hanging 3m above. I can't pring myself to trust this friend and do the move without pro above it.

Third attempt. I take the wire out (was rubbish anyway) and put a small offset cam (wrong way round first, then the right), and finally get that move sorted. I end up on a small triangular foot hold in a position which is far less restfull that I tought would be. Hands are good but I'm still pull on the arms a lot. Fit a bomber wire and try to move my feet right up, to get into a layback possition and reach the bottom of the upper chimney crack. Bang! and other fall. By this stage I've given up doing the route vagely cleanly from the ground and go for a good old dogging session. Second attempt on the move and I get to the foot of the crack. Small wire, and I try to enter the crack. Eventually I find myself wedged, slightly panicky and unable to move at the bottom of the chimney. "It's easy from now on" says Jon. But I'm so knackered that I put in a doubious Friend and get lowered down, the forearms the size of rugby balls.

Jon takes on the lead, but now the gear is all in place so obliously it's quite easy...Hum. I follow with great difficulty, my arms screaming for respite as I struggle to take the gear that I so dutyfully embedded in the rock before. Eventually I reach the top jugs.

First propper trashing of an E2 climb.

We move onto Chequers Buttress to give some rest to my arms. As we part in front of Symopsis there is a party just starting. Good. We then head for Brightside that Jon wants to look at (I'm at this stage only considering Synopsis as an option for my lead since I know it and can't remember it being very strenuous).

Brightside looks like a beautifull climb. But to reach it one needs to grovel for a while in the bowels of Swimmer Chimneys, which is a very traditional route if there was any.

The crux moves are coming out of the chimney onto the wall to its right, down climbing to a foothold at its center, then with good protections, moving steeply up and right for some good holds which then lead more casually to the top. Jon did a pretty good job of it despite falling off a couple of times before getting the sequence right. The top moves are a pleasure, between well spaced but good holds. I regained some selfesteem by climbing it with less effort that I foresaw. Finished the day by a quick ascent of Sunset Slab.

Feeling lucky? Nope. I'm a weed.

A.-


Froggatt, Arnaud Garcon, March 2003

From: Arnaud
Subject: TR:Peak HVS's and URC tinython
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Date: 2003-03-17 07:08:05 PST

Saturday, met up with some Sheffield folks and went to Bamford Edge, which is due to close to public access in the next few weeks. Tried to shake off a bad cold on a couple of routes on Gun Buttress. Randy's Wall (VS 5a) is a pleasant outing with some precarious moves to overcome a bulge followed by some delicate steps up a wrinckly slab. Gun Powder Crack (VS 5b) has a thuggish start but then eases considerably while remaining quite steep, a good route.

We then moved on to Neb Buttress. Did the eponimous route (HVS 5a) which looks very hard and bold in places but happens to be OK for most of the way while the truly harder moves are when you think you're out of trouble, at the very top. Superb route though which made me forget my runny nose and throbbing head for a while. Then did Bamford Rib (HVS 5a) which although feels very much like an eliminate, stuck as it is between the previous route and a holy tree, is very nice with thin technical climbing. A quick solo of Bamford Wall (S) later, we move on to the High Tor area. Jon lead Right Hand route (HVS 5a, nothing stunning but interesting nevertheless), we then followed Tim on the classic Gargoyle Flake (VS 4b), a superbly positioned and very photogenic route, overlooking Ladybower reservoir. Great Day. Sunday the plan was to meet up with Duncan and friends and as it seemed from talking to people at a party on Saturday night, most of Sheffield, at Stanage End. Jon, Tony, Penny and I parked at Redmires reservoirs and decide to climb our way across. First port of call was Count's Buttress, an area which is normally very quite but on a busy spring-like week-end was seeing some activity. Tony and I set off on Dracula (HVS 5b) a superb looking arete. The guidebook mentions "well protected lay-back moves". If well protected moves means completely stretched out (and I'm 6'2 ish) moves with gear at your feet and a large unmissable ledge 1m50 below, then fair enough. A good climb nevertheless. Tony then lead Count's Wall (HVS 5b) which goes up some broken shelves before tackling a thin difficult to protect crack and then an easier headwall. When we were walking back down Jon was putting a top-rope (Shock horror!) on the nearly blank Nightmare Slab (E1 5c). Hitched for a lift on it and found it Ok. Probably reasonably safe with a competent spotter and a couple of friends. The climbing itself is nice and thin and as Penny said, it's all in the pebbles.

Penny and I then moved on towards Stanage End while we left Tony and Jon climbing a couple of routes on the way.

