Sunday, 23 January 2011

Mounting Brad Pit

If a search engine has brought you here in the hope of some salacious gossip about Mr Pitt then I'm afraid I am going to have to disappoint you. Brad Pitt is a classic boulder problem at Stanage Plantation which comes in at a hefty font 7c+ (non climber speak = nails!).

Dom and Matt started working the moves, whereas I worked the camera. Below are the results, you may notice we did not really get past the first move.

I also took some video but due to the unique way my life is funded I cannot currently afford a computer powerful enough to edit the HD footage. A deposit account has been opened at the Bank du Miles and I should shortly be upgrading my IT. Until then sorry.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Lot To Learn

Took my new DSLR out last night to try and get some night shots. Discovered it was rather hard especially in a full moon. Most were rubbish here are the bast two:

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Cairn Gorm Climb and Ski

Loch Morlich lies frozen in the valley as I carve down the hillside trying to keep up with Sarah (I soon realise this is impossible); the late afternoon light bathing the snow covered hills and forests in a purple blue light. It's been a good day, my first experience of ski mountaineering and a ski decent of a Munro. I had picked up the skis the year before with the intention of learning how to ski tour and they have mocked me from the corner of my room all summer. The plan for the day was to walk in to Coire t'Sneachda climb up to the plateau via an easy grade one gully then traverse round and up on to the summit of Cairn Gorm before skiing down to join the pisted runs which lead back down to the base of the mountain.

From the car park our little party of four are soon enveloped in a shroud of white mist, the horizon becomes ill defined and then disappears completely. Parties ahead of us drift in and out of view, apparitions glimpsed for a second then lost to nothingness. The only colour to break into this world of white and grey are the occasional black rocks emerging through the snow, boulders in the distance which become cobbles at your feet in the strange distortion of scale that occurs in heavy mist. We follow a line of footprints which merge into the foreground ahead occasionally stopping to check our baring with the compass.

Carrying skis for the first time does not prove to be much of a chore, the weight being very similar to carrying a rope and climbing equipment if we were going to do a harder route. My ski books are designed for touring and are actually very comfortable to walk in, weighing only a little more than my normal winter boots, plus they are plastic keeping my feet nice and snug. After about an hour the cliffs of Sneachda rear up out of the mist and we get kitted up, have a bite to eat and dig a few test pits in the lower slopes of the face. Route choice is Aladdin's Coulior a wide snow gully that cuts up behind the buttress.

There has been quite a bit of snow the last few days and the avalanche forecast for the gullies is medium to high, the lower section of the gully is quite scoured out by the wind but snow has banked out higher up and I stop about every thirty meters or so to dig a test pit. The fresh snow appears quite well bonded to to hardend lower layers and none of the pits fail along obvious cleavage planes. To be on the safe side we stick to the edge of the gully close to the rocks where the snow should be better bonded anyway. Towards the top of the gully are some fantastic hored up granite pinnacles including Aladdin's Seat which offers a fantastic view out down the corrie and beyond to Loch Morlich. Meall a' Buchaille which would be a huge hill in England looks tiny from our vantage point such is the scale of these Cairngorm monsters.

The plateau is windy today I can feel the gusts catching the skis which are strapped to my rucksack, trying to twist me sideways. Visibility is down to about twenty meters so out come the map and compass to get us up to the summit. At one point I notice a subtle change in colour parallel to us and out left; matt white to a dull grey, it's the cornice at the edge of the plateau. We have manage to get to within about seven meters of it without seeing it, and it's all to easy to see how people fall through cornices in really bad visibility. At the base of the final summit cone the sun burns through the cloud giving a beautifully atmospheric view of to Beinn a' Mheadhoin with it's distinctive granite tors.

The summit weather station is coated in ice and rime like a fantastical fairy tale castle or wedding cake. Laurence and Gareth head off on a baring down towards to top of the funicular as Sarah and I take off our crampons and step into or bindings, I pretty much immediately fall over trying to get into my skis (a gust of wind I tell you). The run off the top is a bit of a challenge, the lack of a horizon between snow and cloud makes the terrain very hard to read and the snow itself is very icy and has been sculpted into frozen waves by the wind.

