Winter season 2015/16 photo diary

It seems weird to be rounding-up my winter climbing season in mid-summer, but it was such a weird season that barely started, choked, and then somehow didn’t finish until mid-May. This post fits with that confusing timeline.

A false start

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A beautiful day but too much powder for climbing.

My first attempt at a winter day out was in January with an impromptu visit to a very snowy Lake District. Despite beautiful views and cold temperatures there was no chance of any proper climbing: way too much powder made for hard going and a buried route. So, a nice day out but no climbing just yet.

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Citronelle and marine makes a photo.

Winter training

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Descending Broad Gully

Next up was a day with mates from my club training some of the movement tactics that you might use in Scotland or abroad. We had fun on a line in Stob Coire nan Lochan over to the left of the corrie, moving together all the way. The next day the thaw arrived with a bang and we didn’t even leave the cafe – it was raining non-stop and 15 degrees in the valley. Time to go home.

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Leaving Coire an t’Sneachda.

My next Scottish trip was another training trip, this time with work. We had a good time pootling about in the Cairngorms and the weather was great. While on this trip I also managed to sneak in The Message with my boss, which was a fantastic day out. I’ve been winter climbing for about 7 years but had never done anything actually technical and this was a nice change. Bit of a workout for the arms and some mixed action.

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Awkward step on P2 of The Message.

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The steep chimney of P3.

The CIC hut

No sooner as I had returned from Scotland, I was straight back up (I spent one day at work and then went straight back up north). A friend had a spare space in the CIC hut and needed a partner. With a bombproof forecast and excellent conditions I couldn’t resist, and the journey up was absolutely worth it. Getting in to the car park at about midnight, we were at the hut at about 1.30 am and up at 5 am to get on the route… I’d wanted to do Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis for as long as I’d been winter climbing.

Tower Ridge was THE route for me: it was long, classic, in an amazing situation, and not overtly technical.

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Kate on Tower Gap.

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Me on Tower Gap (photo Copyright Philip Jardine).

Kate and I were confident we’d be fine on it, and in the sublime conditions we cruised the route. We found much of the route quite easy and agreed we’d have happily soloed all of it in those conditions but for Tower Gap, which is awkward rather than difficult.

Feeling confident, we went for North East Buttress next: it was a logical next step, another classic Nevis ridge and a chunk harder. However, Ben Nevis bit back: we climbed five pitches of loose, avalanche-prone and hideous terrain that just hadn’t thawed and refrozen in the same way as the rest of the mountain, before we abseiled off. We hadn’t even reached the first platform and the start of the route proper. That was a big reminder that if conditions aren’t right you don’t really have a chance. It was also a good lesson in subtle differences in aspect making a huge difference to snow conditions.

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Traversing more gearless crud.

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The inevitable retreat.

Another crack at NE Buttress

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Our abseil tat from the retreat three weeks earlier. When we’d left it the whole outcrop was iced up.

Three weeks later, now in March, I was back up in Scotland with Scott, who was chomping at the bit. NE buttress was our target, and the conditions could not have been more different to the month previous: the approach was now largely on turf and path, and the snow we found was sublime. We moved together for much of the route until the Mantrap and 40 Foot Corner. Every metre of the route offered something new: it was really special.

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Scott on one of the snowfields of NE Buttress. Very Alpine.

We did the route in good time and planned our next objective as Hadrian’s Wall, another super-classic and which we heard was in excellent condition. We got to bed early, got up early, and left the car park… to be greeted by rain. It was much warmer than forecast, much wetter, and not worth it. Half an hour after leaving the car we shook hands and turned round before driving home. A good decision.

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Awesome bit of ice in a runnel on NE Buttress.

Munro bagging

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Super duper views above Crianlarich.

My final Scottish trip of the season was a beautiful weekend climbing Munros near Crianlarich with some of my oldest and best friends. Snow conditions were good but the weather was exceptional: blue skies, cold temperatures, and bright sunshine. A great way to end the season.

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Views as far as the eye could see.

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The end of a great winter.

My last bit of winter

I spent the last bit of winter getting absolutely destroyed by the fittest group of guys I’ve ever been a part of. I was on a cycling ‘holiday’ in Spain where almost everyone was a very serious cyclist, including two semi-professional riders. High speed riding, huge hills, massive mileage… it was amazing, and a real eye-opener to what a bit of training and dedication can do. Another trip like that next year and another Scottish winter season like the one just gone and I’ll be happy!

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A self-portrait after a very hard day’s riding. My Paris-Roubaix.

 

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Winter climbing woes…?

