Category Archives: Logbook

An entry in the CC logbook

Holiday on Ice

It was Jack’s idea from last year in Cogne, the ice would be easier, more variety of angle, and more Scottish Gully-like, so the same 4 signed up for Argentiere le Bessee 2019.

The first day was simply superb, a narrow two pitch 3 called ‘Easy Rider’, followed by the left branch of a Y gully called ‘Holiday on ice’, also 3, but about 7 pitches, albeit not all of them climbing.

The following morning it was snowing heavily, but stopped about 11.  We felt the routes would be a bit banked up, but decided to go up and have a look at ‘Holiday on ice’, right branch (only the first pitch is shared).  It was a bit harder due to having to clear the fresh snow as we climbed, but still good.

The classic 4 ‘Les Formes de Chaos’ was on for the next day, and half of France had turned up to climb it, and two Corsicans just back from Scotland. No, not climbing there, but watching the rugby. “The Scots, they taka outa Jonnee Sexton beeg time.” We queued for about an hour, and in the event, I didn’t even get off the ground as Jack was hit on the hand on the first pitch by a big lump of ice, and had to be lowered down.  Broken finger.  No question of further climbing for him.  George and Finbarr were at the top of the 60m first pitch at this stage so we retired to the coffee bar and sat with the skiers to watch them.  Due to the congestion, and a tricky boss third pitch, it took them all day to climb it.

The next day we decided to have a rest day and go snow shoeing.  Not much of a rest really, but nice to look at something other than ice,

Our Gite/Auberge at Celiac was great and the food even better, but we moved down to Argentiere, the target for Thursday being a grade 5 called Hiroshima in the Fournel Valley. Following a very discernible path down to the river, it disappeared completely on the other side, and approach to the base of the route involved uphill swimming in waist to chest deep snow.  I decided there must be a better way, and left George and Finbarr to it.  Re-crossing the river and following the track up the valley, no other options presented themselves, so I went back down and was battling my way upwards in George’s collapsing steps, when himself and Finbarr appeared with Jack back on the other side. The route was in dangerous condition, so they had exited on the very path that I had been seeking.  Plan B was a man-made ice wall just outside Argentiere (water pipes at the top) which provided us with 3 enjoyable routes of about 50m.

The next morning we were starting airport-ward, and seeking a route in the La Grave area which, being higher, should be in safer condition that Hiroshima. George (from Ballymena you understand) was too tight to buy a guide book, so all were left to my recollections of climbing there with Bill back in the last century.  “Le Pylon, that’s it over there”.  But it wasn’t, which became clear after the first pitch.  La Croupe de la Poufiasse 4+ 220m *** the classic of the area, was duly climbed by mistake, twa easy pitches by Finbarr and myself, then George leading the crux, followed by a busted Finbarr, with myself thumbing a lift back down with them.  And so, to Grenoble, and home.

Well, I would love to go back to this great area,  but have concerns at the numbers of people now ice climbing in these popular destinations. Grade 3s are a lot safer, as the pitches are shorter and the steep steps tend to be separated by flatter areas which catch the falling ice.  You can also wait until the party above clear the step, but pressure of numbers from behind, means that you tend to start below them with the danger of a piece of ice the size and weight of a Le Creuset frying pan smacking you on the head.  If you climb below someone on a rock route there is a chance of something coming off, but on an ice climb it is almost inevitable, and the more sustained the route and the more climbers above, the greater the risk.  No one’s fault really.

Bill Magowan Tribute

 

Bill Magowan. 1951-2018

 

Bill was my friend.

 

I received an introduction back, I think, in 1998, and arranged to go for a week rock climbing in Scotland with this guy I had only just met, who was a presbyterian from north Antrim and who didn’t take a drink.  I recall remarking to my late wife Irene that it might be a long week.

 

In the event, we got on like a house on fire.  Like most good friendships, a common interest can bond two individuals of very differing character.  Trips to Scotland (again) Cornwall, Lundy Island, Norway, and the French and Swiss Alps followed.  There was banter, some of it characteristically abrasive, but never a cross word, and much hilarity.

 

 A climbing partner is a powerful bond, each relying on the other for the judgement and support to survive, in what can be a challenging and hostile environment.  The shared physical and spiritual experiences of our adventures has left me with many memories.

 

  Climbing Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis in perfect winter conditions, with Bill leading the Eastern traverse, and me arriving at the belay to be roundly abused for leaving one of his wires in a crack half way across. As it was corroded and rusty, I thought it had been ‘In situ’.    I recall saying to him, “Bill you don’t have any old wires”.  His reply was typically pithy, “ Well, I don’t have now”.