Carving down on the baring we suddenly drop out of the cloud and spot the top of the ski lifts sat in front of a terrific view out over the valley and the smaller hills stretching north towards Inverness. We stop at the summit station for a late lunch and meet up with Nick and Abi who have spent the day skiing and with Bernie and Josie who at 20 months has climbed her first Munro today (with a little help from mum and dad). From the summit station it takes less then fifteen minutes to carve our way down the mountain and loose the height it took us three hours of hard work to gain this morning.

Ski mountaineering; I'm sold!

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Awsome Aviemore

A few pictures of my week in Scotland to tide the site over until I write something.

 Drumochter pass from A'Mharconaich; a quick hill walk on the way up, conditions looking promicing.

 Good visibility in Corie t-Sneachda!

 Cloud briefly lifts; the view down towards Loch Morlich

The main buttresses of Corie t-Schnecda

 Cloud inversion with the approach of evening

 It's cold out!

 Tools of the trade.

 Hardcore alpanists prepare for their ascent by stuffing there faces with food. "Technical resting".

 Laurence about to top out on Aladdins Coulior

 Alladdins again

 Cloud clears on the plateau.

Cairn Gorm summit with weather station

Monday, 3 January 2011

Can Pride Survive A Firestorm Of Horror

Can you be proud of something you consider was wrong? I'm currently reading a history of Bomber Command during World War Two and It's left me with this pretty insoluble moral question.

In a paragraph; Bomber Commands operations over Germany are the only major battle of the Second World War for which Britain did not issue a campaign medal to the men involved. This is because by the end of the war the government and to a lesser extent the public had become embarrassed about what they had been asked to do in our name. Is this fair and how should we remember the men of Bomber Command today?

A Lancaster bomber the mainstay of Bomber Command

"The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind." Arthur Harris, Air Officer Commanding, Bomber Command.

The bomber offensive had started as a way of hitting back, with our land forces banished from the continent, on the back foot in North Africa, and distant but ultimately crucial battle ongoing out in the cold waters of the North Atlantic it was a  visible way we were striking back. The Blitz on London and other cities notably Coventry had created a feeling that the enemy should suffer too.

In today's age of high tech warfare where lasers guide bombs down chimneys it is easy to forget that in 1943 bombers had trouble bombing the right city never mind the right building. This was especially true at night, the only time Bomber Command could hope to operate over Germany and survive. To compensate for this inaccuracy the tactic of area bombing or the deliberate targeting of large areas of German cities was adopted out of necessity. This reasoning, commonly accepted in the UK is valid but is not the full story; there was also a darker motive.

Destruction in Hamburg

Harris was under no illusions about what he was trying to do.

"It should be emphasized that the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale, and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing, are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories"

This was confirmed in Directive 22 which stated bombing was to be:

"focused on the morale of the enemy civil population and in particular of the industrial workers."

So just as Hitler had tried to break the will of the British by bombing, now we would try the same thing on the Germans regardless of the fact it had completely failed to crush the will of the British people. The scale is unimaginable, 500-800 aircraft a night pounded every major German city one ofter the other. Yes it caused massive problems for the German war machine, production of armaments was delayed and the numbers reduced, troops were tied up manning air defences rather than facing the Russians in the east and later the allies in the west but between 200,000 and 400,000 civilian died in the nighttime raids by the RAF.

Although the numbers of casualties were worse on the ground, the percentages were worse in air. A total of 55,737 men of Bomber Command would die during the war, a loss rate of 44.4% of those who served, only the German U-boat crews would suffer a higher loss rate. A bomber tour was composed of 30 missions, and with the average loss rate per mission at five percent rising to 10% or higher for the long missions to Berlin the crews could see that statistically you could not survive a tour. It was not unknown for more aircrew to die on a raid than civilians on the ground.

