Monday, 31 October 2011

One Step Forwards, Two Steps Back

Last week I got deferred on my ML (Mountain Leader) assessment; basically this means I'm not quite good enough to pass but not crap enough to fail. The way ML's are assessed can be quite compartmentalised with a number of key levels of competence you need to display before they let you loose on the world. This method of breaking the course down into a number of skill sets means if you fail to reach the standard in just one area you don't need to repeat the entire course.

I was actually deferred on my rope work, a delicious irony for someone who does lots of climbing and I'm sure an event which is going to provide plenty of amusement for my friends. Specifically I did not manage to set up a satisfactory belay to bring a nervous group member up an awkward step.

I'm pretty furious with myself; the deferral has thrown a major spanner in the works of my plans for the next few years. I had planned to attend winter ML training in February and the assessment the year after. That can't now happen as you need to be signed off on the summer ML before you can start the winter course. It's now extremely unlikely with consolidation periods and weather that I can get my rope work signed off before the end of this winter which knocks my whole schedule off by an entire year.

No ML Winter training for my in February

In looking for excuses there are none, I messed it up, knew I had messed it up and have nobody to blame but myself. The mistake I made was not really practicing the rope work till the last minute assuming that as a climber I should be able to do it in my sleep. I practiced what I thought I needed to; wandering around darkened moors until I could do night navigation in my sleep and hit the smallest terrain feature pretty much bang on every time. 

In they week before I got the rope out and had a quick check that I could do a tradition abseil but crucially did not go out and set up belays. In summer ML all you have to work with is the rope, no nuts, slings etc to rig up a nice equalised belay. I knew this beforehand, but I only really realised this stood on top of the escarpment rope in hand, suddenly I task I had assumed would be trivial was  turned round and bit me.

I cobbled something together and started to bring the person up; the assessor had seen my set up and told the climber to weight the rope. The load came on and suddenly without the friction of a belay device the 8stone man on the other end of the rope felt much heavier that my 6ft 5 mate Nick who is affectionately known as the human bouldering mat. Rope stretched, legs gave a little, and I was dragged forward; not much, about a foot but it was enough to drag me off my perch and in a real situation with a potentially frightened client at the other end of the rope would have left me incapacitated with the rope under load.
Don't assume because you can do this you can do ML rope work. That said George's belay a'la sunbathing technique would appear in many guides either.

I knew then I was in trouble, I'd dug myself a hole that I did not manage to climb out of for the rest of the week, result; deferral. Recriminations? No; it's happened, I know why it happened, It won't happen again, I've given my self a bit of a mental kicking for my mistakes but I will just have to deal with it. On the plus side the assessors signed off on my navigation which was strong and said that I had a really good relaxed guiding style. 

That's what I have to take from this, at ML rope work is only used in emergencies, if it comes out of your bag you have already messed things up, having a good guiding style is what earns you your bread and butter day in day out. 

Saturday, 29 October 2011

M62 Night Photography

Junction 22 on the M62 is the highest point on the motorway network in England, at this point the Pennine Way long distance path crosses the road perched high on a foot bridge. I have long thought the bridge would make an excellent viewpoint for night photography as really all that is up here is the road and dark open moor.

Last night I actually got round to walking up to have a look, the view of a stream of traffic pouring the 7 or so miles across the blackness of Saddleworth Moor was not actually as clear from here as I thought it would be as there was not quite enough elevation (there is another bridge the other side of the moor which may offer a better view). The bridge itself did however make quite an interesting study lit by the glow of the traffic and road lighting.

 Junction 22 (ISO400, 30sec, f9.0)

 Chasm of Light, The Pennine Way Bridge (ISO 400, F9.0, 4min)

 The Pennine Way Bridge (ISO 200,  f9.0, 3min)

Looking east towards Huddersfield and Halifax the M62 cross Saddleworth Moor

Edit 31/10/11 

Visited the other bridge tonight, a much better viewpoint on a lonely moor high (40m or so) above the motorway. Great view of the road east and westbound but slightly depressing as the bridge is covered in signs from the Samaritans and is obviously a "popular" suicide spot. Indeed I was slightly worried that someone may see my wandering arround on it, get the wrong idea, and call the police.