When we arrived, Dunc was hanging out, bleeding on Surgeon's Saunders while Ant and John from this very URC were laughing at him. We left him there and went on to climb Old Salt (HVS 5a) a very interseting and exposed climb, then While we waited for Crab Crawl arete (VS 4c) to be freed I soloed Prosperos' climb (VD), then we climbed Valediction (HVS 5a). As the afternoon was coming to a close Duncan draged me to climb Terrazza Crack (HVS 5b) on Marble wall which succombed to a resolute assault, a good struggle and a good fall. Great day again. For information, I still haven't recovered from that cold hence the probable incoherences of this TR...

A.- Read Duncan's report here


Burbage (North), Arnaud Garcon, February 2003

----- Original Message -----
From: Arnaud
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Sent: 24 February 2003 11:45
Subject: TR: Saturday day fever

Hi all

Saturday, Pete (Mr) and I decided to go to sunny Burbage. Well sunny it was not when we arrived there at 11:30. Misty Burbage is closer to the truth. Misty windy and cold. So when Adrian called me on my mobile to check the water, he must have felt quite snugg on his bike in (actually) sunny Cheshire. By then I thought we'd be there for an hour then retreat back to Hathersage for coffe and cake. Pete was actually looking forward to that...
As we walked down below the edge, the wind stopped and although obvioulsy still misty it wasn't as cold. We got to the Little Wall area and thought that a bit of the light boulderingish style of climbing it offers would be nice to warm up, get the fingers warm and not to have to stand belaying for too long. Each of us doing our own thing, we happily soloed a few nice lines. For me it was my traditional warm up at Burbage route Cranberry Crack (VDiff) this time done laybacking all the way instead on climbing its L edge, then 20 ft Crack (S), The Chant (HVS 5a, first time I manage that one, it's all in the mind) and The Curse (HVS 5b 1 move at the start). Carrying on we walked on to Banana Finger Buttress where I "sent" the eponimous boulder problem and the R arete of Monkey Corner (both 6a, I was quite pleased). Pete had some problem finding his feet back after a long absence from the rock in general and Grit in particular, so I proposed him to find a nice little lead of something he'd already done. Walking on we passed Overhang Buttress and wandered up the R hand slab (Mod to S depending how far L you dare to go), then climbed Burgess Face (VS 4c) a nice little arete with one move at the start. Carrying on looking for Pete's lead we passed All Quite on the Western Front an other 6a problem that I had been trying a while ago; I made a mental note to come and try it on our way back. I also fancied the look of the Grogan but thought I would get wasted on it and it was far too early in the day.
On Remergence Wall I suggested Mutiny Crack but this was rejected. So we went on.
Arriving at the Ash Tree Wall area, Pete took a fancy to a crack and groove on a small buttress to the L of the area (not in the guidebook). It was a bit short to be a route but a bit big to be a boulder. One of those, ye see. While he was playing on it I soloed Ivy Tree (HVS 5b) which gave me a lot to think about as the harder move is just below the top at about 5-6m. Pete struggling on the last move of this boulder route, he climbed back down and asked to get a rope out. So we did. This helping he completed his micro-route in a decisive mantle.
I was getting quite keen to do a route by then so after some tea and banana, we went towards the Sentinel area. We geared up and had a crack (Ha) at Now or Never (E1 5b). According to my guidebook I fell off this route repetitely on the 3/6/00, with Lewis (for those who are sad enough to have been reading this NG so long that they remember him) as a counterweight. But this time, this time....
I set off the big sharp layback crack to the left of the arete that the route follows, got to below the bulge, monkeyed around to the R, laybacked a bit more on the rib of the nose and got myself established on the middle ledge, below the final arete. I stuffed 3 cams on the break at thy height (one too far on the left, 2 too far on the right), and psyched up for the unsettling part of this contrastfull climb. With a good pocket high left and a poor scale low left the game is to bring the feet up along the arete until one is high enough but still stable enough to let one hand go to grab the arete high and left. It was a couple of heart pumping, barn dooring moves before it eased considerably but was nevertheless delightfully exposed.
Mr Pete got to a bad start by falling off the top of the laybacking crack. Hm. After a lower off and a new start he manages to get level with the monkey moves but to no avail. With the help of the rope, he finds himself just underneath the ledge, so a quick and grunty mantle and he's under the arete. After spending 10 min pondering with the holds in his hands, he throw the towel and climb the neighbouring corner. Let's move on. More cake and tea, and a solo of Black Slab (VS 4b). I ask Pete if he fancies following me on Sentinel in case I felt like it, but he thinks that would be a bit too taxing. Excellent excuse for me. Still looking for that easy lead. Get around Knight's Move. As usual plenty of people here. We arse about, boulder a bit, I solo Still Orange (S, I always gave up before the upper jaming crack but today all's easy), Agnostic arete (VS 5a), The Keffer (HVS 5a). Then we move on and solo Barry Manilow (HVS 5a), Mr Pete fetish climb consisting of a slab, a big nose and a big ridge on an isolated buttress. I think the buttress looks more like King Kong but what do I know.
We walk then across towards Long Tall Sally which I've never done and I quite fancy. I suggest that to Pete, but he's definitely not feeling too well and we just boulder and solo easy lines (Left Studio climb VD, Spider crack (5b), the L edge of April Fool (5b+?) , I back off from the Right Fin HVS 5a after looking at the ground from the crux). After a bit more bouldering it was way past four o'clock and time for a beer at the Scotman's Pack.
What a day!

