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

Duncan Irving's Reports

Edition of 12/01/2010

Index to Duncan's reports...
Back Tor (Winter), January 2010
OMM Elite, Elan Valley, November 2009 (Ru**ing)
Kinder Downfall (Winter), January 2009
Lliwedd, December 2007
Gogarth August 2005
Cornwall April 2004
Grey Corries (Cairngorm) March 2004
Stanage February 2004
Northern Corries (Cairngorm) February 2004
Chamonix, September 2003
Cairngorms, August 2003
Mid Wales Gritstone, August 2003
Grit classics, May 2003
Various, Easter 2003
Curbar & Stanage, March 2003
English Lakes, February 2003
Alps: La Meije, Aiguille Dibona, Petit Dru, Brown route on the Blaitiere, September 2002
Jamming extravaganza at Ramshaw, June 2002
Traverse of Sierra Nevada in Andalucia, November 2001
Winter climbing in Cairngorms and Creag Meagaidh, January 2000
6 Minor crags in France, April 1999

----- Original Message -----
From: "Duncan Irving"
Sent: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 4:09 PM
Subject: [] WHTR Back Tor

Here's a Working Hours TR for this morning's action.....

Sarah left me to do the boys' breakfast and get them to nursery at 9am which left me with a 10 min sprint to the station to meet my very senior accomplice and neighbour, Roger. Packing a winter sack whilst trying to get two young boys out of the door had melted my brain somewhat but the train was punctual and we were in Edale for 0930 and had waded up to the foot of Back Tor 45 mins later. A howling wind and lashing spindrift that were not visible from down below reminded us what winter climbing was about and we kitted up quickly.

I banged in a nut and belayed Roger up the left-hand gully which he made short work of until a tricky step and some really solid stuff that may even have been ice lurking under the powder. Several minutes/hours later he was up it and knocked in a couple of warthogs for a belay. I should add that he was wearing a Whillans sit harness and some oft-repaired Dachsteins to add to the old-school charm. I was shivering by this stage and the hot-aches kicked in with a vengeance at the technical step so it wasn't that enjoyable - I managed a jovial grimace for his camera.

I took the lead and the next half-rope-length was pleasant dagger work on hard turf under the powder, terminating in a towering marshmallow of powder and bilberry coming off a vertical rock step. Loverly. I dug a trench into it, bridged through and calm ensued. I walked over to the sheep fence just visible in the mist and spindrift and body-belayed Roger up this last.

After some short discussion, consumption of pork pie, Christmas cake, and some hot blackcurrant we decided to call it a day at lunchtime and head back through the tunnel to New Mills. We'd just missed the 1245 train so killed the next two hours in the Nags Head but unfortunately didn't manage to sample all six ales in the short time available.

For what it's worth, winter climbing fans, these milder winds should serve to consolidate all this powder and bring these easy gullys into perfect nick. The one that we climbed was a shakey 200' grade II but it and its neighbours would all be perfectly fine solos with a bit of consolidation underfoot.

Anyone for a quickie on Friday?

----- Original Message -----
From: "Duncan Irving"
Sent: Tuesday, November 03, 2009 10:41 PM
Subject: [] TR: OMM Elite

OK, OK. Sorry about the wait, here's a TR for the closet runners out there.

In the absence of a partner I resorted to chatting someone up in a web forum (sound familiar, you lot?) and found a Scottish ultra distance runner who'd done a few Elite classes before and eight (8!) West Highland Way races so I felt that I'd better train a bit. And train I did, three nights a week: two doing an eight mile loop over Kinder and adjacent lumps; and then a long one at the weekend, for the whole of September. I tapered during October and then just ate a lot for a fortnight before the race.

On the Friday night I drove a couple of Peninne mates doing the A-class and myself to Builth Wells where the event centre was located. I met up with Jody, and he seemed up for a good run so we only had the one ale and repaired to the tent to sort out kit. Six hours and a double helping of freshly ground espresso later we were heading for the start line (via the bogs) suitably revved up and got going at 0750. We motored around the first eight miles or so and found each check point bob-on and we were pretty pleased that, with our early started, we'd held off the faster pairs for the first few hours. This changed in the clag on an open boggy stretch when the eventual winners and runners up came motoring past us followed by the UK orienteering champs but this didn't really dent our spirits as we were high on running and peat. As the squalls worsened a couple of Mars and a litre of water saw us heading up to the halfway mark when I had a massive energy lull and tunnel vision. Rapid consumption of sultanas and energy gel from my chestpouch/nosebag whilst trying to stagger up a hill and keep my lungs from coming out of my nose saw us back up on a 2000' moorland top with a looooong descent back down the other side passing our two A-class mates and some other Pennine folk trying out the Long Score class in the opposite direction. With the sun breaking through we had a quick haul back up to 2000' and then what can only be described as a never-ending bad trip of running over tussocks for five miles with the wind swishing through it all and no other sound. It was really doing my head in. We saw other people but they were always a long way away, dressed badly and running in different directions. Eventually we closed on the last few miles of the 28 mile course and hundreds of other runners were pouring down the final tracks to the finish line two hillocks away and 100' down. Drinking as much gelled water as possible to stave of cramp on the next 30 mins of downhill, we ran hard and fast and finished in just over 8 hours, 39th out of 55 starters.

We got the tent up, blew up the balloons for the balloon bed (google it if you don't believe me!) got some couscouscarbs down ASAP and drank many brews. A storm went over us but we slept through it for nine hours. Nice. Breakfast was cold couscous, two Mars Bars and a hot chocolate. No room for niceties when you're trying to keep pack weights below 4.5 kg.

We started well and got a good line over the first moor to the first control and then creaked our way up through a two mile rise of waist height spiny grass and tussocks growing out of a six-inch paddy field. This went on for an hour until we crested and joined a long furrow ploughed by the C-class which we followed to the second check point. Poor route choice from here (a down and up, instead of a long contour) cost a few minutes against a competing pair to the next checkpoint another hour on but we did pass a few laggards who were obviously struggling with a second day of running. After the fourth checkpoint we realised that we'd been tailing the 2007 winner for the last 30 mins and smoked them on a steep downhill (always a good mind game) and kept them off on the ensuing "up" out of the otherside of the valley. They tired of this game after three valleys and fell right back. We ate the last of our food (emergency cheddar notwithstanding) and hightailed it over the long eastward ridge to start what can only be described as gratuitous hill reps whereby the race organiser had placed checkpoints in a zig zag along a ridge but 500' below it's crest on alternating sides. Cheers. We'd had way too much sugar to care about this sort of game and motored through the lot.

Total race time 14:30 hrs and we picked up four places to finish 35. We were really chuffed as Jody had never done this well before and after my dismal LAMM performance in June, I just wanted to finish. In fact, we finished within the magic winner+50% time so wahey. Next time I reckon I can shed about 500g of food and spare clothing so who knows? The Cheddar came in useful for crumbling into the soup they were doling out at the finish line. MMmmm.

All maps and stuff are on if you like loads and loads of tabulated numbers and lines on maps. The Long Score checkpoints were a particularly evil set this year given that the winners picked up 400 points.

Climbing again soon, I hope.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Duncan Irving"
Sent: Monday, January 12, 2009 11:06 AM
Subject: Re: [] Aid climbing (TRish. Actually more of a brag)

Nice TR [Arnaud's report Kinder Downfall (Winter), January 2009]. Here's mine.

On Thursday evening I and 30 members of the PFR ran up the River Kinder from Hayfield to get some mileage in and say hello to any climbers who might be on the downfall. It was looking pretty solid so after five pints and as many hours sleep, thanks to Alfred's nocturnal activities, I found myself back up there the next morning with Seth. The LHS was almost on the deck (and is indeed IV when fully-formed) and the RHS had a technical start up a dripping "chandelle" or by some iced rocksteps further over. Seth heaved himself up the Chandelle and then tried to back his way up some hollow flutings but struck water on several placements causing him to scramble rightwards to the top of the lower downfall. A long traverse under the upper icefall which was too thin that morning took us to the chimney exit of the summer route and some nice thuggy jamming and torquing to extract ourselves onto the plateau. A bit of ice-bouldering on some adjacent falls rounded off a perfect morning.

For the record, ice screws, cams and nuts were used in the protection of this endeavour and several knees were placed but only after a top-rope inspection.

Duncan Irving, Lliwedd, December 2007

----- Original Message -----
From: "Duncan Irving"
Sent: Wednesday, December 19, 2007 9:20 AM
Subject: [] TR: Lliwedd in winter

It was definitely light by the time we reached Pen y Pass but as it was my birthday the day before we were, quite frankly, lucky to be going anywhere that morning. A brisk trot along to the base of Lliwedd's east buttress saw us at the foot of Avalanche Wall and stamping and blowing in the cold.