 

 Getting seriously off route on the Aiguille Dibona, me out on a small exposed ledge and Bill reading me out the guide book instructions, (translated from google) which made no sense, then having to down climb before we found the correct line.

 

 Bill tied to a steel cable on the Mont Aiguille in an electric thunderstorm urging me on, as I tried to slither up a chimney (without touching the cable) leading to the top, that had suddenly become a waterfall.

 

Never entirely comfortable in a group, Bill was at his best with a friend, two at most, he didn’t need any more, and if you were that friend, he was loyal and giving with whatever he had.  A character who put the stamp of his own personality on everything he did, be it his stove pipe hat, or bumble bee climbing outfit.   He loved gadgets of all sorts, which came and went, courtesy of Gumtree or Ebay.

 

I had always assumed that his devout abstinence from alcohol was a lifestyle choice, and even when he told me that he had an addiction in the past, I didn’t really take it seriously.

 

Sadly, the demon resurfaced, and fed upon the ensuing troubles, creating a downward spiral that Bill fought as best he could, but addiction is a terrible illness, worse because we, who are not affected, do not, or prefer not to, understand.

 

I don’t think I have ever met a more intelligent human being, a veritable walking encyclopedia, and to get on the wrong side of this intellect, or his razor sharp wit, was not something to be sought.  In short, he didn’t tolerate fools gladly, and anyone to promote ideas without some scientific foundation tended to be very sorry they had raised the subject.  Religion, having no scientific foundation, obviously did not escape.F

 

Following his cancer treatment, he never got back to the level of fitness he needed to get back out climbing, but found much reward in part time work as an extra in the movies. Over a pensioners’ lunch in Limavady, he would regale me with stories of The Queen of Dragons, Ned Stark and co.

 

Bill, I will miss you, am truly glad to have known you, and feel privileged to have called myself your friend.

 

Alan Tees

 

Lossar Sept 18

Lossar Valley Expedition 2018

And in the beginning, there were enough people interested to plan two expeditions, the first to Spiti with Raja for three weeks (the original objective being the unclimbed Lynam peak 4700m) and the second to Langtang, with a trekking option.   Those with the time and energy could travel from India and do both.    A variety of reasons let to many cry-offs, and the Nepal one was deferred until 2019, but we had 5 for Spiti, visas arranged, flights booked etc.

Alas, three days before take off, we were down to two, with Raja in a panic, having paid deposits, contracted porters etc.

Just Jack and I at Dublin airport then, and a couple of days later we were in Manali, sitting in Johnston’s Hotel drinking beer, and looking out at a thunder storm.  The crossing of the 4000m Rotang La, and 4500m Kussum La, were completed without too many problems, and we stopped at the Shambala Guest house, Lossar village, at the base of our valley.   The next day was a tough acclimatisation exercise, doing a carry up the steep sided valley to base camp, 4000m to 4500m.

Our 3 porters arrived after an 8 hours bus ride from Manali, to carry food and gear to BC, which they did the next day.  We had a rest day, and went to see Ki Monastry, climbing back up to BC the following morning.

The plan was to explore and climb in two subsidiaries of the main Lossar valley, doing a second ascent of peak 6015m in the first, and hopefully a first ascent of one of the 3 unclimbed summits at the back of the second valley.  Two days later, we were sitting on top of 6015m, having also bagged Larimo 5800m, en route. The plan was going perfectly.  Back to BC,  move house to ABC, at the entrance to the second subsidiary valley, and then up to our second high camp on a glacier. 

The problem was that we would have needed to establish a further camp to climb any of the peaks at the back of the valley, and we were short of porter power having only Lackpa and Pasang.  Mighty men they are, Pasang having summitted Everest 3 times (including escaping from camp 6 in 1996- see ‘Into Thin air’) Kanchenjunga, Cho oyu, etc etc, but due to the reduced numbers, Raja had not enough funds to hire more Sherpas without making the cost prohibitive for Jack and myself.

The two more accessible 6000m peaks had both been climbed, (Dom Rimo and Lossar Peak), but we decided to give one of them a go, and come down a day or two early, and perhaps enjoy a day and a half in Manali to shop and relax, before going home.   The plan was to climb to the col in between, the two peaks, and decide which to tackle when we got there.

 We barely did!  A huge steep hillside of sliding stones drained our legs, lungs and ultimately, willpower.  Lakpa and Raja went a bit further but turned back.  We returned to base camp and sunbathed, looking forward to another rest the following day, before the porters arrived from Manali. 

About 6.00AM it started to snow, and this continued all day, all night and the following day.  It became clear that things were serious, and this was not just a snow shower as we had originally thought.   We had to get out, and whilst we were fortunate to be back at BC, and not at a higher camp (that might easily have been the case), to traverse across the steep valley loaded with 3-4 feet of fresh snow on a bed of shale, with god knows how many thousands of feet of it above, was not for the faint hearted.  We left carrying what we could, the rest packed up into the last standing tent. I left with less than half my stuff, Jack travelled even lighter.