A.-


North Wales, Arnaud Garcon, February 2001

From: Arnaud
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Subject: TR: Gogarth Tamed (Oh no it's not!)
Date: Mon, 19 Feb 2001 11:35:29 +0100

Hi all.

What a wonderfull week end it has been! Ignoring the call of snow in the North, Lewis and I (yes, *that* Lewis, for those who know the man), went west, where the skies are blue, on that busy friday night. After showing me a "short cut" to get onto the M56 we landed in Holyhead by 11 pm, just squeezing a pint before going to spread my mat by the carpark of South stack, Lewis sleeping cosily in the car.

For those who intend to bivy out there, there are a few things to keep in mind. If it's misty, you won't sleep, with the fog horn of the lighthouse bellow going off every 30 sec, for 6 sec. Even if it's not you might well be disturbed by the local raceboyz coming up to show their lass their one-eyed monster. The other thing is that the place is full of turds. And god knows how distressing it is to wake up and find a hard frozen poo just 20 cm away from you and subsequently anxiously look under your mat.

Anyway. It was bitterly cold that morning with all the turds in the place happily frozen in solidarity to the one looking upon me. We decided to investigate the local life by going for a breaky in Holyhead while the sun was warming up the rock for us. First stop after that was Holyhead mountain the main crags being still in the shade. We went for King Bee Crack. a beautyfull HVS which was well steep for my weedy arms.

By the time Lewis got to the top the sun was warming up the main cliff and we strolled down towards Imitator with the intention to link it to Bezel making this way a 4-5 pitchs climb of VS standard. Lewis was not feeling very happy in his sticky boots, and after trying to tackle the first difficulty conceded defeat and let me the lead. And coming out of that first groove was a well tricky buisness for that grade.

By the time we reached the bottom of the last pitch (a half pitch of 9 m) the sun was setting and it was time to get out of there. After a bit of struggle we found a way not too overgrown by lichens and toped out as the light started to dim.

And were we knackered! Obvious lack of fitness conjugating to lack of food during the day made of our heros anything but a pretty sight. We drove off towards less challenging grounds in Tremadog. The Fleece was a safe haven for recovering around a pint and catching up on the day's rugby. Nice.

After an other cold night and a first class breakfast, we joined the crowd on the maincrag. Stoodenz galore and more. We went for Legslip (HVS 5a,5a...). I blame it on the different type of rock, the poor sleep, the beer, but when it came to me to lead the second pitch, I had lost all fluidity and confidence. To top it up, of the tree at which I was supposed to belay (in the old guidebook) was left only a wiggly stomp, where you would not have hung your sarnies even with low fat speard on. Since I'm a weathered mountaineer and I know how to anticipate this kind of position, I had not read the description for the following pitch. So there I was with above me, a slab on the R, a groove finishing in a overhang on the L, and a roof above me, lost like a poor puppy. Well the tree belay at the top of the slab looked quite tempting. So I took R. Wrong. I arrived to the tree allright but the wall above it had not been climbed in yonks (if ever), and I was definitely not at the right place. Oh well.

Abseil, cup of tea, cake, cup of tea. Do you really want to do an other one? Naaaah. It's such a lovely day in Snowdonia, let's take the long way home.

A.-


Bourg d'Oisans, Arnaud Garcon, January 2001

From: Arnaud
Subject: Painfull Knuckles and Frozen Ropes or A Story of Ice (Very long)
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Date: 2003-01-21 06:02:19 PST

It's true that it's quite. A week away and only 8 messages! Are people working or what? This is very long. But not as long as it should have been If I had not spared you the details of a few climbs!