I was only scoping the location tonight, it was cold overcast and windy, plus I was hungry so the photos were quick and for future reference only and are not good enough to put up here. Plus it was actually too dark. It does appear I'm not the first to spot the potential of the place a quick google search turned this up. Very impressive!


Friday, 21 October 2011

Movie Night

I first saw Samsara about two years ago at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival, it's a cracking short film about the joys of the expedition. Currently planning a couple of my own albeit much smaller is scale and objective. More soon.

Samsara from renan ozturk on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Simple Sleeps

There is something really fulfilling and relaxing about sleeping out under the stars; no tent, just a sleeping bag, mat and bivi bag, maybe a tarp if the weather looks a bit dodgy. I don’t do it enough, walk up a hill with just my sleeping kit, a stove and perhaps book to pass the time. I love the simplicity of letting your body match the rhythms of the Earth, sleeping with the Sun's exit and wakening with the return of the light. Or maybe it’s deeper than that, some hidden psychological memory from our evolutionary past before we had evolved to regard walls and a roof as essential for living

With no roof or tent to shield you from the heavens bivying leaves you exposed to the elements and with a front row seat as Sun, Moon and stars dance overhead. The Sun has long been a linchpin of human thought, in many ancient cultures regarded a God which brought life and fertility, banishing the dark each morning and through it's inexorable rise above the horizon during Spring and Summer brought forth the bounty from the earth.

Bivying on the way to Skye last May

Sunrise and sunset; the Sun in all its glory, bathing the world in a light that extenuates the beauty of the landscape. Bivying is sitting snug in a sleeping bag, a cocoon of warmth against the oncoming cold as the sun leaves the stage it's encore a sky alive with colour. Then drifting to sleep with the feeling of with fresh air moving across your face, staring up at stars bright in the black sky or clouds drifting slowly across the havens.

I also like the way bivying makes use of the terrain, extracting positions of comfort almost anywhere (some mountaineers may disagree with this!). With so little protection from the elements you learn to use the shape and contour of the land to shelter you from the elements. Granted wild camping also teaches these skills but bivying sharpens them. Picking a great bivi spot is a art.

Moonrise (30 sec, f. 5.6, ISO800)

Then there is when it goes wrong, epic bivi stories are a favourite reminiscence amongst climbers and mountaineers. Badges we ware with pride even if deep down we still shiver at the memory. Climbing biographies are littered with stories of frantic searches for places to sleep in the mountains when with increasing desperation that chair sized ledge you spotted a while back goes from "unacceptable", to "a last resort", to "quite roomy", to "a 5* hotel" depending on your desperation. My favourite bivi tale is from Mick Fowler who spend the night wedged with his partner in what can only be described as a 2ft diameter ice tunnel half way up a mountain. I don't think they slept much.

I remember a particularly unpleasant bivi on top of Snowdon the night before I had a shot at walking the Welsh 3000’s (failed). To maximise our chances of success we had picked a particularly grotty weekend in November with bad weather forecast, and little daylight; we then compounded the error taking lightweight bivi gear. We had a cunning plan though; we would shelter in the doorway porch of the summit cafe out of the worst of the elements.

A first attempt at a long exposure night shot from a bivi in the Howgills, eight minutes at f. 5.6, ISO400. Still underexposed with some artifacts from the relatively high ISO setting. The lights at the left are the M6 motorway which colours the cloud considerably.

Somewhere in my head I thought I remembered reading they were rebuilding the summit cafe, however mentioning this to my friends I received assurances that they probably hadn't started yet. They had; arriving at the summit we were greeted not by a sheltered porch but by a site cabin, a portaloo, and a small excavator. 

I spent the night wedged between the site cabin and the portaloo in an attempt to get out of the wind and the snow which arrived to greet us. My friends George and Stuart the most experienced in our party who at the time I looked up to as experienced alpinists had arrive equipped with summer sleeping bags. They spent the night wedged between the tracks of a small excavator engaged in the kind of platonic heterosexual spooning action non climbers just don’t seem to understand.