In my quest to tick as much of Classic Rock as possible, and "no time like the present" to continue this thing, Avalanche Wall was the obvious place to come on a cold winter's morning for some big-booted action. Thirty minutes of desperate scrabbling on the avoidable entry crack corrected this view. Hotaches had kicked in and it was obvious that big boots were not the footwear for Lliwedd that day! We moved left and tried to force a scrambling way up the left-hand side of the Horned Crag but instead had some near-death experiences in some very steep heather and loose rock.

Common sense finally prevailed and we abbed off a nut and screwgate and walked around the side to reach the sun-kissed summit. Here we munched on butties and birthday cake. As we packed up to move off, a maillon clattered out of Arnaud's sack much to my bemusement after sacrificing a screwgate on the ab. ha ha. We continued the sunny traverse around to Snowdon and after a quick debate decided to race the sunset along the icy crest of Crib Goch. Darkness finally caught us just as we came off the bottom of the troublesome frozen screes and we tripped and stumbled our torchless way back to Pen y Pass and back to Manchester for tea time.

Not much climbing but we've both popped our Lliwedd cherries and will come back with some more suitable equipment (i.e. rockshoes and a decent guidebook) and we had a spectacular traverse of the horseshoe with a temperature inversion below us.


Duncan Irving, Gogarth, August 2005

----- Original Message -----
From: "Duncan Irving"
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Sent: Tuesday, August 30, 2005 4:00 PM
Subject: sickness

Help! This weekend I went climbing twice and neither trips were to a gritstone crag. I had forgotten how much fun such activities can be...

On Sunday we drove many miles to some place called Wales where I was tricked into climbing down a death-defying damp seacliff and traversing leftwards at 5a into the teeth of a gale (the BBC had mischievously put a big yellow sun over Wen Zawn). After nearly being blown off several times I had to endure being splashed with foam in some dank smelly crack while my partner then pretended to enjoy nearly being blown off the same traverse. Whilst I hung and shivered and watched the ropes being blown up the crag my partner then battled the elements across to what looked like a rubble-filled chimney and, after my core temperature had dropped below what I would consider conducive to enjoyment (even in winter), beckoned me to join him. With a tailwind-cum-updraft I sailed up the flake to his smelly belay and we gulped with dread at the thrashing void below and the descending traverse to the now sun-dappled exit. All was not lost though, after a few tentative steps downwards, a calm befell route, and a shining path of holds appeared allowing us to dance across the final slabs and roofs with but a handful of runners. How we rejoiced on the ledge that we'd done the Dream on a bank holiday Sunday with not a soul on the crag until we'd finished.

More weirdly, this self-confessed gritstoner went to Trowbarrow yesterday and had a great time on the likes of Javelin, Sleeping Sickness and a wobbly seconding of Sense of Doubt. It was sunny, excellent climbing and my tendons don't hurt that much. The only thing that spoilt it was retreating from Aladdinsane - it seems limestone offwidths should be avoided as much as their gritstone counterparts on a hot sweaty day.

Hopefully I will go to a gritstone quarry near Rochdale later this week to atone for my deviant behaviour over the weekend....


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

Duncan Irving, Cornwall, April 2004

----- Original Message -----
From: "Duncan Irving"
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Sent: Thursday, April 15, 2004 10:32 AM
Subject: TR: Pasties and Cream (not a porno post)

This post doesn't have anything about Christina Aiguilledewhatsername or any animals. We did eat Pasties every day tho' so that'll get a few of you drooling, Tony.

Arrived at the Trewellard Campsite, (N of St Just) in nethermost Cornwall at middnight on Thursday and eell-rested, me and best-man-to-be Toby opted for a warm-up for the weekend at Bosigran. Toby was keen for some 4a leading but all the Door* routes were busy so we got on Little Brown Jug. Easy-peasy 4c first pitch. I'd forgotten I'd done this and led off up to meet some nice senior Rucksac Club types on the Doorway ledge. I'd got a bit confused about what came next and sent Toby off up above but he fortunately recognised 5a for what it was and I got back in the driving seat. The memories started flooding back whilst scarting about on the thin slab above the rockover. Everything now seemed pretty familiar and then I remembered the top move off the Ledge Route traverse which I'd bottled several years back. Uncertainty crept in as I launched through the rounded laybacks and jabbed feet into the unhelpful break. A rattly cam under the final nose and after telling myself that if this was in the Peak, all you had to do was launch and there'd be a magic jug, I launch and there was a magic jam. Oh well, it held and I jammed a bit more and stood up. Phew.

A spot of lunch and a quick bit of soling on Big Top, Ledge Route etc calmed the nerves and we then had an ambling late-afternoon romp up Doorpost. I'd done it years ago so was happy to take a back seat. Toby was a bit shaky on the drips as you cross the upper part of the slab but made short work of the pitch. I got the 2nd pitch wrong and did the 3rd as well and then it was ice-cream time before an evening in the Trewellard Arms.

As the ales disappeared, our numbers swelled to a round dozen and we made plans to try something new. The next morning (well, noon, actually) we arrived at Lizard Point, in an attempt to avoid the damp gloom on the north coast. Here it was grey and fresh with a slight sea running. Long-time partner Si and I decided that Toby needed a proper seacliff experience and managed to locate Sirius, an unlikely looking Hard Severe weaving its way through some hanging corners of rough Killas Slate and quartz bands for a couple of pitches. It was atmospheric, adventurous and great climbing in just the right amounts and Toby's opinion of it improved with time after we'd topped out. Good practice for things to come. We ruminated on Pasties and watched others in our party tick all the VSs on the next outcrop along, again with positive remarks about the quality of the climbing. (Note: must go back and climb the Cull when I can lead E3!). Another night in the Arms.

Easter Sunday and back on the granite. We arrived at Chair Ladder in the mist and before noon, despite my mapreading. Everything was damp and we'd just got the back of the tide so Toby and I opted to play dodge the wave and get on Seal Slab (VS). This is a corker in the dry and really good fun in the damp. Everything was slippy and the bottom bit stank of bird-vom but the pro was good enough to coax a leader up the two hanging corners. Above the belay, all was dry and Toby got his first VS lead up the layback crack in fine style. i.e. laybacking it. A leisurely lunch of pasties and saffron buns daubed in clotted cream and then dammit, the sun came out and an hour or two disappeared. Upon waking we realised that we only had time for a quickie before having to leave for supper in the Arms so Si, Myles and I legged it down to Bishop's Rib. After much discussion as to who was going to do what (Si wanted a back seat as he's not been out much of late, I wanted the first pitch as it was only 45' of 5b), Myles ended up with the first pitch and led through the roof of the rockfall scar most elegantly. Si followed with simlar grace and I almost completely arsed it up by getting wrong-handed on the rockover. Last-in-first-out and I got the 100' 5a pitch. Hmmm. I decided a forthright attitude was required and immediately put 10' between me and the belay before stopping for a runner. Actually, it was all so steep that I couldn't rest until I'd got that far. I was stopped by a flared break, rising to the left with oppurtunities for protection dwindling with height. I fiddled a few crappy cams into it, got my right foot up next to me and udged my way leftwards. Just where you feel that you are about to roll right off it, I could reach a good nut placement at full stretch. This was enough to renew the sense of adventure and steady the nerves and away I went. A few fat pinches on rounded flakes followed by a couple of jams and after what seemed like ages I found a good place to rest. The nut was way out of site and the hard bit was done. Above was a fine, Chamonix-style pair of rough cracks, full of flakes and rough edged, nicely sustained at 4b or so. A superb route, I see what the fuss is about! Toffee ice-cream and another evening of fine ales to celebrate.

Monday dawned with more pitter-patter on the tent but we optimistically headed for Gurnard Head, 10 mins up the road. There was wild talk the evening before about Astral Stroll on Carn Gloose but the dampness of the crag became evident so Si and I enlisted Toby for a bimble along Right Angle. Amazingly we were first ones on it and Toby was noticeably apprenhensive about climbing in this sort of terrain. I'd done it before in the drizzle on Eclipse Day so was revelling in the dryness now that the sun had come on to it. We put Toby in the middle and I led off on the 1st traverse bringing the other two across to the big ledge. Next was the big downclimb which I stacked with gear for Si to de-lead but at the base it was obvious that this was no longer the Hard Severe line as given in any of the guide books. A few holds are now missing and the traverse to the lowermost belay ledge is a couple of 5a slab smears (on slate) with no gear for the last man unless you take a skyhook. We didn't have one so Toby had a tight rope and Si had a lot of TLC to both join me in the shady recess below the main corner. Si then romped off up the Right Angle, managing to deploy most of the rack in the 100' of superb climbing. Much better than I remembered and I'm mad keen for a return visit!

A return match in autumn for the ones that got away is definitely on the cards.


Duncan Irving, Grey Corries, Cairngorm, March 2004

----- Original Message -----
From: Duncan Irving
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Sent: 02 March 2004 11:47
Subject: TR turf's up!