As we are descending towards St Etienne, the captain of Ryanair flight 84 cheers us no end by announcing a ground temperature of -8 deg C. After playing spot-the-big-boots in the arrival lounge we pick up the hired car we have booked and I treat my fellow climbers (Tim, Jon, and Tony) with French style driving and the exquisit quality of French radio.

As we drive up the Vallee de la Romanche towards Bourg d'Oisans it is hard to keep the eyes on the road with plenty of frozen lines on each side of the road. And the car's thermometer is still oscillating between -4 and -8! We take possesion of the flat and a filing workshop organises itself amongst the membres of the party (who's got the biggest file, the sharpest tools etc). Sunday morning is overcast but the temperature is around -10. We decide to go and have a look at some fairly low lying falls while the temperature was cold.

We head up towards Villard-Notre Dame to the SE of Bourg d'Oisans by a tiny mountain road towards a few easy-but long icefalls to get into the mood. From Bourg, the road, cut into the rock, is dry and clear. We pass under some tremendous icicles which when they touch the ground give some splendid lines from the bottom of the valley. In the numerous tunels, icicles hanging from the ceilings make for the fairy tale atmosphere. I am lost in such contemplation that it takes me a couple of seconds to realise that the car is skidding. Oops that's it we're stuck. Try to get started, no way. Reverse a bit and try again,nope. The guys go out of the car and discover that there was a 3 cm ice sheet covering the whole width of the tunel. I try reversing further but the car just skids and sets itself across the road. We try to put the chains on but the nice woman at Hertz gave us the wrong model. Plan B. The guys are getting the crampons out of the boot and are going to try and push us out of here. That's when the flashing lights appear. Just past the curve in the tunel. Here comes the gritter. With a bit of luck they'll even see us before they crash into the car. They do. After a few spadefull of salt we're back on our way. Now with the gritter in front there's no stopping us. They say. Next tunel, rebelote. Here we go again. This time we try to overcome the obstacle by hacking trenches for the wheels into the ice. That until an annoyed French man (oxymoron?) convices us to reverse back down until he can go past. So we do. After 1 km reversing this mountain road, he passes us and we give a last shot at putting the chains. Sod it, lets go back down. A quickly executed 9 points turn and that's the end of our motoring adventures, now onto the climbing. Or so you think.

We drive down to below the face we were driving on, to look for 2 ice falls. Le Fournet II,4 and Les Petites Sources, II,3. I pull on the layby and we sort out the gear. That's when it hits me. I forgot my boots. I feel 5 cm tall. I leave the boys to lead the first pitch and I drive back to the flat to get them. When I arrive back to the layby they're waiting for me. The fall is flowing happily and there's no way to climb it without a wet suit. Back to square one. Having spent all our bad luck in the first 5 hours we drive up to the hamlet of le Rosay opposite l'Alpe d'Huez to a small crag with a few lines. At least we get to see some frozen water and moreover we are now above the clouds! Tim and I team up and climb la Centrale (II,3+, 70m, quite lean). Jon and Tony try to climb a separate line on the same smear of ice but it turns out to be too thin and hollow, and finaly follow us. The sun is now onto most of the climbs and the temperature is nice and toasty. It's nice for us, but the climbs start to drip seriously. We have a look at a single pitch free standing cigar but it's soaking wet. A short wall to its left looks pretty nice and is still in the shade. Tim decides to have a go while I'm a bit intimidated by the exit which consists in a fairly thin icicle barely joining the lower ice wall. we walk/bumslide down to the car with the sun setting on the mountains across the valley.

Monday was supposed to be yet another introductory day. Long climbs, low grades. And with short walk-ins. So why did we end up going to the furthest climbs we could find, I still don't really know. Anyway, we parked at the hamlet of le Clot below St Christophe en Oisans and started walking up towards the valley of la Mariande. As far as walk-ins go this one is particularly beautifull. You walk down the little path towards the river, trees are loaded with snow, mind the ice and cross the Veneon by a bridge loaded with snow. Then walk up through superb woodland up towards some disused barns. From there descent a snow ramp and get into the valley of la Mariande. Watch the chamois climbing up the virtiginous slopes and cross the stream climb up through the snow on the other side and at about 1600 m altitude you can see on the other side of the stream the first 3 climbs of the site. For us 2 problems arise:
a) how the hell do we get across that stream again,
b) are the climbs complete anyway?