A Lancaster on the bombing run over Hamburg

I can't imagine what it must have been like. These were eighteen, nineteen and twenty year old kids, they could not drive a car because they were not old enough, some had not seen the sea till they navigated across it. Having only having learned to fly two months before they would now take a big heavy four engined bomber all the way to Berlin, navigating across a blacked out continent with little more than a compass, map, and stop watch. Sat in unpressurised aircraft with only minimal heating against the -30 degree air temperature. Stalked by searchlights, and night fighters, holding the aircraft steady in a hail of flack whilst on the bomb run, knowing that any minute cannon shells could come tearing through the fuselage. They injured this for seven or eight hours at a stretch.

They could see death coming as they flew over Germany, watching the searchlights wave ahead in front of a wall of exploding flack that they had to fly through. Aircraft caught by the beams were easy pray to the flack and fighters and would desperately try and throw of the light before it was too late; those that succeeded would then get back on the bomb run and try again. The crews would see aircraft exploded, split in half, have wings torn off, fall to the ground in flames, be hit by bombs falling from aircraft above them, yet with this going on around them they pressed home there attacks.

Back at base tired, and shaken by strain they would see the belongings of those that had not returned disappear from the mess, friends with whom they had had a drink with a couple of days before gone forever. Sometime crews would be killed on their first mission, so quickly that barely anyone on the squadron would have had time to learn there names. Despite this horror they boarded their aircraft night after night and flew the missions. How can one not be proud of their bravery

The Ruins of Dresden after the Firestorm

Towards the end of the war questions were being raised about the morality of what we were doing; then came the Dresden firebombing. Dresden as a city had escaped the worst of the conflict, and was renowned for its culture and architecture, by 1945 it was full of refugees fleeing the advancing Red Army. Then on the 13th-14th February 1945 it was destroyed by the RAF and USAAF in a colossal Firestorm* from two huge raids comprising close to 800 aircraft apiece. The bombing is thought to have killed up to 25,000 people.  The scale of the destruction caused Churchill to look to question the bombing strategy and to distance himself from it:

"It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land… The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing. I am of the opinion that military objectives must henceforward be more strictly studied in our own interests than that of the enemy." Winston Churchill

I think the failure to award a campaign medal to a group of men who fought so bravely and suffered so much because politically it had become difficult is a disgraceful one. The men of Bomber Command put in a monumental effort on our behalf and suffered horrific losses,  to ignore their contribution because we now find what they did morally troubling is in itself morally wrong.  However I am not for one minute saying the bombing of German (or Japanese) civilians is something we should take any pride in.

By today's standards the raids were morally wrong but applying morals retrospectively is a dangerous game. I think that Churchill's response to the Dresden attack indicates some appreciation of the moral dimension to the issue at the time. Bomber Command did what they were asked to do in our name, and as a people we knew what was going on when those bombs landed. Any guilt should be carried by the nation not the men themselves.

I can't be proud of what they did but I am proud of the way they did it. If that makes sense.


Bomber Boys, Kevin Wilson The story of Bomber Command in 1943, lots of first hand accounts
Dresden, 13 February 1945, Frederick Taylor an analysis of the most controversial attack of the European War

*Firestorm: A colossal inferno caused by incendiary bombing where concentrated fires cause superheated air to rise drawing in cold air from the outside further feeding the fire in a positive feedback loop. The centre of a Firestorm could reach temperatures of 1000 degrees, produce winds strong enough to suck people in through the air, and all the air out of the air raid shelters suffocating the victims. The phenomenon was unexpected and had been discovered accidentally during the bombing of Hamburg in 1943 when a single raid is thought to have killed 42,000 people.

Firestorms were rare in WW2 due to the need for very accurate concentrated bombing but the seven or eight Firestorms which occured may be responsible for up to 25% of the civilian casualties from bombing. The worst Firestorm in history occurred after a USAAF raid on Tokyo on 5th March 1945 and is thought to have killed 120,000 civilians.