Arnaud and I fled work up the M6 on Friday night and met up with Jules in the Aberarder Farm carpark; he'd spent 5 hours getting there from Aberdeen because of the snow. We decided that Meagaidh was not a goer so we met up with another threesome at Spean Bridge the next morning and paired off for a day in the Grey Corries. This 100m quartzite crag has been attracting a lot of developers over the last few seasons and Jules recommended it with great enthusiasm. We wandered up and Arnaud and I picked out what looked like a good gully on the smaller Beinn an Socaich on our way in to the corrie. We climbed this snow gully, which we have found out since was claimed by Andy Nisbet last October at grade I, and dropped back down to the base of the crag to join the party.

Word has obviously got out about this "new" crag and 3 parties were strung out on Talliballan, the V,6 plum on the crag with 4 other parties elsewhere. Without the new Ben Nevis guidebook, Arnaud and I took pot luck and found a likely looking line traversing out of a gully along a deep break and onto a steep rib. I bridged into a stomach-traverse out of the first belay and placed nuts behind any likely-looking flake that I could find until I could establish myself on a wide ledge. A couple of dicey moves on hollow, dry, turf were then required to duck myself+rucsack below the top of the break and stand up again but a belay was found and Arnaud followed. His pitch looked brilliant and after a bit of whining at the complete lack of gear, Arnaud soon rose to the occasion and powered up the groove to a hair-raising frontpoint traverse leftwards and a rockover on some pretty poor placements. This was evidently the crucial passage and Arnaud made it look a very easy from where I stood. After nearly barn-dooring off as one of the turf blobs came off on my pick I was soon up at the belay with the top pitch just a sequence of scrambles to the summit. We found out from some folk at the top that we'd just done the Calf (IV,5) and well-worth a couple of stars. We filled in the remaining two hours of daylight with a complete traverse of the Grey Corries to keep this year's Munro target on track. The rest of our party had a great day out as well, and Jules says he may or may not have done a new route.

We made it to the Kingshouse for supper and after a convivial evening, woke to find that all the water in Glencoe had frozen. This bode well for our high expectations of finding some phat icefalls in the Glen but was of no help at all in our more immediate problem of getting rid of the 80-shilling-induced headache. By 8 o'clock we were patrolling the Coe "en convoi" checking out Blue Riband and any other piece of ice that should have been there but wasn't. Eventually, on our back up the Glen, four of the party opted for the two icefalls on Sron na-Creise but Arnaud and I were in turf mood and headed for Glen Orchy for a pop at Taxus (II,IV) which had been climbed by Toby Johnson's party the day before.

Toby's assessment of the conditions was spot on and we made short work of the initial ice pitches, although we both had opportunity to curse ourselves for not bring ice-screws. Dodgy pegs and even dodgier warthogs (turf was too dry) made everything look secure though, and we had great sport on the steeper sections of the route which alternated between easy-angled icefalls and the odd rockstep with well-frozen turf/mud for placements. 150 m up we reached the direct finish which would have been foolish for climbers of our weight to attempt in such lean conditions so we stomped up the exit gully and reached the summit for wall-to-wall blue skies and a most fantastic view over all of the Grampians. Arnaud wasn't keen for much Munro bagging so we traversed Beinn an Dothaid and descended for a haggis supper in the Ben Ledi cafe before the drive back to Manc. A top weekend of turf climbing and munro gathering with unbeatable weather on both days; I can't remember the last time that happened.


Duncan Irving, Stanage, Peak, February 2004

----- Original Message -----
From: "Duncan Irving"
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Sent: Thursday, February 26, 2004 10:21 AM
Subject: TR Dry-tooling on Stanage

Arnaud dry-tooled Terraza crack in an ultra-pure style using no tools at all and just a pair of rockboots on his feet. It was extremely cold and the hotaches were enough to make you weep. Almost. We both fell off it a lot as hand-jamming is really difficult when it's so cold. I have lost a lot of knuckle/wrist skin. We then followed this up with a warm-up jog down to Crow Chin where Stefan led an equally cold Diff and I did Feather Friends (the VS to the left) which wasn't cold until I took my gloves off for the crux. Fingers still slightly numb and I think I had hotaches more times in one afternoon than in a whole weekend of winter climbing. All-in-all a fine preparatory excursion for a weekend on a big mixed route.


Duncan Irving, Northern Corries, February 2004

----- Original Message -----
From: "Duncan Irving" Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Sent: Tuesday, February 24, 2004 5:22 PM
Subject: TR At last, winter action

Not much to post about yet this year in the way of TRs; a couple of gritstone hits at Birchen and Rivelin have prevented too much of a grade slide over the winter lay-off but finally I've got a slice of winter pie.

Last Saturday, Sarah and I drove up to Aviemore after a night in Edinburgh to meet a couple of mates who turned out not to be there but instead ended up having a chance reunion with a gaggle of ex-EUMC folk who seemed to be swarming up the sixes and sevens of the N Corries. The two of us teamed up with occasional urc-poster and namesake, John Irving, and trundled up to Fingers Ridge (IV) for a very respectable 9 am start.

It was foggy, cold, and, most importantly, in condition. I traversed out across some sketchy slabs and found the way onto the ridge proper and, after failing to force a way up the compact and powdery slabs on the right of the ridge, lowered off a warthog and belayed the others up. A shivering John made efficient bridging work of the groove system on the left of the ridge and warmed to the task of pulling through the flakes at the top of the groove, singing as he went. He had found the windiest place in Scotland to set up a belay so I hurried through and continued up the crack above which comprised a set of gorgeous layaways and other gritstone-esque postions. I crested the ridge and had the full force of the icy vortex whipping into my face and trying to tip me off the precarious steps below the fingers. I ran out 50 m and finally got between the fingers for some respite and draped a belay over the top of the second finger. The other two arrived; Sarah had blood dripping and freezing onto her axe after a misplaced blow to a block. After a shouted discussion of our options we declined tackling the final crack directly and plumped for a leftwards avoidance and the peace of the summit plateau well back from the maelstrom. A quick descent got us down by 4 pm and we were back in Edinburgh in time for the Fall gig at the venue which rocked.....

Back next weekend for more.


John Irving's TR for the same outing is here

Duncan Irving, Chamonix, September 2003

----- Original Message ----- From: Duncan Irving
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Sent: 12 September 2003 16:43
Subject: TR: a flying visit to Chamonix

In July I wasn't planning to go to the Alps, hoping instead to do all those Cairngorms ticks that I've never got around too, but as other folk went and returned through August, my will got the better and I got some cheap flights with BA to Geneva and booked myself in to Stef, my mate's, spare bed in Argentiere. Toby, a climbing partner from when we were at Cardiff, joined us from Zurich as he is currently trying to avoid writing his PhD up.

I arrived as the first snows of autumn were falling on the last weekend of August so we warmed our limbs up on the Barbarine slabs to get used to climbing together after such a long break. That was accomplished after a few minutes and slick chaos was still our MO. We topped up spiritually at the Museum of the History of Science in Geneva where there is a fine display of H.B. de Saussure's analytical instrumemts that he and his porters lugged up Mont Blanc to measure air pressure, humidity, sky colour (!) etc and was pretty impressive. Well worth a rainy day's visit. Free, too.

Right, cut to the climbing. After lugging a tent and climbing gear all around the Lakes on the bank holiday weekend, the stroll up to the Albert Premier hut was a doddle and we were allotted the 4 am bunkroom by the warden. (Wine is surprisingly cheap there). There was still a fair bit of snow on the rock routes so we had chosen the Tour Glacier as a good venue in that there was nothing too big to bite off and most things there are easy to get down. We selected the very snowy 400 m Table de Roc spur (normally PD but Scottish III this week) on the Aiguille du Tour and arrived at the base of the couloir as Mars was rising.

The sun soon followed and we 3 made good time up the widening couloir until a hard move over a chockstone brought us to a bifurcation which threw us left (wrong) then right (wrong and an hour of faffing) and finally we left the confines of the couloir and arrived in the sun on the crest of the spur. The angle shallowed and we scrambled up snowy slabs and short chimneys for an hour or two until stopped by a set of vertical grooves. Self-doubt was starting to grip us but we were pretty sure that we'd done about 300 m of ascent and that the W Summit and its Table de Roc should be around here somewhere. It turned out, after some rather strenuous bridging up a load of slush and loose flakes, that the capping stone of my chosen line was in fact the table and it was so big I had failed to realise it as such. A shimmy right and we were at its base with an awful lot of exposure either side and below and a jagged ridge leading off to the summit behind it. Toby's turn for a dodgy lead so he fought his way up the crack in his crampons but had to take mitts off for the teetery mantle onto the Table itself. Stef gingerly followed after trying several times to get his body to do the necessary lunge of faith onto the snowy tabletop at his chest. The absence of gear and distance to the belayer at the end of the table make this quite exciting. I followed and we stopped for lunch.