The routes we were planing on don't seem in prime conditions. A few sections are snowed up and since the snow is very powdery that will either mean a lot of excavation to do or no ice underneath. Anyway they do not look good enough for us to try to find a way across tha stream again. So we keep on going, passed the little col of the verou de la Mariande and into the upper valley. As we reach the floor of the valley, Jon and Tony go for the first climb on the left a II,4 which name I forgot. Tim and I continue walking towards the buttresses on the right bank of this flat bottom valley (think Lost Valley, Glen Coe but wider and covered with 1m+ of snow). The route we're going for is Aiga Blue (180m II,4) and thank god that some people did it a few days before and broke trail with snow shoes, so appart from the odd knee deep sinking the approach to the climb is reasonably painless (appart from the last 200m of steep slope which seem to go on for ever in deep powder). Tim takes on the first pitch which consists in a steep step of 10-15 m at 80 degree followed by 40m of snow ramp before getting to the icefall proper.

For some reason in snubs the deep blue ice to the left and go for some dodgy ice/turf and mixed ground to the R. First belay is an abalakov on the L of the main icefall backed up by a screw. I take the following pitch. Laws of physics are amazing. It's below -10 (more likely -15 since it was -10 at the car 600m lower down), and water is streaming down this icefall. By the time I put a couple of ice screws and am at level with the flow of water I'm quite warm and despite my hands getting quite wet I don't really feel the cold.

I carry on climbing up some bulges and beautifull curved blue ice. The water still flows and some of the ice is pretty rubbish. Left foot and axe are on soggy ice that's shearing a bit but gives good deep placement and soaking hands, right foot and axe are on good dry ice that plates a bit but does not soak my gloves. I reach the belay after a good 55m pitch of continuous 75-80 deg climbing. By then my hands are dripping, water flowing when I clench my fist. The belay's quite comfy. I put my overmitts on and bring Tim up. All I need is the rucksack to sit on and I'll be snugg as a bug. By the time Tim reaches me I cooled down a bit and I'm glad to get the bag to sit on and carry.

Tim takes on the next pitch. It's drier, and still climb at a beautifull inclination around 75-80 deg. The rope gets very close to 60m when Tim finally shouts "Safe". It my turn to get on. I remove my mits and start climbing. It doesn't take long before my hands feel really cold. I climb as fast as I could but at every strike of axe I take, and every screw I remove my fingers get number. I arrive just below the final wall of the pitch, 20 m of the belay. I look left and see that Tim has missed the peg belay. I reach it as quick I as can get tie myself up remove my gloves that now have frozen on my fingers and put my mitts on. The next few minutes are diffcult to express. A rare experience where falling off the mountain seems like a lesser evil than standing there with your hands burning. By now it's too late to go to the top that seems, witnessing the amount of spindrifts coming from above the next wall, just a short pitch away. Tim who's gone too far up to reach the peg belay makes an ice thread backed up by a screw and I start the abseil descent. I don't know why people consider abseiling as a mild/safer form of climbing.

For me the tenser moments of that trip have been while abseiling. When you climb, after a while your fall will be caught by 3-4 screws with shock absorbers. While abing off you rely on a single set of points (eg. one bolt, one peg), that have seen frost, snow, ice, thaw etc. pretty scary IMO... We got to the bottom of the climb as the sun was setting on the peaks above us. We rushed down the valley to try to cross the stream with some daylight. At the point we left Jon and Tony I only notice a set of foot steps going away, but since we're so late and the approach to their route was much shorter they should be already down. We pass the col, and start going towards the ford in growing darkness. By now it's too dark to bumslide in the deep snow, so it's painstakingly that we descent. At some point Tim looks up. He sees 2 lights on Jon and Tony's route. They're not moving. Looking around. We try to make signals with our torches but to no avail. We sit and wait. If they haven't moved in 20 min we need to do something. 10-15 min later one light start going down. Right, they're OK. We ford the stream and walk back up to the disused barns to wait for them. After what feels like ages they're coming down, nearly get lost and climb back up towards us. By now Tim and I are quite cold. We take the car keys from Jon and run back down through the forest. Lit by the moon this wood is absolutely magical all in silver black and white. We get to the car by 8:30 and 20 min later so do Tony and Jon. Tomorrow is rest day.