Also, we had no idea whether this weather was local, or whether the porters would have been able to get over the passes from Manali, or indeed our jeep would arrive at Lossar.

We got out safely, thanks mainly to the brilliant route finding of Lakpa, to find the village also under a couple of feet of snow and, (as it never rains in Spiti), the stick and mud flat roofs in the houses were no match for such weather, and were leaking copiously.  Still, we were safe! Safe and trapped, as both passes were closed towards Manali, and the connecting road to Shimla closed due to land slides.

We learned that we were fortunate, as about 50 tourists were trapped in vehicles at lake Chandra above 4000m, and many others caught between the two passes, including possibly our porters and our jeep driver.   There were local army in our village, but they appeared to be happy drinking tea and awaiting orders, rather than trying to rescue anybody.  And still it continued to snow!

Now the concern was whether we could get out to Delhi in time for our flight.  With no sign of the passes opening in the near future, Raja turned his attention to the long way out, and made use of his numerous contacts to learn that the landslides near Poh (the base for our last expedition) were being cleared.  We moved to the local capital Kaza, and waited for news.   We were there in the queue, when it opened at 6.30 on Wednesday night.  Got to Pio at 1.30AM, bus left at 6.15AM and 21 hours of continuous bus and taxi travel later, we were in bed in Delhi at 3.00Am.  Up at 5.30 for the flight home.

I have to say that, as usual, without the help of Lakpa and Pasang, and particularly the spectacularly resourceful and positive Raja, we would have little to show for this trip, other than a crash course in weight loss (Jack and I lost 8Kg between us in three weeks).  ,

 

Ostirol 2018

Ostirol and Bavaria.

There were just three of us who went in the end, me, the line manager, and Fergus (Aoife couldn’t get off work).  Flight to Munich, car hire, drive to Lienz and first day’s trek cut short due to weather and cows- we went to the Lienzer hut rather than the higher Wangenitzee. The next day was grand, and we managed a Klettersteg (via Ferrata) up the Glodispitze, one of the highlights. A second night at the Lienzer and we were off to the Elberfelder Hut (overnight), then over the Boses Weibl 3131m to the Glorer Hut.  Forecast looking dodgy for our planned Grosglockner day, so M suggested we descend, take a bus to Lienz, retrieve the car, have an overnight in Kals, and then go back up to the next hut, the Salmhutte.  Ludicrous I thought, (but maybe not, and definitely better than Aviemore, her other suggestion), and so, it came to pass, with a nice lunch in Lienz, the world cup final and some beer and yodelling in Kals ( Fergus unimpressed with the latter, the yodelling that is). 

 

Back up to the Salmhutte, pausing only to photograph some Edelweiss, overnight stay, and then M went down, while Fergus and I went up a very wet and cold Klettersteg to the Erz Johanne Hutte, which we literally walked into in the mist.  Conditions were horrible, the sort people in Glencoe or Glenmore Lodge would avoid, so we were absolutely amazed that guides were still taking hoardes of clients up the Glock.  We decided to sit it out, and it was a long day, but the forecast was better for tomorrow…..

Tomorrow it was worse, with serious Cairngorm winter conditions outside.  We sat in turmoil. Go down or up?  The guides were still going up, but they were getting paid, and knew the mountain.

 Go up! It got better, the visibility improved from zero to about 10m, and the wind dropped.  It is a great climb, despite the fact that we saw sweet FA.   It must be wonderful on the 25 out of 31 good days in the month of July.

Having bagged the Glock, we went to Bavaria and did the Corkscrew route on the ZugsPitze the highest peak in Germany, part via ferrata, part protected path, but a big climb of just less than 5500 feet, just getting the summit before a thunderstorm.  Restaurant on top for a pint and a big sausage and a cable car down- great!

Then 2 rest days, one at Garmisch for a fireman’s festival, much oompagh music and beer, and one at the castle modelled from the one at Disneyland.  (Valli might have something to say about this!!)