We estimated the W Summit to be an hour or so of scrambling away and after weaving through the flakes it proved to be a smidge further. We then made an error of judgement and used some tat to ab down and avoid a knife edge section ending in a tall tower, which after regaining the ridge 1 hr and 250 m further along would have gone but c'est la vie. The ridge itself was a few 100 m long but crenellated in the extreme and well covered with snow, rendering crampons a necessary hindrance. We finally summited at sunset with a beautiful view over the Valais peaks to the east and the Aiguille Verte appearing out of the cloud just beyond the Aiguille d'Argentiere. The hut guardian was concerned that we were still unaccounted for and we were briefly visited by the Gendarmes in their red helicopter. We gave them the single arm and they gave us a thumbs up and peeled off back down to Chamonix.

We made it down to the col between the two peaks as light was failing and were back in the hut for some soup at 11. (Thanks to the cooks!). The next day we were knackered and descended for beers in the sun.

Next on the menu was rock climbing. With anything above 3000 m still holding snow Toby and I decided on the Tour Rouge on the Envers des Aiguilles and tried to book a place in the Envers hut. Unfortunately the recorded message said they were shut and by the time we'd packed a tent and sleeping bags we'd missed the last train up. We got the first one the next morning and took a hangover or two up as well, pitched the tent below the Trelaporte glacier and were at the base of Marchand du Sable by 2 pm. Fast or what! We asked the two guys who were requipping some lines to the right where we were and they confirmed that the bolt just below the rimaye was our first bolt which they'd obviously just placed in anticipation of further deflation of the tiny glacier.

Now, I'd been led to believe that Michel Piola's routes were fairly well bolted after my experiences on the Peigne and elsewhere so we had a dozen quickdraws and three small cams for those worrying moments. As it turned out the first two bolts that we could see at 10 and 20 m were the only bolts on the route and with 300 m of HVS-E2 to go, it started to dawn us that the afternoon was only going to get more exciting. Once the orignal shock of massive runouts and trouser-filling lower offs to recover a cam from 15 m below had subsided we started to relax into our route and the bolt belays and views over the snowy Drus and the Talefre basin gave us a sense of security. Some of the run-out sections were laughable (on completion) although these were interspersed with some aggresive crack climbing which involved a certain amount of re-ascent to fetch necessary protection from below oneself. We called it a day about 2/3 of the way up as the sun started to set and we abbed back to our boots and axes. The bolting pair descended at the same time and it turned out to be none other than M Piola himself, ensuring access to his routes in the lean times to come.

A glorious sunset and some big rockfalls off the Sans Nom acompanied our dinner and we woke at 5 to start the East Face of the Aiguille Du Roc. We promptly went back to sleep at the sight of the cloud moving over from the west and woke up again at 7 for some light cragging. Suitably equipped with a set of nuts, hexes and a shedload of cams we did the first 3 pitches of our previous route in more of a British style and then broke out left to find "Cinquieme Dynastie" another TD. We failed, and found a lot of blind hanging grooves which, judging from the tat, people had either abbed back out of at 45 m or aided into the next one above. Massive runouts, blank slabs, blind cracks, this end of the crag had them all and I could see why M Piola had concentrated on the readily-protectable ground further right for his dozen "modern classics". We perservered for a while until we tired of being lost and nerve-jangled in equal measure and finally abbed off a fat sloper as the greying sky started to spit rain. A quick pack and a 90 minute sprint saw us arrive gasping on the last train down to Chamonix with 30 secs to spare. Man, those ladders hurt when you're racing the clock.

More wine and a day at Vallorcine but I still can't do the central slab line without falling off it after years of trying. Stef and I rounded my trip off with a pleasant but cloudy jaunt into the Aiguilles Rouges to do the E Face of the Crochues (AD) followed by the traverse through the chossy pinnacles on top (PD). Pleasant enough climbing and an ideal introduction for Stef's girlfriend to the art of moving together on a rope, climbing with a sac, etc. We completed the route and descended to the Lac Blanc buvette for omelette and beer. A very mellow day in the mountain. When will they start selling chips at the CIC hut?

A shame about the weather breaking but then I've done less in a whole fortnight in mid-August so I can't complain. The Alps hadn't fallen apart and they'll still be there next year. They've just got better at putting up photos in the OHM which seems to have generated a lot stories about the end of alpinism etc. Anyway, it's gritstone season/freshers' week very soon so we'll have something else to moan about....


Duncan Irving, Cairngorms, August 2003

----- Original Message ----- From: Duncan Irving
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Sent: 18 August 2003 13:56
Subject: TR Cairngorms

After vowing several times never to walk-in to the Hutchison Hut again I finally found myself with partner - Richard -, car, two bikes, and a free long weekend. So, after a 2 hr trundle up Glen Derry, we had our tent pitched near the aforementioned hut by 6ish feeling slightly smug about the 2.5 hr approach using bikes for the first 12 km.

Still with three hours of daylight, and not enough whisky to go the distance, we filled in the time by stumbling up to Creagan a'choire Etchachan and took on the shining Talisman (150 m HS) in the twilight. Richard took on the slab pitch and exposed traverse, I got the swiftly-dispatched hanging corner and Rich finished off to the top. Pleasant climbing but I think that it is somewhat overgraded when compared to granite HS such as Demo Route and Pegasus, maybe it was the dry spell we're having.

Saturday saw us up early and we hiked over to Carn Etchachan to try Richard out on mountain HVS. This was done using the cracks of Time Traveller (150 m) on the Upper Tier, well worth more than its single star with a combination of roof, big flake crack and a whole pitch of crack and face climbing to follow. Mainly peak VS (!) with a couple of harder moves on the second pitch as you pull out from under a roof and then layback a flake for several metres not unlike an easier version of Freddie's Finale.

After lunching and swithering (Scottish sunbathing but where you put more clothes on in case the sun goes in whilst sleeping) we summoned up the energy to go back up to the same buttress so Richard could lead Crevasse Route (120 m Mild S) which was fab. If you are interested in the processes by which whole buttresses part company from their mother-edifice then this route (as its name suggests) is a good example. The climbing follows several such crevasses and belays in a couple for good measure. The best bit is the elegant chimneying through a window and out onto a perfect hidden ledge where one looks across to the upper pitches of the Shelterstone crag. We packed the kit, ran over onto Ben Macdui for some fine views across to Torridon, Ben Nevis and Arrochar with all points in between before heading down to Loch Ethcachan for a swim (v cold) and fresh pasta (quicker to cook and means no one talks to you in the hut).

Sunday was windier and we felt dampness in the air so we thought that south-facing Coire Sputan Dearg would be a better bet than the Loch A'an basin as you can see the fronts coming in from the SW. We decided that Richard did want to do another HVS now that his body had relaxed a bit so we sweated up to the Derry Cairngorm col, traversed around to the base of Grey Man's Crag and located the base of Amethyst Buttress (120 m HVS). I led off up the first pitch which was a series of unprotected 4c mantles until about 20 m off the deck. It then turned into a fine set of alpine-style cracks and flakes with good gear and some brilliant granite balance moves. A rock-over through a small roof took me off route into Pilgrim's Groove for a while but we rejoined the second pitch and installed ourselves in a niche below the final pitch. This was a 5a offwidth which I can only compare with the direct start to Surgeon's Saunter for the aggression needed to ascend it and the damage the rather crumbly granite does to your hands in the process. An absolute pig-of-a-crack and great fun. Three rests and a lot of foul language saw it off and after the initial thrutch to get into it and stay there, some elegant and strenuous jamming and lay-aways got me up to the belay. Definitely the best route in the Coire.

By now the wind was howling and the early blue skies had greyed. We ran down to the tent, packed and yomped back down to our bikes which allowed us to reach the car park in 2.5 hrs from the summit slopes of Ben Macdui. Walking is a mugs game!

The best bit about the whole trip was that at each of the crags we visited, we were the only people. Indeed we had the whole of Sputan Dearg to ourselves which has been the case on all my visits.


PS For some pedant points, I found the graded list in the Cairngorm guide way out in ranking Time Traveller at No 6 and Amethyst Buttress half-way down the 50 or so. The former is only just above VS and the latter is nearly E1...FWIW

Duncan Irving, Mid Wales Gritstone, August 2003

----- Original Message -----
From: Duncan Irving
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Sent: 11 August 2003 17:42
Subject: TR (short) Mid Wales gritstone

Spent the Sunday in between humid downpours at Trawsfynydd on Garreg Yr Ogof, A pleasant little GRITSTONE crag in mid Wales. The new mid Wales guidebook is a gem and has a shed-load of new gritstone crags in which are well worth a visit. Our chosen venue had some pumpy VS-E1 (all hard in the grade) 10m routes to go at and I've found a few other similarly appointed crags in my stomps around the Rhinogs.
Access varies between 5 mins and 1 hr so nothing new there for gritstone fans, but before you think another Stanage is out there, it should be noted that these grits have a lot of pebble bands and slate bands so there a slatey breaks (good for gear) and thick beds of well-cemented gravel which are usually breached by cracks. Ouch. Easily accesible from Porthmadog: 30 mins to the eastern crags) and 45 mins drive + walk-in for the stuff up in the Rhinogau.
Well worth a look sometime soon.