Tuesday we lie in until 8:30 (let's say that I can't sleep longer (baby at home) and wake up the others by rumaging in the kitchen). Morning is shopping in Bourg d'Oisans. Tat for abalakovs, a peg to replace the one left by Jon at the top of their climb. The afternoon we drive up to La Grave and the Malaval Valley. Tim and Jon are quite keen for some easy climbing a short stroll away from the car. And that's what you get in that place. Feels a bit like climbing in Stoney Middleton or at the Horseshoe quarry, but the ice is very near the road (one approach is timed "30 or 50 s depending on which side of the car you are sitting"). Tim and Jon want to have a go at the first pitch of Grand Clot (IV,5+) which seems quite technical. I just can't be bothered, so while they're playing I go for a walk along the crag. It's a pretty depressing place, very dark and cold, with old mineshafts in the crags about, but it has some tremedously impressive icefalls.

Wedsneday the weather is gorgeous again, but what the forecast was suggesting materialises and there is a temperature inversion. we had planed to go to the Vallon de la Selle or Vallon du Diable as called in the guidebook. We got up at 6 and at 7:30 we're sitting in the car park wondering. On the way up to St Christophe the temperature went from -7 in the valley to 0 at St Christophe. The Vallon du Diable is well known for some very dangerous avalanche conditions as all the climbs are exposed to the snow from the slopes looming over the crags. After a bit of hesitation we decide to go back to Alpe d'Huez, where conditions are supposed to be reliable and the approach short by cable car. Having got up so early we are amongst the first going up to the crags. And it's just as well as the sun get to the climbs by about 1 pm.

Tim and I decide to go for le Chacal Bondissant (100m III,4), a good climb with a first pitch at 80 deg for 40m, followed by a short steep wall of really hard ice then a snowfield, and finaly a short bit at 90 deg finishing in a gully. Excellent. Next we walk along the crag to *the* classic of the place Symphonie d'Automne (110m III, 4-4+ depending on the finish). We meet Jon and Tony at the bottom and amazingly enough there is noone on the climb. The fall is very broad in its lower half. Jon and Tony take the classic line to the R and Tim and I decide to climb a line on the L. With our 60m ropes, we manage to make one long pitch of the lower part. The inclination is relentless but the ice is good until the last 8-10 m were it looses in quality. Half way up that first pitch a screw slips out of my fingers and come resting, balanced on my left foot. After a good swearing I try to recover it. My left arm is too stretched for me to pick it up with my free hand, so I reach with my axe and manage to hook the hanger.

Slowly, slowly, yes! Got the wee devil! Tim takes on the last pitch. It's a direct exit up a steep wall, then and icicle. Beautifull if unnerving. By the time we all abseiled down the telepherique had shut so he had to walk down the ski slope towards the resort.

Thursday was colder and by the time we got to St Christophe, it was still -5. We walked up to the Vallon du Diable. This is a superb place. Most of the climbs are within 90 min walk from the car and it's still wild and mountainuous. The valley is orientated E-W so there is a south facing side and a north facing side. The south one has the advantage that the snow transforms quicker so it's quickly less exposed to avalanches. Unfortunatly the sun gets to the top of the climbs by 12:30 at the latest and some pretty sobering collapsing can occur. The North facing side takes longer to stabilise but don't get the sun at all. On our first day in the valley we go for the cold side. Snow is not very deep, there had not been much wind in the previous days. Jon and Tony go for Les Hemos a Godo (200m II,4). A classic climb which ends in a superb amphitheather of ice. Tim and I go for Les Larmes du Chaos (II,4, 120m). The first pitch is not very sustained but a good introduction for the local hard ice. Tim carries on with the long pitch 2 which has some fairly steep bits and a beautifull continuity of line. Pitch 3 is shorter and looks quite good, finishing up a narrow gully, but the top is absolutely dripping, and there is noway I'm going in there! Abseil back. As it's still early we walk across to climb L'Autisme (150m II,4). The approach is tidious but the climb is awesome. Two long reasonably easy pitches of dubious ice lead to a raising traverse crossing the terrifying lines of Crystal Palace (IV,6+) and Le Grand Pardon (III,5). There should be a belay at the end of this traverse, but I can't find it. I carry on with the 4th pitch, hoping I'll have enough rope to reach the next belay or at least a small ledge to do a screw belay. Just as I'm about to run out of ice, I find it. Good. The traversing abseil to get to the previous belay rates as entertaining. We join Tony and Jon as they come down from their climb.

