Category: Climbing

May 26, 2016

Big Wall Climbing Course at Plas Y Brenin in North Wales

A medium term goal I have for myself is to climb El Capitan in Yosemite and in particular via one of the main routes called the Nose. With that in mind I took the first step towards this objective by attending the Big Wall Course at Plas Y Brenin in North Wales over a weekend at the beginning of May (the course is run twice a year at the moment). The course overview states:

If you’re planning a Big Walling trip for the first time, or wanting to fine tune what you’ve already learnt on your first epic, this weekend is worth its weight in gold. The weekend course is crammed full of practical instruction and advice on aid climbing, bivouacking, hanging stances and hauling. Exactly what you need to help you get the most from your trip.

I’ve learnt numerous forms of climbing such as bouldering, top rope, sport, trad and ice but one form of climbing that is required on a big wall climb is that of aiding. This involves the use of etriers (ladders) to lead a route and then jumaring up a rope when seconding.

The Course covered: -

  • Basic aid climbing techniques
  • Stance management, and fixing ropes
  • Jumaring - a variety of systems
  • Hauling systems
  • Pendulums and tension traverses
  • Pegging and de-pegging
  • Marginal gear - mashies, rurps, sky hooks, beaks
  • Bivouacing skills with and without porta ledges
  • A review of Big Wall areas

Here’s a couple of pics from the course, you can take a look at all the pictures here

Tim Neill aid climbing using etriers

Picture 1: Tim Neill shows us how to lead an aid climb using Etriers (Dave Kenyon belaying)

Aid Climbing using Etriers

Picture 2: Indoor aid climbing practise on Etriers

Richard Byrom jumaring up a tower using ascenders

Picture 3: Jumaring up a tower using ascenders

Aid climbing at the RAC Crag near Capel Curig

Picture 4: Aid climbing outdoors on trad gear at the RAC Crag near Capel Curig

Below is a short clip of Tim Neil showing us how to aid climb using etriers. I’ve also created a playlist for all of the video clips I created here on YouTube

I have to say that this course was superb, we had three really good and experienced instructors, namely Tim Neill, Dave Kenyon and Sam Farnsworth . Furthermore the facilities at Plas Y Brenin were great and overall it was a really enjoyable experience.

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March 29, 2016

Ben Moon - Statement of Youth

I recently had the pleasure of reading the Ben Moon Story which provides a great history of British climbing and one of the people that helped make it.

Statement: The Ben Moon StoryOn 14 June 1990, at Raven Tor in the Derbyshire Peak District, twenty-four-year-old Ben Moon squeezed his feet into a pair of rock shoes, tied in to his rope, chalked his fingers and pulled on to the wickedly overhanging, zebra-striped wall of limestone. Two minutes later he had made rock-climbing history with the first ascent of Hubble, now widely recognised as the world’s first F9a.

Born in the suburbs of London in 1966, Moon started rock climbing on the sandstone outcrops of Kent and Sussex. A pioneer in the sport-climbing revolution of the 1980s and a bouldering legend in the 1990s, he is one of the most iconic rock climbers in the sport’s history.

In Statement, Moon’s official biography, award-winning writer Ed Douglas paints a portrait of a climbing visionary and dispels the myth of Moon as an anti-traditional climbing renegade. Interviews with Moon are complemented with insights from family and friends and extracts from magazines and personal diaries and letters.

‘Ever since I first set foot on rock at the tender age of seven years, climbing has been the most important thing in my life. In fact I would go so far as to say it is my reason for living and as long as I am able to climb I hope I will. It is from climbing I draw my inspiration for life.’