Grit Classics, Duncan Irving, May 2003

From: Duncan Irving (
Subject: TR: Grit Classics
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Date: 2003-05-12 04:40:04 PST

Wednesday evening: Standing Stones.

Arnaud, myself and our new climbing pal, Helen, zoomed out to Standing Stones for the evening sun (!). It was pretty dry with a fresh wind and the friction was great. We warmed up on Womanless Wall (VS) with Arnaud leading, Helen led Fairy Nuff, the classic of the crag and one of the Western Edge's best VS routes and then I fell of Fallen Heroes a few times on the way to the top (E1). This a fantastically pumpy, slightly overhanging little number but I thought I needed the practice after the previous Monday's performnace on Pillar LH Crack at Gardoms which wasn't happening at all. A spot of soloing followed and then Arnaud and myself took it in turns to back off Ocean Wall (E1) as the sun was setting. Question: what goes up the big blank slab on the RH of the small crag up and left of it?

Saturday: Froggatt.

We arrived at Froggatt before midday just to prove a point to our Sheffield-based pals and warmed up on Pedastal Route (HVS) which was dispatched with surprising ease. We then had a play on a top rope on Brown's Eliminate (sssh) and then Arnaud suggested we did Valkyrie. There was a queue so I excorsised a long-standing ghost and led 3 Pebble Slab in the interim.
We then got on Valkyrie, Arnaud making short and capable work of the first pitch as he'd led the top one before. I then pulled out of the belay and explored the upper pitch a few times, climbing back down to the ledge each time. After a bit of a think I managed to leg-hook the sloping ledge and flick the rest of my large body over in a seamless and vaguely graceful manner which surprised the onlookers who climb with me regularly. Flushed with success we soloed Nanoq Slab and I got carried away and soloed 3 Pebble Slab too as the slab mood had taken me. Arnaud then calmed things down by leading Synopsis (E2 5c) which is a very delicate technical finger-crack and is very different from all the other routes at Froggat. Nice fingerlocks in the peg scars. I went for Motorcade (E1) which takes the pockets right of Tody's and is very pleasant indeed, especially if you're tall and Arnaud upped the ante again with Bright Side (E2) which has a very tiring start up a chimney right of the Cave, then you descend down the arete on to an well-camouflaged ledge and launch up through some slopers for the next few moves. Very powerful stuff. We finished the evening with the traditional soloing of Sunset Slab before ehading to the Grouse for a pint.

Sunday: Stanage.

Feeling flushed with the previous day's successes and not too much wine in the evening, we made a beeline for the Unconquerables. I kitted up and got on the Right one which seemed pleasant in a sort of steep and strenuous way. There was lots of gear to be had but I was not to be lulled into placing too much at the expense of strength. I acheived the first two exhausting layaways and the wind started to get up with a bit of drizzle moving in. I thought, for a moment that I was going to be alright as it started as a gentle patter and it was all very atmospheric. Unfortunately, as I launched into the crux moves on the bulge, all hail let loose and my feet were doing everything but smears so I fell off. After retrieving the gear we wandered right, picking off the odd solo as and when they were dry. It was too windy during the afternoon and as soon as we decided to decamp to Burbage, and then Ramshaw, for more shelter from the wind, the heavens opened each time. Luckily we got back to Manchester in time for Raiders of the Lost Ark tho'.

Anyone out this Wednesday for some Lancashire Quarry action?


Cioche, Torridon, Stoer, Aviemore, Roaches; Duncan Irving, April 2003

From: Duncan Irving (
Subject: Easter Roadtrip TR
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Date: 2003-04-24 08:44:04 PST

Friday morning, leave Edinburgh after an evening of ales with a few carfulls from Manchester, Edinburgh, etc....arrive at the summit of the Bealach na Ba, Applecross, 2ish. A quick trot down to the base of the Cioche and we got onto completely the wrong route and did a very pleasant scramble about 50 m right of Cioch Direct. Hmmmm. Not very efficient.

On to Torridon and up into Coire Mhic Fhearchair for a day of alpinism. There is indeed a huge rockfall scar on the Eastern Ramparts as reported on We razzed up the Central Buttress Direct (Piggot's route) as 3 big-booted pairs and then bifurcated at the top quartzite tier to race each other up the three finishes. Henderson's Route (Severe) seems the most pleasant rock and has the advantage of actually being attached to the mountain. Awesome views but slightly less sunny than the day before. Lots of geological arm waving from the summit and another Munro in the bag. Check out this great site if you want to get up to speed on the local rocks....

<rant> Why do the Ben Damph hotel tell you that their kitchen is open till 20:45 and then not serve you when you roll in at 20:30 the following evening, and then look really put-out when you ask for a dozen bags of crisps and duck itchings?</rant>

On to Stoer. Way to sunny. Thanks to the two guys who let us use their ropes to get out to the Old Man. We then rigged our own tyrolean and got all 5 of us over to avoid the 5a traverse for the "occasional climbers". Our "A" team forged out ahead on a single rope and I led the "B" team up on two 9s. The stronger team were way past the crux when I finally got the fears and backed-off the crux but was unable to get a top-rope thrown down. B*gger. It was so hot that the unprotectable flake had a long line of sweaty palm-prints all the way up (and down) it. Forgot the chalk. Oh well. Back next year....I'm glad to see that it gets a more sensible VS 4c in the NW Highlands guide. I'm pretty sure we were on route too...

Camped at Reiff and the "A" team spent a day on that crag plugging away at all the classics. I'd been there, done that, etc, and fancied a wa*k so we drove up to Ben Stack for a view out over the undulating 2 billion year old landscape that is the Lewisian gneiss. Magic. And the views south to Suilven, Canisp etc are pretty spectacular in the hazy spring light. Ben Stack is itself unusual in Scotland being one of the only mountains (it's a Graham at 2300 ft) composed of gneiss and also has its proximity to the road and low stature to commend it as an afternoon diversion. More geobabble at various roadcuts and viewpoints and back to the campsite.

Poor weather for the first time so we head east to Aviemore for a brew and a plan. Somehow we end up at Huntly's cave and do damp ascents of Cave Route (HS) and Double Overhang (HVS). Again. Still, it's a really mellow crag and they are both fantastic routes. Head south.

Wednesday...still sunny down here so we hit the Roaches and after a warm up on B & Ts I get my roof head on and hit the Sloth. I seconded it last year so I reckoned that enough time had elapsed for me to have forgotten where the crucial jugs are. Correct. Got up to the roof, got the nut, put a couple of baby cams in the pocket and gingerly edged out to the lip. Wrong attitude. Scrabbled back down the flake and got back down to the pedastal for a shake out. Hmmm, large audience gathering for a lunchtime viewing. Shook out, ignored audience and helpful comments from companions, removed "gingerly" from the gamepland replaced it with maximum effort. Suitably gee'd up, I got back out on the lip, reached up, both feet came off and I was hanging in a rather cool pose off the end of the flake. Had time to note that Freya, my belayer, now had to larger companions holding her down, before the gameplan reactivated and I felt myself being guided upwards to the next jug. Feet back on took the strain off the arms and I dived headlong into the uncomfortable little niche. Cam 4 was under right cheek so I slapped in the big hex, fidgeted a bit, got cam 4 in just as I started sliding back out of the crag and then bridged elegantly out of the niche and up to the belay. Ace route and very sweaty palms. Finished off the day with Saul's Crack and a group ascent of Via Dolorossa coz some b***ard had a top rope and a dozen kids on Valkyrie's first pitch. And your main krab was taking a 3-way load, you know who you are.

Back in work watching it rain now........

What a great Easter

what did everyone else do? Dunc

Peak, Duncan Irving, March 2003

From: Duncan Irving (
Subject: Re: TR:Peak HVS's and URC tinython
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Date: 2003-03-17 08:45:05 PST

Arnaud wrote:

Saturday was an easy day at Curbar after the excesses of a night in the Arches in Sheff. Started off with a bout of headspins and nausea leading on Bel Ami but soon warmed up after being dragged up the adjacent Green Crack. A quick power nap brought back the energy levels for a clean assault on Peapod (I'm too tall for it by 1 inch) and then my turn to lead on Maupassant which required a cheeky rest below the layback. It's delectable neighbour, L'Horla, then fell to the charms (and arms) of Al after another quick power nap and we retired gracefully before Insanity got the better of us. Bloodied and tired we decamped to a curry house.