Friday. Last day of climbing. On thing is sure we go back to the Vallon du Diable. Now that we know what is the time limit to climb on the south side we're going for some routes on there. Tony and Jon go for Delivrance (II,4+) and us for Le Vol du Bourdon (II,4+). This is an other excellent climb. The first pitch is supposed to be the easiest and felt quite tough with steep bulges and plating ice. The second has a vertical step before reaching a cave belay just below the main wall. This wall is supposed to be the key of the climb with 35m of sustained 85-90 degree ice, sculpted and fragile in place. Tim goes for it. He traveres L then up on the wall. Quickly I loose sight of him. After about 25m a huge block of ice falls and Tim says "I've just been whacked by this icicle!". I ask him if he's all right, he does not answer. A few more meters and I hear something like "I'm gonna do a thread!". That's it, I think, he's injured, and needs to come down. Then he says "Safe", and makes me climb. I expect him covered in blood or something. But no. When I get to him he's hanging from these two sorry bolts but he's fine. No thread, no blood, just fine. He could not guess how much rope was left and could not hear me. When he saw the bolts he thought they were the belay so he stopped, 20 m short from the actual belay. These bolts are such that Tim occupies all the ice that I need to overtake him and take the next lead. So he'll have to continue leading. Quick calculation. the next pitch is 40m long, we are 20m short, the actual belay should have been somewhere to the L of the line of ascent, we should be alright with our 60m ropes. So up he goes, an other very steep bit for 10 m then it calms down. With about 2m ropes left, Tim reaches the belay, and I join him soon after, just in time as the sun start to warm up the upper reaches of the crag and the spindrifts get more stuborn. Ab down and it's the walk out. We need to get packing to get back to sunny Britain....

A.-


Green Gully, Ben Nevis, Arnaud Garcon, February 1999

From: Arnaud
Subject: TR: An other one bites the dust (long)
Date: 1999/02/08
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing

Cold climbs again!
Off we went, 4 in a jam packed astra (which front passenger door does not work, easy!) up north towards the beloved snowy peaks. Arrived at the King's house at 1-1:30, erected our tent and sank in sleep.

Early morning we took the direction of the Big Ben. This walk up is a killer. every time I forget how long and annoying it is, especially when you can see all the other parties walking up as well.("Shit are they going on *our* route? look there, and there! there is people every where!"). As our mates went up full of ambition towards Orion Face, we went up towards Green Gully, our aim of the day. As we approached, someone started going up the gully in front of us. Fair enough. I lead the first pitch, and discover that the party in front is composed of three climbers. But the problem is that the two seconds are not climbing together as normaly done, but one after the other, ie they are taking ages for each pitch. So there we were at our belay, freezing cold, waiting for the people in fromnt to move their arse. One of them was a Royal marine (maybe the best but not the fastest) who had flown from London for the WE. an other one was from Edinburg and the third one was presented to my mate as "Kalham, he's a bit shit, that's why he stays in the middle".

So at a pensioner rate up we went, and it was gorgeous. great condition, excellent finish. Topped in a almost-sunny-mist. and wander around on the plateau, getting skillfully lost before a break in the cloud showed our way down Red Burn (next time we'll go down by No4!). Risked a food poisonning at Ben Fong with a haggis and Chips (BTW, it's not Ben Fong anymore but a Turkish bloke)(but they still do mars bars). and drove back to the Kings House for a well deserved pint. At 10:30 we were all snoring.

