Thursday, 15 July 2010

Looking Back To Look Forward

Why am I already getting excited about next winter?? I love winter climbing, it excites me more than anything else. I've been reminiscing about some of the amazing days out I had this winter and thought it would be good to get them written up.

February, Borrowdale, Lakes:

Great End looking particularly snowy, it had thawed a bit by the time we arrived, Central Gully is the obvious feature, Window is invisible from this angle.
Psyched for some winter fun were myself, Wicks, and John; we were joined by Gareth, and Steve for their first experience of climbing the white stuff. The idea was to head up to Great End which is a really reliable and hence popular winter venue, and do the classic line of Central Gully. So the tried and tested routine: pack night before, argue over gear, ditch some to save weight, change mind, repack, repeat, sharpen tools and crampons, alarm obscenely early, coffee, food, shoulder heavy bag full or rope and metal, begin the walk-in. The path up Grains Gill gets the blood going, rocks and steps covered in verglass, promising for conditions above but treacherous down here. Great End comes into view her buttresses black but Central and South East gullies shining white and silver in the morning sun.
Me leading the icefall in Central Gully
Tools out and crampons on we solo up the bottom section of Central towards the Amphitheater, it's very banked out with snow and none of the small ice steps are really showing, but the neve is quite good and not too stepped out from the countless hoards who will have passed this way. From the amphitheater the left icefall finish is just shouting out to be climbed. John and I have an argument about who is going to bag the lead. In the end we agree I will lead it then untie allowing John to pull the ropes and lead it on pre placed screws.
The pitch is about twenty meters of nice grade III and the first bit of proper steep stuff I have climbed for almost a year. It goes well no great dramas and my tools behave themselves although I still lace it with gear. I love to feeling when your on good ice and neve, the thwack of the axe in a good placement, the balancing on a few mm of your front points, the slow subtle changes of balance. John leads it no problem and Steve gets up without weighting the rope but admits he is not quite as psyched for wintering as he was this morning. Wicks and Gareth then send the pitch on the second rope.

The lower pitches of Window Gully
We drop down Cust's Gully which is completely banked out and an easy Grade I, Steve heads down to the hut whilst the rest of us charge across to the base of Window Gully for a cheeky end of day solo (I love the fact that Gareth has gone from no winter experience to soloing Grade II/III in one day). I had climbed Window before whilst still at Uni although it had been rapidly melting at the time (video here. Please forgive the dodgy French accents we had just got back from a trip to France and thought it very funny). Window was really fat this time lots of good solid ice in the lower gully which we romp up enjoying the freedom of being off the rope. The upper section of the gully is a little harder but the steep section is very short and goes easily once I've grown some.

Upper icefalls in Window Gully

Then it's Cust's again and a glissade down the snow covered scree slopes below the cliffs. Suddenly there's a huge crack and from high above a loud shout of BELOW! I turn and look spotting a block tumbling and spinning left to right across the face. I cold hand clutches my heart; FUCK that's huge! It must have been the size of a small car. It lands at the foot of Cust's where we've just been and shatters into pieces with an almighty crash changing direction funneling directly down the shallow show filled depression that we are glissading down. I turn and run for the bank to get out of the fall line shouting to the others. Once up I see that seven or eight blocks the size of TVs are spinning down toward John who has not heard "JOHN GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE GULLY". He hears me and turns to see the boulders bouncing towards him; no time left to move he just has to watch them and hope they miss him. I turn away. They miss. That was not fun.
Low down in Window
We don't linger on it. Back down to the valley for lots of tea the stories of our escape being suitably embellished with every step. It was the size of a house I tell you.
Thanks to Scott Muir who took the majority of the pictures in this Blog as he followed us up Window. You can visit his Blog here.

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