Sunday saw us at Stanage End for the minithon where, with arms recharged I led up Old Salt and then Valediction although I fell off the bottom bit a few times until I remebered how to layback. Ant and Jon turned up in time for my poor performance on Surgeon's Saunter direct which involved a lot of resting on the lower part and a lot of bleeding on the upper part. Not nice. See [click] for a more prosaic record by Ant

After some gentle soloing and a lie down whilst watching the action on Valediction and Old Salt, I decided that my bleeding had stopped and my arms had deflated enough for a go at Terrazza Crack (HVS 5b). I'd seconded this last year so I knew what was coming and my arms were screaming after the first move. A couple of rests and a rather impressive fall later I was flopped onto the top and brining Arnaud up with the sun setting behind. I can hardly type today and it hurts, oh how it hurts.

I'm off to climb some basalt on Tenerife which should harden the knuckles nicely for the Ramshaw season.

more later


English Lakes, Duncan Irving, February 2003

----- Original Message ----- From: Duncan Irving
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Sent: 24 February 2003 13:36
Subject: Lakes TR

A large gathering of various active and lapsed climbers accumulated in Langdale over the weekend to celebrate the 30th birthday of one-time urc poster, Chris Shorrock. Chris and I travelled up on Friday lunchtime after a long discussion as to what we were going to do that weekend. After a lot of persuasion, I got him to ditch his ice gear at his folks' and stick to rock climbing.

This we did, and upon arrival, started up Bilberry Buttress in dry, warm afternoon sun (!) There was still a bit of ice around but it obviously hadn't rained much all week so the rock was perfect. I've not done much in the Lakes and this was to be my first Lakeland VS, Chris having done it before made me do the first two pitches together. After the short offwidth, I was warmed up and the 4c pitch was a doddle after I had located the invisible jug. The top pitch is a bit scary for 4b, with the imposing perched block which doesn't look long for this world and the protectionless smear traverse off the end of the crag. Top route, though. As it was still 15 minutes to beer-o-clock we whipped up Revelations (HS) which I thought was rightly upgraded from Severe. The holds are on there somewhere though...

After a night of real ale and steak pie appreciation in the ODG, we shifted our hangovers by approaching Gimmer via Middlefell Buttress. I was climbing with Simon, and the birthday boy had Adrian, a lapsed climber who was on one of his bi-annual re-encounters with rock. The buttress was very pleasant and a bit of a challenge in walking boots with a rucksack full of water bottles. I was then sandbagged on the Sever pitch at the top of it and had to be thrown a rope.

After stumbling round the base of Gimmer, Simon and I decided that we should go for the first Hard Rock tick of the year and I got started up The Crack (VS). After bridging past the ice smear in the base of it I got onto the traverse about an hour before the sun and hung for a while on the jug. With my hands suitably numb and rockboots too hard from cold for the delicate footwork I had to resort to a short sling over one of the spikes to get onto the mantle below the belay and it was a little unnerving traversing across the flakes without being able to feel them. Fortunately the pedestal was in the sun and I belayed a frozen Simon, who, for some reason was only wearing lycras, up on the pedestal.

Simon was still pretty cold from his wait in the windy shade of the gully and declined to make the rather delicate mantle that starts the second pitch. After a sullen talk of descent we swapped the lead back and I went up for "a look". This blossomed into a full-blown attempt and before I knew it I was mantled 4 ft above my gear with no handholds and a rather icy wind whipping around me. After a quick talking-to I found a small runner and foot traversed right to the pleasantly juggy arete. Now that I'd started, I was becoming more concerned about the sentry-box watching my progress from above. As I neared it, I could feel its dark recess sucking the warmth from my body and agreed with myself that I wasn't going to hang about in there too long. As it happened, there are some rather useful hidden holds in the back of it and with some fantastic bridging moves I was onto the Bower for the belay. Simon recovered his form as he waltzed over the sunny slab and got stuck into the top pitch before he cooled down again. With only the shortest of pauses on the first overhang, he was up it like the proverbial ferret and we were both blowing into our hands on top 10 minutes later. Looking down the pitch, it actually overhangs somewhat alarmingly but you don't feel it.

After rejoining the others who had variously done Ash Tree Wall and NW Arete, we proceded to celebrate the birthday boy in the Stickle Barn. Jules had come down from Aberdeen in search of ice and had soloed a few lines on Great End, so between us we had ticked lines in Classic Rock, Hard Rock and Cold Climbs on the same day. Shirly a rarity?

Sunday it was raining so we had a mass ascent of the Dungeon Gill without avoiding the waterfalls. Most invigorating.


Alps 2002 including attempt on traverse of La Meije, cragging on the Aiguille Dibona, an epic retreat from the summit of the Petit Dru and a successful ascent of the Brown route on the Blaitiere

From: Duncan Irving (
Subject: TR Alps - Ecrins and Chamonix
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Date: 2002-09-02 09:48:07 PST

well, here goes, and don't say you weren't warned as it is long and fraught with adventure.


1,2. Leave Manchester in hire car, collect Carwyn from Cardiff, proceed to Southampton airport to transfer to Simon's car for the trip alpsward. Member No 4 pulled out at the last minute citing work commitments (i.e. he hadn't done any for a while). After our traditional dawn traverse of Paris to do a lap of the Arc de Triomphe we headed southward and after a few phone calls to freidns in Chamonix, decided that recent snows should be avoided and we pitched in the Ecrins by teatime.

3. Rain cleared and we managed a route on the Tete de la Maye to make sure that we enjoyed each other's company on the rope and were slapdash enough in our safety to make decent speed as a 3 on wet slabs. yerk. Nice climbing tho' and we had the whole crag to ourselves. (due to the rain).

4. After having blanked it successfully from my mind I surprised myself (and the others) by reaching the Promtoire hut on La Meije in 3.5 hrs. Crikey, as walk-ins go, it's one of the bigger ones with 1100 m gained over 7 km. We were a bit unsure about snow conditions on La Meije, but we decided that as all of the other rock routes were still covered, a traverse of the Meije-Pave-Gaspard ridge over a couple of days would acclimatise (!) us.

5. After stumbling around the base of the Promontoire ridge in the dark, we finally located the route and made fairly good time until the Couloir Duhamel which had turned itself into an ice gully with pitches of 3 which slowed us (and the swiftly approaching guided party) down a bit. After regaining breath at the top both us a the British guided trio decided to bale out and we were back down in La Berarde by teatime after a gentle amble backdown the beautiful Etancons valley with the sun setting on the Barre des Ecrins.

6. A food restock and some light cragging at the Torrent down the road from Les Etages followed. This is a new crag to me and has a couple of excellent slab/corner routes at about HVS/E1/E2 depending on whether you pull on bolts on the overlaps or not. Highly recommended and Jean-Michel Cambons new topos are a must-have for a visitor. We then went out for a slap-up meal at the Pins and walked up to the Dibona hut after a few more ales. If you've never been up to the Dibona hut, it is 1100 m up over 2km and is best done at night with the aid of wine.

7. Woke up under a rock to see that it was 8 am and all routes were plastered with people. We joined the throng on the Boelle route (D+) and after a bit of jockey on the easier pitches managed to find some solitude by ducking onto the East face (like wot it says in the guide book) and finished up some pretty adventurous Scottish VS type grooves and corners. The E face is by far the more adventurous of the 3 faces and our finish sort of joined us onto "Martine is on the Rocks (TD+)", possibly. Anyway, it was a great route and has two very exposed traveerse pitches with a lot of air between your legs as you move across some hanging grooves. Best done when the sun has moved off it!

8. Another starlit bivi and we were up much earlier to do the first half of some route or other on the Dibona East face which went at 6b+ here and there. It had some very hairy slab climbing with long run outs between the bolts/pegs on the slabs and some very technical slab climbing which wouldn't be out of place on Etive. I fell off an overlap a few times and my knee bled all over the rope and after 4 pitches or so, with gathering clouds we decided we'd done was only a few pitches of easy stuff between us and where we'd traversed in the previous day anyways. With hindsight, a trip up to the Dibona followed by the mountain excursion would have been more productive but 48 hrs is about as much as I'm happy with for forecasts......Drove to Chamonix, bumped into some old pals and got very very drunk indeed.

9. Hungover. Why is drinking beer the only thing that happens faster as a party of three?

10. Cragged at Vallorcine as a 5 without feeling that conspicuous. The central slab routes there appear to have gone up a grade or so to 6b+ish since my last visit 11 years ago. Something to do with the polished little peg scars at 2/3rds height which I kept slipping out of methinks. Drank beer to remove the effects of the still persisiting hangover.

11. Found a partner for Carwyn in the form of Ralph who appears to have impressed most of Les Chosalets with his ability to fill his small form with vast quantities of lager for the preceding 2 months. Found Arnaud and Laurent who'd been on the Frendo Spur and seemed rightly chuffed with themselves for their ultrarapid ascent.