Sunday we went up for "something short" in the Coe. Tim and I saw a nicely filled gully on Stob coire nan Beith, while the others went further up towards Bedian Nan Bian. We started the gully ( The Couloir? on the left hand side of the crag), Tim leading. First pitch: powder snow and turf. grim. Second pitch, I traverse a bit to reach the ice filled gully we were watching from below. Nice icefall at the bottom. I put a screw, and start the steep bit. when I arrive at the top of the icefall there is a 20m long neve. really hard snow, I cruise up to its top. There I want to put a protection, as the ice seems a bit lean on the roch above (in fact there is about 1-2 inches of ie on the rock, except on the tow corners where some icicle give some chances of success). But I don't find any rock gear placement, the pegs don't want to get in, and the ice is too thin to put a screw. So I decide to "have a look. I stand on the lip of the neve, which is about 50 cm avay from the rock, and find a way up the right hand icicle to a small ledge. My plan is to reach this ledge and from there it should be possible to traverse via a ramp towards these cracks to belay, all this hooking my axes on the spikes or the ice I could see from the bottom. No luck the ramp is much less practical than I thought, there is no spikes, and very little ice in the middle of the gully. Now I've got a umbrella-like set of icicles overhanging above my head. There is the same feature across the gully at about my height. plan B: If I can traverse using this little step towards this last umbrella, I might be able to crampon on it and go up on the other corner of the gully. I start to lean to try to reach the step with my foot, and sudenly realise I've got all my weight on one placement (right hand in the right hand corner icicle), and an ice screw 30m below. Back to the ledge. Plan C: well if I can bridge between th ramp and the thin ice covered right hand wall, and rise on my good right hand placement I might be able to reach over the umbrella to the ice that should be above in order to form the icicles I'm standing on. I go up, pull my left hand out and wack it on the flat bit above the umbrella. Shdoinggggg. it bounces off telling me in a bell sound that there is no ice over there. Right. tried plan A, tried plan B, tried plan C. You're in trouble mate. And then start the series of the "Whatif" "And what if I fall and I stuck myself between the neve and the rock. Would not be too bad... And what if I fall and I slide on the neve, I can try to blow my axe, and if the neve does not collapse, and if I don't unlock my shoulder, and if....". Get a grip man! You have to downclimb. What down climb ice? is that possible? Well, let's try. And down I go. Find a foot hold I did not see on the way up (revising in one sec. all my atheist positions), and inch after inch find myself on the lip of the neve, whispering "don't collapse please, don't, please, please". As i climb down the neve gets thicker and me more relaxed. I find a wire placement and decide to bring Tim up a bit to ask him if he want to have a go. Arrived at the bottom of the icefall he hear what the situation's like and decide that I'm going to downclimb the icefall. (the poor soul sat for 1 hour freezing, wondering what this f***g frog is doing up there, while I was screwing up on my verglas) So down I go again. at the bottom of the fall we find a nice spike, waiting for us to ab off from there.

An hour later we're at the Clachaig, waiting for the others to come down (me in front of a pint of soda cos driving!!!!). They went on stob coire nan lochan and did SC gully I think. Well a good old week end as I don't want to have too much. So conditionwise. Glen Coe is still very lean.

Grade 4 my arse!

Cheers

A.-


Cairngorms, Arnaud Garcon, January 1999

From: Arnaud
Subject: Cold ice, no falls, cold fingers
Date: 1999/01/11
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing

Hi all

After Ant's epic, this is gonna be a bit tasteless : I did not fall, I did not wreck my rope, I even did not get frost bitten.

It all started in sunny Sheffield packing a car with stacks of gear (two massive packs for a week end! a real girly!), then speeding up the M6-M74 towards Bonny Scotland to do there my fist winter climb above grade II and my first scottish mixed climb.

Arriving in Aviemore at the reasonable time of 1:30 am, we decided to bivvy on the ski center car park to save us some precious hours of sleep. At 6 am the first parties were going up. we heard a couple of people saying thing like "Hey, having a early start lads?" as we were fighting to ignore the buggers stepping in our bedroom. When my mate Jon put the bacon on the stove the snow started to fall heavily, and I was very glad that the buggers woke us up...

After being lost in the mist we headed for Andromeda IV,4 120m in Corrie nan Lochain. Jon lead the first pitch and I watched him doing wierd things with his axes (hooking in cracks...). I took the lead on the second pitch. The snow was a bit too fresh to give good axe placements and bit too old to be easyly cleared to find pro and rock placements. after a good struggle and a couple of sparks (and a few "ya b***d, where is that f***g ice!" when jamed into a chimney, wacking my axe to see it go through the sugary snow) I got up that buldge and swam to the belay. Jon negociated the cornice with great skills and I follows swearing every time this powdery snow was coming down on my face and in my neck every time I was moving my arms. Got to the plateau, thick mist but no wind. Went to pitch the tent in Aviemore and got to the pub. Add a few pints (see fatget?) and planed the next day. In that pub, lots of people were franticaly waving their arms in a Braveheart way and compiling their topoguide (but no skirts).

Sunday, went under the cover of darkness over to Hell's Lum crag. First there we went to have a go at Deep cut Chimney IV,4 150m. Jon lead the slabby bit at the begining, and I went up the gully part with great enjoyment and lots of "Oh" and "Ah" and "Dead good!". But the most funny bit is certainly the chimney at the top: You go to the end of the gully and then come back out in a upward traverse doing a feet-back opposition towards a chockstone (sp?) locked in the middle of the chimney. From there you can reach the top. Jon profited of his lead to reduce all the remaining food in is rucksac into a big bag of crums and squashed apple. Anyway that was an excellent week end which was worth the drive

Cheers

Arnaud

More of Arnaud's writings :
Illustrated ice climbing trip report from Bourg, January 2003

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