Monday, October 24, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Random few days in the Hebrides.

Here's a few pictures from 5 days spent on the Isle of Barra in the outer Hebrides of Scotland, a 60th birthday present for my Dad, who lived on the island in 1974 while commisioning a "Decca" radar transmitter.
        I was last in the Hebrides 14 years ago at the age of 6, so it was interesting to revisit this fascinating and beautiful chain of islands that mark the western most reaches of all the Scottish islands.
       Unfortunately, despite there being some of the most amazing gneiss (or maybe rock full stop) in the country, and some gogarth-sized cliffs that are relatively unexplored, i was without a motivated partner, and as my mum kept reminding me, this was a "none-climbing-focused" family holiday.

Rather than taking the Calmac ferry from Oban, we flew from Glasgow, which definitely makes the islands feel less remote. Barra is apparently the only place in the world where there are scheduled flights on to a tidal beach. This is Flybe's only Twin Otter.

The Hebrides from the air.

Me and my sister bouldering on the "Wave Wall" of the north coast.

This wide wall was made for climbing on.

Amazing sculpted jugs, crimps and breaks everywhere. I must get myself to Pabbay next year!!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

No Siesta

After spending the majority of this summer in the UK, i returned to Chamonix on the 15th of September. I hadn't been alpine climbing for two and a half months, since i'd been in Alaska, which for me is a really long time. I had one route in particular in mind.
       "No Siesta" is perhaps one of the most seminal and hardest, long, mixed routes in the Alps and its difficulty has been confirmed by the likes of repeat ascensionists Marko Lukic and Robert Jasper to name a few. After having a very abbortive attempt on the line this time last year, due to nasty conditions very low on the route, Jon and myself were really motivated to get it done.

        Although conditions on the Jorasses this year aren't exactly perfect, especially on the first third of the face, the plan was to get on it almost as soon as i arrived back in the valley. Unfortunately however, i came down with a nasty chest infection for a week, and had to spend 7 beautiful blue sky days sitting inside popping pills and hearing about what everyone else was doing.
           Eventually, after letting the illness have its time we felt we could get stuck in, and amazingly the weather was still on our side. Once again we found ourselves bivvying half an hours walk from the schrund, gazing up at without-a-doubt the most beautiful and striking face in the Alps. I truly believe that if the Grande Jorasses north face was in Alaska or the Himalaya it would still be a standout feature, it has something unique and special about its broad shape, splitting spurs, dark recesses and crenelated summit ridge.
        The night before we left Jon had received a text from our friend Korra Pesce letting us know that him and his partner Jeff Mercier had at the last minute also decided to go for No Siesta, so stood at the bottom i scoured the route for signs of them, and when it got dark enough i could make out two tiny pricks of light inching their way up the crux pitches. I always think there's something awesome about watching lights on a big face like that, it looks so strung out and involved, two tiny pricks of light amidst a huge vast blackness, it always seems scary to spectate, but when you're one of the pricks of light, it usually feels manageable and under control, a case of seeing the big picture being misleading.
       After a while watching them, we were both slightly horrified by the fact that it was gone 10pm and they were still going, this being their second and crux day on the route. When their progress finally stopped, Jon received a text from Korra saying "slow progress, bring big balls and some extra cams.....". Although humerous, i have to say this was also slightly worrying, coming from Frances two strongest mixed climbers, M14 arms and definitive wads.
       We got off to possibly the worst start, or none-start in the world the next morning. 4a.m. and bags on backs, Jon went to put his crampons on only to see that one of his toe bails was completely missing! after a hopeless search we accepted that it could be anywhere along the Leshaux glacier or Mer De Glace. Shocked and depressed i curled back up in my sleeping bag, and Jon headed off back down to town, where he would get hold of a new bail before walking back up and starting again the next day. Apart from being hard on psyche, it could have been a lot worse were it not for Jon's amazing girlfriend Sandra who met him on the Mer de Glace with a new crampon bail and some nice food.
       Fast forward many hours, and we wake up once again and head up towards the schrund. I like to talk about routes in a more photo-orientated way, otherwise i feel myself getting lost in waffle, not able to prioritise events and feelings in to elequont text. So here we go:

As the bottom third of the route was in pretty poor condition, we made a variation which traversed in from the Croz starting couloir. This meant we coulfd avoid the out of condition slabs that we had issues with last year. Interestingly Korra and Jeff also made a variation to the start to avoid the same area, but further to the left of where we went.

This is where we joined No Siesta again, around 150 metres over the schrund.

Horrible slabby traverse on black ice.

We moved together up all this section in a 150 metre pitch. Killer rope drag and a big bag for the second made things tiring.

Once deposited on to this small snowfield, we got our first gaze at some of the more meaty climbing. The next few pitches go up the cracked rock just left of the compact headwall on the far right. Steep!

Teaching myself to aid climb on one of the route's cruxes. This pitch is given A2, and i climbed it with a mixture of DIY aiding and some exciting free climbing.

The first bivi was just above the A2 pitch. We arrived in good time and chopped out a ledge roughly 1.5 feet wide which we could perch on. This photo is on the morning of the second day. Knowing it was gonna be a big one we woke early, which was pretty grim.
The pitch off the bivi was hard to get in to to begin with, but after 10 metres i felt in the zone again.

The pitch was a full 70 metres, with the rope tugging tight on Jon just as i found somewhere to belay. We took 70 metre ropes on the route as we had heard that many pitches were huge.

Starting another monster 70 metre pitch. These pitches were all absolutely brilliant climbing.

Getting dry and steep. Jon leads a very loose small pitch on to the headwall.

Same pitch.

Seconding with the big bag was pretty torturous, on both the steep and the less steep pitches.
A fun torqueing crack on the "Traverse Luminese".

Steep! Here Jon's standing on some big loose flakes directly above my head.
Good exposure.

Solid rock at last!

A fun feety pitch, with the top of the Walker Spur on the left.
Jon on one of the cruxes.

A mixture of free and aid.
We brought a pair of jumars on the route, which i've never ever packed on an alpine route before. We only used them on two pitchs so i'm undecided on whether they were "weight well spent".

A terrifying loose pitch followed, and soon after that it got dark and we found a place to bivi. Smaller than the night before but thankfully partly chopped out by Korra and Jeff, we melted snow in to the night.

The next morning.
A fun technical pitch for breakfast.

Ice again!

This pitch summed up the route. It looked about 30 metres but turned out to be a full 70 and a little harder than expected.

Beautiful climbing.

But again, much longer than it looks!

The route goes out with a bang. A totally awesome steep goullotte. (well actually theres still quite abit more after this pitch...)

First sun in three days!

The descent in to Italy was of course tiring, frustrating, knee jarring and much more. This was my fourth time descending from the north face and i thought it was the worst so far. We made it to the Boccallatte hut at around midnight, where we celebrated the route under a still starry night, sharing mint tea and a bottle of Cognac with a very friendly Thierry Renault.
    All in all a great hard three days. It was fun experimenting with this "slow and heavy" type of alpinism, which is something that myself and Jon aren't really in to. I get so much pleasure from dashing around with a 10 litre bag, covering thousands of metres as if you're out for a run. This type of climbing was so different, but i really liked it and i reckon i'll do more of it.

I strongly believe that this was the first British ascent of "No Siesta". There has been another claim which would say otherwise, this claim however has an enormous amount of doubt surrounding it. I think that's as far as i'll take the topic.

Of course stay tuned for some great shots here also - .