Imagine spending months staring at pictures of your dream girl or guy, reading about them, getting yourself fit and ready for them, driving miles to meet them, then finding them swamped with other suitors crawling all over them. Well that’s not very nice, is it? How about you turn up and they don’t? Is that worse still? What if it wasn’t your dream girl or guy, but your dream climb? Is that worst of all? That’s right, mountains in winter can be as unfair as any bad date. It’s the end of this year’s winter season for me so here’s some thoughts on something I’ve learnt and some photos of my season.

Winter climbing is frustrating

This very excitable puppy was glad to be out, even in a white-out. We can learn something from this guy.

This very excitable puppy was glad to be out, even in a white-out. We can learn something from this guy.

Winter climbing is frustrating: that’s the best lesson anyone ever gave me about winter climbing. In my first winter climbing season I got up one route out of six. Since then my success rate has improved to probably about 50-60 %, but this season has just been totally shocking. Anyone with even a passing interest in UK winter climbing must have noticed the incredible amounts of snow, the consistently high avalanche risk, the incessant rain, the constant storms and low pressure… This leaves one feeling seriously frustrated. A few weekends ago I wanted to cry I was just so annoyed. In fifteen days in Scotland this year I’d got up three Munros and two winter climbs and spent every other day either down in the valleys, sat inside, or doing skills stuff near the snow line. It’s not the endless classic routes and climbs that I’d wanted. Last year was a bumper season for many people but I spent it too busy to get out more than a couple of times. (Oh boo hoo, shut up you git.)

The first trip of the winter to Scotland was cancelled because of the weather. It wasn't much better in our tent in the Lakes...

The first trip of the winter to Scotland was cancelled because of the weather. It wasn’t much better when we went to  the Lakes for some camping…

Shut up and take It

“Waitrose have run out of quinoa and pomegranate oil. #disaster #lifeisruined #mayaswelldie”

If I read the above tweet then I would immediately think that the writer was a buffoon with no idea of real life. To a non-climber, someone moaning that the snow is the ‘wrong kind of snow’ and that it’s ‘cold but not cold enough’ probably sounds just as stupid as the aforementioned tweet (is the singular of ‘tweet’, a ‘twat’?). Do winter climbers just need to get some perspective? I think so.

The Ben looked absolutely loaded every time I went up there this year. Saw a fair few avalanches going off.

The Ben looked absolutely loaded every time I went up there this year. Saw a fair few avalanches going off on one day.

You take the rough with the smooth, and for every ten days of garbage, one good day is nice (though I’m still waiting for mine this year (STOP MOANING!)). I’ve spent a lot of this year whinging with other mates about conditions, the weather, and how much better other years had been. That doesn’t get you anywhere, does it?

Wind so strong you can barely stand up. Lots of that this year.

Wind so strong you can barely stand up. Lots of that this year.

The beginner’s perspective

The ridiculous nature of my mindset was particularly obvious when I took some keen beginners out for a day of informal skills. The weather was appaling, the snow was terrible, and the spindrift just kept coming. Were they moaning? Not one bit! I came back to the car park full of excitement at an awesome day out. Yes we’d got up nothing and felt a bit like we’d spent the day looking at the inside of a snow globe, but we’d given it a go and had an awesome time. Your mindset when you set off is every bit as important as the weather. Big lesson learnt.

This photo taught me so much. The conditions were genuinely attrocious yet Chris was loving ice axe arrests, crampon work, step cutting... the bread and butter.

This photo taught me so much. The conditions were genuinely atrocious yet Chris was loving ice axe arrests, crampon work, step cutting… the bread and butter. In a way, very inspirational.

Just occasionally a glimpse of Scotland through the cloud. That helps.

Just occasionally a glimpse of Scotland through the cloud. That helps.

So what to do?

‘You’ve got to be in it to win it’: it’s a proverb older than Ms Doris down the road, but unlike her it still makes perfect sense. Driving to the mountains is exhausting and expensive but if you’re not in the mountains when the conditions roll in then you can’t climb anything, and I’d rather spend a day wandering about at valley level than a day stuck inside doing housework. Winter climbing is frustrating. Face the facts with a good beginner’s mentality and something might come your way. No one ever went on their perfect date demanding a hole-in-one, so don’t expect Alpine névé and blue skies from that dream route just yet.

The best weather I saw this year was out at Corrour. A magic day.

The best weather I saw this year was out at Corrour. A magic day.

Scotland is great.

Scotland is great. Don’t hold the weather against it: that weather helped formed this landscape.

Even on a frustrating trip home you can see the positives of coming back.

Even after a frustrating trip, on the drive home you can see the positives of coming back.