12. Wandered up to the Charpoua hut for a go at the Dru in one form or another. The evening forecast and storm which woke us up put the kybosh on mine and Simon's Bonatti aspirations and Carwyn's retching from altitude exertion meant that we were back down to a three again. After a sleepless night with an electrical storm all around us- you could see the mountains with your eyes shut- we headed over the heavily crevassed Charpoua glacier and scrambled up on to the Flammes de Pierres. We were making good time (slightly faster than the guide book) and found our way up to the shoulder on the SW ridge for midday just below the summit.

This came from using very short rope technique ( about 8 m between each of us) and only having a few nuts and two cams for a rack. Generally the climbing was on really good rock with great big flakes and cracks, the crux being a strenous Hard Severe layback onto some scarily loose blocks jammed into a chimney. A couple of looser sections showed the instability of the whole of the W Face and some of the scars across to the Bonatti pillar were appallingly large.

The clouds which we'd been watching for the last hour or so decided to thicken and as we were about to start up the summit block we were hit by a lot of hail. I should stress for the parallel thread on British epics, that at no time did this look like it would turn into an electrical storm as the clouds had very poorly defined bases and were not columnar. It was just a gradually increasing diffuse fug of moisture which wavered between snow and rain for the next 18 hrs or so and set the scene for our long and tedious descent.

Here, a choice had to be made as to whether to continue up over the top knowing that after the summit block we had to get into Breche des Drus and then up a few pitches of III to get over the Grand Dru and down to the Col des Drus to descend the Dru couloir which we knew was difficult (8hrs) after speaking to some Catalans who'd come down it after doing the American Direct the day before; or to bale out down the line of ascent which we knew was covered in tat but not very steep. Plumping for the devil we knew we set off down with our ropes becoming progressively wetter and a brand-new ever-dry becoming increasing sodden and tanglesome- unravelling this one rope probably added 1.5 - 2 hrs to the whole escapade and freeing it from a crack took an hour or so of prussiking by Simon. Rain and snow came and went and with the rock becoming too slick to down climb once down at the Flammes de Pierres we decided to ab directly down, instead of reversing the first section back to the approach couloir. This was a bit of a gamble but we guessed that other people had probably done the same and we were heartened to see pegs and tat sprouting at regular intervals down into the mist. I'm no advocate of descending stuff that you've no description off, but the grainy piccy in Lindsay's book and the plentiful tat suggested that the night would be long but straightforward.

13. Darkness fell about 5 rope lengths down despite our rapid progress marred only by the odd overhand knot appearing on the fanglesome rope....It was not a production rope so I hesitate to tell you who made it. We finally reached the junction of our couloir with the approach couloir at about midnight and then spent the next two hours stumbling around in the dark and the mist on a lot of very slippery ledges looking for the traverse off back to the glacier. Here we were unlucky and after an hour or two of blind alleys leading to the precipice over the glacier we decided to rest for a while on a ledge. Bivi bags came out (Ralph had forgotten to pack his so we shared) and we shivered compulsively in the gentle drizzle for the next few hours sharing bodily warmth until it was light enough to see the bloody cairns 50 m above us. Down to the hut for a hot chocolate and thence back to the campsite to monster a case of Hoegaarden before passing out in the afternoon sun.

14. Rest day. Damage assessment results were, unmovable thumbs from pulling wet ropes through 30 times over (being the strongest has its drawbacks) and scabby finger pads from the Dibona exertions. The retreat rack was non-existant, indeed we had to leave a sling behind as well which will shock those who know me and my tightness with kit. Carwyn had disappeared up into the Aiguilles Rouges with two other mates there and did the Index and the Chapelle de la Gliere.

15. Another enforced rest day due to crap afternoon forecast.....See, I can practice restraint. Pizzas and pool in Argentiere followed by more pool in Chamonix. I've regained a lot of lost skill on the baize in the last month.

16. Another, slightly less crap forecast so we got the first Aiguille du Midi 'pherique up to the Plan and were at the base of the Voie Brown on the Blaitiere by 9 am. The fissure Brown is as horrendous as the stories I had heard and the rockfall in 1995ish had stripped all but one of the wooden wedges from its 30 m length. As offwidths go it is nasty and Dave Musgrove jnr once told me that he'd done it free and said it was a very scary E4 6a. After a quick play I got out of it and went up the jam crack around the side. My knuckles are still scabbed a week later from this little invovles tensioning across into a vertical E1 handjam crack and climbing said crack for 30 m. I leapfrogged cams up to the top and bellyflopped onto the gravel ledge bleeding everywhere. What a cool pitch. Unencumbered by the need to place gear, Simon laybacked it elegantly with the odd grunt. There then followed a pair of steep green corner cracks involving bridging, jamming, swearing and more bleeding followed by Siomon's stunning lead through a juggy roof and another horrendous but mercifully short offwidth. These 4 pitches comprise the meat of the route being a very sustained outing at about E1/2 5b. It was by now 1:30 pm and we wanted to catch the last cabin down to spend the last night in a bar rather than on a path so we neglected the broken stuff above the Fontaine ledges and abbed off without incident to catch the penultimate 'pherique down. Beer.

17. Departure. I stayed on for a conference on glaciology and more evening activites in Chamonix.

Epilogue. Every year I promise never to climb as a three again but it keeps happening.......on the plus side you get very good at moving together for the sake of speed but at the same time you can't help thinking that you'd rather be doing something else as a pair at a harder grade.....better luck next year I guess.


Jamming extravaganza at Ramshaw

From: Duncan Irving (
Subject: TR: Jamshaw
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Date: 2002-06-19 04:12:09 PST

Here's some Staffordshire shenanigans for the delectation of TR readers....

I am a little grazed on most of my major joints and some limbs too thanks to a permabulation around Ramshaw and Newstones yesterday with Mr Ashmore. After a quick warm-up (and bleeding) on Prostration with a couple of wobbles on the crux for me (which is an improvement on my falls last year) I found the good hold up and left from the precarious ledge and lunged for the upper crack before my strength gave out. I reached the top to find an expletive Mr Ashmore awestruck at the value one receives from Ramshaw HVS.

Suitably warmed up we moved right a few yards for me to attempt the shorter and wider "Don's Crack". The fact that I never went to Oxford or Cambridge did not put me off and I thought it would be a snip as the obviously anomalous HVS 5a we had just done had much less crack on it. Impending HVS 5b is obviously not my thing and after a dozen or so falls trying to gain the hanging sentry box I demurred to Mr Ashmore who, enlivened by an egg buttie, promptly fell off twice in the same place. After swearing and shouting a lot, he eventually solved the jamming problem(s) with a couple of deep fistjams but then nearly fell off the headwall which he had mistakenly expected to be the top. More bleeding and falling off and I was soon with him on top.

To wrap up the Ramshaw tryptich, Mr Ashmore seemed hellbent on mashing his fists further in Brown's Crack, a hanging-crack of an Extreme, weighing in at 5b, although my scepticism on the grading had grown over the last hour. Ashmore appeared more prepared (or more recovered as we had both been very ill due to slightly-off apple wine the night before) and after placing all of his cams in the crack, shouldered the side-wall and did some unpleasant arm-scissors into the back of the roof-crack. A dropped knee and a long reach saw him over the lip and just as he shouted "I'm off" he found a lip high and left which kept him on. Unsurprisingly, I did fall off at that point. 4 times.

In search of more jamming, we decided to forgo Hen Cloud as it was obviously in the sun, and hopped over the moor to Newstones. I made a fair stab at Rhynose, a pleasant VS 4b with a thrutchy hanging chimney and some spectacular bridging at the top, although I couldn't for the life of me work out how you did the top crack so I reached through it. We then warmed down on Fox, a HVS 5b undercut offwidth with a chockstone halfway up it acting as protection and (only) handhold. Mr Ashmore took his second fall of the day but then completed it in elegant fashion whereas I was well into double figures on the falls and had probably lost a pint of blood by then, my elbow is weeping intermittently as I write this morning. Fox is an immaculate but painful hanging offwidth studded with very large quartz grains but no holds.

All-in-all a profitable day's sk*ving and I thoroughly recommend gritstone cracks as the ultimate hangover cure. After climbing similar grades at Stanage End on Sunday, I find a large discrepency in grading across the Peak with the obvious exception of the Vice which made my partner cry. He did get 2 feet further up it than me though....


Traverse of Sierra Nevada in Andalucia

From: Duncan Irving (
Subject: TR Sierra Nevada
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Date: 2001-11-05 05:40:04 PST

Finally got round to a summer holiday last week and managed to get fantastically cheap charter flights for me and the lass from Manc to Malaga....bus to Granada and thence to a small village on the south side of the Sierra Nevada called Trevelez. Stayed in a top (cheap ) hotel-cum-bar at 1800m and then a leisurely stroll under the beating sun took us up the side of Mulhacen (at 3479 m, Iberia's highest) to the cirque of the 7 lakes....a beautiful Alpine cirque at 3000m where the temp dropped from 25 to -5 in about 2 hours. brrr.