One of Ben’s most notable early ascents was Statement of Youth (8a) at Lower Pen Trwyn which he climbed when just seventeen. Having made history with Hubble (9a) at the age of twenty four he subsequently went on to send his second 9a, Rainshadow at the age of forty nine, twenty five years later! Certainly Ben has had a long and impressive career in climbing and he’s still in really good shape. I quite liked this ascent of Hubble by Sean McColl as it shows how difficult a climb it is even for the younger generation of climbers

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February 13, 2016

Ice Climbing Course in the Cairngorms

I recently wrote that I was going to be attending an Introductory Course on Winter Climbing in the Cairngorms which is in the Scottish Eastern Highlands just south of Inverness. Last weekend it all happened and I have to say it was one of the best experiences of my life and truly enjoyable for many reasons. Here’s just a few:

  • The Cairngorms National Park where the course was run is a truly stunning location. It ranks right up there with one of my other favourite places in the UK, Snowdownia National Park in North Wales.
  • Glenmore Lodge was a great choice of training centre for this particular type of activity. Everything just seemed to run very well.
  • The instruction we received was really good. I’ve certainly broadened my climbing skills and reinforced other skills I already had. Our instructor, Karl Atherton really took the time to explain various climbing techniques as well as the conditions in which we were climbing.
  • The conditions were extreme and I found this a nice challenge.

Here’s a quick overview of the trip:

I flew up to Inverness via Easyjet on Friday afternoon and having hired a car was able to get to Glenmore Lodge within an hour. By the time I entered the Cairngorms National Park it was starting to get dark but even then I could see what a beautiful place it was. After checking in at the lodge I went to pick up my kit from the stores. This consisted of crampons, karabiner and sling, ice axes, springer (for attaching the ice axes to your harness) and plastic boots. Additionally I was supplied with specific equipment to deal with avalanche rescue, namely a probe, transceiver and spade.

Glenmore Lodge Ice Climbing Kit

After receiving my kit I went to try out the lodge climbing wall which was quite quaint. What I really liked is that I got to do my first indoor crack climb

Glenmore Lodge Climbing Wall Crack ClimbGlenmore Lodge Climbing Wall

Day 1

After an early morning briefing and breakfast we met up with our instructor and got kitted up. Before leaving for the crag we assessed the weather conditions, there was a reasonable amount of snow but we knew the main issue would be the wind which was clocking speeds of 30-40mph.

We arrived at the car park and proceeded to walk the crag we intended to climb, namely Central Gully. It was probably one of the toughest walk ins I’ve ever done to the crag as it was really windy and this contributed to a significant drop in temperature. The ground was quite slippery and walking on it in plastic boots was pretty hard work - it took us two hours to walk two miles. The clip below gives a brief look at what the conditions were like

Once we arrived at the crag we donned crampons and harnesses and started to climb up. We had a quick practise session with our crampons and ice axes and then undertook a multi pitch ascent. We managed to do three pitches and then abseiled down rather than climb all the way to the top as it was felt the windy conditions might make a walk off rather difficult.

Cairngorms Climb Central Gully Belay PointCairngorms Climb Central Gully SecondingCairngorms Climb Central Gully Ice ClimbCairngorms Climb Central Gully Abseil

The pic below shows the route detail provided by my Garmin Fenix 2 watch overlaid onto Google Earth – the total elevation of our climb was 140m

Cairngorms Ice Climb - Garmin Fenix Google Earth Elevation Profile

Day 2

Ice Climbing Training Wall Glenmore LodgeOn the second day conditions had become much worse as more snow had fallen overnight and the wind was now blowing even harder than the day before. There was also significant risk of avalanche. For this reason we climbed lower down in an area called Central Couloir and did a small pitch. We spend most of the day learning additional techniques and considerations for ice climbing as well as practising some skills like fall arrest and crampon use. Lastly, we got to learn how to use a transceiver and probe which is used to undertake a rescue of anyone trapped in an avalanche.

Having finished the course I then stayed in Inverness for the Sunday night and flew back home early Monday morning.

After this experience I find myself having a new found respect for people like Ueli Steck who are just so incredibly fit and tough that they can do this kind of thing all the time.

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