Up early (Spanish early = 0800 hrs) and cramponed up the gulley to the L of the NE ridge which involved a bit of pitching at cottish I/II -2350m, no harness or screws as it was a walking holiday (sneaky or what) - and finished on the summit for midday. At altitude pitching with full camping gear and smart clothes for the hotels is a bit awkward but there is an old road across the rest of the range for those who want to skip the dragon's teeth around the caldera beyond (a big lake-filled cirque) and we arrived 6 km on at the rifugio below the summit of Veleta for teatime. Dossed here and got some nice sunrise pictures over Mulhacen and the Med (!) from the top of Veleta before desceding down to what passes as Europe's most southerly ski resort (it makes Cairngorm look pleasing to the eye). Not much snow apart from the sheltered northern cirques but it seemed to be dumping down for winter as we left Granada two days later after doing the art/gastronomy leg of the holiday. Most welcome as there was nowhere to buy fuel (doh!) so we had Sardine surprise for two nights running.

Does any one know anything about the ice climbing / winter potential on this range? The climbing shop described in the 'Rough Guide' didn't exist and I can't find jack on google. We didn't have a map until we had finished as the shop was shut on Sunday so we had to wing it with my badly drawn copy of a tourist flyer from the National Park at about 1:500000. Did the trick tho'. It's a pretty beautiful place and would be well worth a diversion for a few days if you're tiring of El Chorro. I reckon it's only about 2-3 hours from Malaga if you get the buses right.

Two things I've noticed on's bloody cold and public transport in this country really is shite as it took two hours to get to work this morning instead of 25 mins. grrrr.



Winter climbing in Cairngorms and Creag Meagaidh.

From: Duncan Irving (
Subject: Highlands TR
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Date: 2000/01/28

A week off between jobs gave me time to nip up to Edinburgh and beyond for various social and leisure activities. After towing Toby's Sierra with a burnt out clutch over Glen Shee we arrived in Ballater and shuttled our six-some up to the Linn of Dee. After a brief altercation with the resident Aberdonian drunkards in Bob Scott's bothy, Myles and I bivvied in the lodge and the Edinburgh four went on up to the Hutchinson.

We awoke at about midday the next day to see white snow and blue skies. The warm air did nothing to hurry us on to Etchachan so we dawdled up Glen Derry to meet the others in the hut. They'd tried some lines on Creagan a Choire Etchachan but found the snow uncosolidated and the ice to thin. The next day the carless ones walked out to Aviemore via the Escalator on Hell's Lum and Myles and I slogged up and over into Coire Sputan Dearg. The weather was perfectly clear with a low sun and light wind. Being lazy, we opted for the nearest buttress which was Terminal, a short IV,5 which gave a good refresher into the ways of mixed climbing. I over-interpreted the guidebook description about being forced left out of the corner and went left too soon and which resulted in me having to jump off and swing 20 ft back into the corner. Myles replaced me on the lead and found the correct traverse. Another couple of pitches followed, up reasonable ice and snow although the build-up had not been as great as we had hoped. A long walk out in the sunset and an even longer drive back down the A9 saw us back in Edinburgh.

The next day we enlisted James (Edwards) and Toby for a trip up to Creag Meagaidh, arriving at Aberarder in time for a good night's sleep. Awoke at 7 and were on the move, minus Myles and his bad leg, soon after. The sunrise over Creag Pitridh was hitting the summit snowfields and burning them pink...can't wait for the slides...and the crag was looking spectacular. We arrived at the lochan and saw two other pairs, one on Staghorn and another closing on Postman Pat (which had seen a couple of ascents that weekend, apparently). Our trio chose North Post and off we went. The ice was there, just, but the snow had yet to fully consolidate over it and you could never be 100% confident about placements. The first bulge was a little tricky for this reason. The intervening snowfield was a romp and a huge icicle gave a good belay for the second crux pitch. A floor of cloud had rolled up the Glen and extended across to the Cairngorms. The sky was clear blue and the air perfectly still.

James led off and placed several ice screws as the ground steepened up to the direct finish (VI,5). After surmounting the ice fall everything went quiet for a few minutes and James started berating us for not bringing enough screws...what we thought was a shallowing of the gulley above the ice fall from below was actually a 75-80 degree headwall and he only had one screw. An impressively bold lead unfolded over the next hour or so and Toby followed as darkness started to fall. (Admission: three climbers who should know better did a 400m route on Creag Meagaidh with one headtorch between them. V embarrased). Anyway, obviously things were going to go wrong from here on: I barn-doored off the ice-fall from not being able to see the ice and my enforced stay on the belay meant that my hands were cramping around my axes. I swung off under the overlap below the headwall the rope flicked across and, from my position, I was unable to get back on route. After a protracted rally of shouts lost in the (light) wind, we decided that I should prussik up which I duly did. 1.5 hours of slithering, 8 inches at a time, up a near-vertical ice-face is a new experience but that's how you get better at it. Eventually I reached James and he allowed circulation to regain in his feet- he'd been holding me all the way up as the belay wasn't as good as one would want. A lung-wrenching slog up final slopes saw us on the plateau for 7 and a clear starry night allwed a speedy descent back to our saces and the car.

Conditions were thin but this weekend's fronts should consolidate the snow perfectly for next week if anyone's going that way.


6 Minor crags in France, April 1999

From: Duncan Irving (
Subject: TR: Cragging in France
Newsgroups: uk.rec.climbing
Date: 1999/04/06

Well, we're back and failed to spot anyone else sporting a u.r.c. T-shirt anywhere in France but I have made some interesting discoveries which may be of use to other on.


Arrived after drinking the ferry dry at about 0600 hrs on Saturday borning and after a light breakfast of vodka and pains au chocolat hit Apremont. Why do they keep rearranging the yellow circuit? I always get lost in the twenties. Some reds, blues and oranges followed then we did some more bouldering (man). For thos who have been asking about resin (Pof) it can be bought in Decathlon and at the Rochers de Sable carpark from the Pof Man. He also flogs loads of cheap rockboots and approach shoes. There's a couple of Font supplements available which I've not noticed before and provide a few interesting diversions at Bas Cuvier, L'elefant and others. Much partying was had on the bivi site at Barbizon with bonfires, magic m******ms and Pastis (hidden spot up the hill 10 mins stumble from site). Also razzed round circuits at Elefant, 92/1 and Cul du Chien before heading to...


Hadn't visited this crag for about 8 years and discovered that the campsite is about the size of Heathrow. It was also closed so we went to a much nicer one about 3 kms west of the village which had free showers and worked out at about 18 Ffr per night. There's been loads of bolting going on (and is still in progress) and the wee gear shop had some great bargains for the exchange-rate conscious climber. Was quite impressed by the number of routes on the Eastern crags but a lot ruotes suffer from grid-bolting. ie. There's loads of bolts but they bear no relation to the hard moves. Loads of 1-3 pitch 6a-7c to play on. After getting our heads round limestone we went to the...

Verdon Gorge

More Pastis and the usual blether with the owner about how Ron Fawcett left his garage in a mess whilst filming the Demande solo. If anyone knows how to get hold of this video or Mr Fawcett then tell me as he's lost his copy of it. Mellow afternoon at the Col D'Ayen with some cider and lots of top roping. Tried to emulate Ron's ascent (complete with Alpine start) but after a rapid descent to the Jardin des Ecureils on a 450 ft in situ (ish) ab rope, one of our number (The Fish) got a rope stuck and we didn't bottom out till about 1400hrs. Owing to our ensuing ferry journey the next day we had to suffer the ignomimany of walking out along the Sentier Martel in rock boots through all those bloody tunnels adn thence hitching back to La Palud. There's a good selected climbs guide for the area which is worth getting hold of (and it's written in LaTeX). Failed to find Kate (where were you?). Finally we packed our kit and headed back North via an overnight stop to finish off the (climbing) resin in a layby. On our way back up the A6 we stopped off at...

Les Rochers de Sainte Catherine

This little gem is a must. It's described in David Jones' book and is the first time I've used it for its real purpose. It's a two pitch GRANITE crag about the size of one of the Wye Valley outcrops with probably 50-60 routes. It's situated between Auxerre and Dijon (about 10 km SE of Avallon) at a place called Vieux Chateau, has safe parking and would make an ideal stopover if you're on your way South or North and don't want the insecurity of Font or the tendon trashing of the adjacent limestone. It's grid bolted and there's routes from Diff-type ribs to 7b roofs. Lots of nice slabs and cracks too!

This info and some piccies may soon appear on a web site near you (well me anyways) depending on howe the thesis writing is going. Oh, and it didn't rain on any of the days we were there either!

Happy Easter and Happy Birthday to Lewis, hope Pembroke was fun,


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