What to finish off with?   Perusal of the map revealed a peak called the Wankspitze, with a via ferrata called the Wank Klettersteg (much juvenile sniggering).  Well, you would HAVE to climb it wouldn’t you?  Margaret, having christened it the Wankhorn (more juvenile sniggering) would have nothing further to do with it, so it was just me’nfergus who set off.   It was a very ‘hands on’ affair, with the first section in particular, but I will make no further comment other than ………

Gannets are here for the Golf

 

4th July 2018 A last minute arrangement and another grand Wednesday at Malin Head. Geoff was a bit late getting to Culdaff due to road works, Irish Open etc, but we went to Malin Head for a look anyway. The Skildren Mor crossing was calm, but there were nesting birds, so we gave it a miss. We abbed down the big slab west of Stelfox in the Cauldron, and climbed a lovely route on compact sound black rock, with good protection, about Severe, but with a thin move or two of 4b, (40m), we called it Black Bush. Then we did a variation of the Lizard Line, Cutting Edge combination, starting up rebel Yell and following the quartzite vein all the way across to the col. Makes this ‘Cutting Line’ about Severe+. Finished off with Dawson’s Diedre.  A good alternative to the Pro Am at Ballyliffin.

 

Everest 25th Anniversary Expedition

Phuletate and Pulele

Kathmandu is still a great place.  A lot of work is still be done to restore the damage caused by the earthquake, but the tourists are back, and some of the shopping area of Thamel have even been pedestrianised.  The Pilgrim book shop, destroyed in a fire is now back up and running too, gear shops abound, with cheap versions of all the expensive labels.

Domestic departures at Tribuvan was full of excited trekkers, and large groups of commercial expeditioners, towering over their sherpa guides, easily identified by their brand new expedition boots, and united only by their group tee shirts.

 Then there was us.  Worn men with worn gear.  This was the 25th anniversary of the successful first Irish Everest expedition, and the deputy leader of that group in 1993, Irish adventurer and mountaineer par excellance, Frank Nugent was our leader this trip.  Paddy O’Brien, his partner in manys an Alpine and Arctic venture, Gerry Galligan the IMC’s most prolific expeditioner, and myself, made up the party.

The Lukla flight is great, (if you can ignore the fact that it is supposed to be the most dangerous on the planet), and soon you have landed and reclaimed all your gear.  Most of ours had gone on the previous days flight.  There followed two days uphill struggle through the crowds of trekkers to Namche, which is now sporting numerous cafes, expensive gear shops and even an Irish Bar (god help us).  The amazing load carriers are still there, still gobsmacking the visitors, but now they are on mobile phones.

We had to visit the national park office to sign documents to agree to take out everything we took in.  Over tea, the official told us that there were 25 expeditions on Everest, two on Lohtse and one on Nupse.  Our rubbish would be weighed back in Namche, and it would cost us 400 Rupees per Kilo to recycle.  Good for them.

Two days later we were camped at the back of a house in the, almost deserted, high village of Mende, preparing ourselves for an 850m climb to Kyajo Ri  base camp, while our Sirdar Dhana ( also from 1993) got directions from the lady of the house, as to where the path went.

It was tough, (and a lot harder for our porters), but we got there, with Paddy first and then me, to find a couple of tents belonging to a Russian Kyajo Ri expedition.  The three porters had been there a few days, and were cold and miserable in the low cloud.  Our 9 porters romped in and soon we had base camp up and running. The Russians returned that evening and dismantled their camp, disappointed that they had not reached the summit due to deep snow.  The leader was Yuri Somethinchenko, winner of the Piolet d’Or, and summitteer of many 8000m peaks.

BC Day 1.The next day was sunny and beautiful, and although it was supposed to be for rest and acclimatisation, three of us decided to carry loads up to the bottom of the gully above.  When we got there, we could see the Russian fixed ropes up the cliffs above, so we went up for a look, eventually going up them and continuing to the snowy valley above, the proposed site of ABC at 5000m.  I was up first , then Gerry then Paddy, who was suddenly struggling with the altitude.  Frank had stayed below to rest.  

BC Day 2. In the morning Paddy was ill, and Gerry and I did another load carry to ABC with the porters, we put my tent up and came down.

BC Day 3. The next day was a rest day to try and give Paddy a chance, but his health continued to deteriorate

BC Day 4. Paddy went down to Namche to seek medical help, while Frank, Gerry and myself moved to ABC.  I was up first and put the kettle on for the others, but only Gerry arrived, telling me that Frank didnt feel he had the strength to make it. Now there were 2.  That evening I broke trail up the hill above ABC in soft snow to see if I could see a feasible route.  Higher up, I ran into very deep snow, but could see a possible route to a col, from where the ridge looked do-able.  The summit ‘Crown’ was another matter.  We needed to start early while the snow was frozen, that was it!

ABC Day 1. Early start was 5.00 AM. It was brutally cold and my hands were numb from trying to boil the kettle from lumps of ice. The tracks from the previous evening were much easier being frozen, but the deeper snow above had only the crust frozen, so we stood up on it, only for it to collapse, and then we had to climb out, pulling our feet out through the crust,only for it to collapse again.  My estimated time to the col of about an hour and a half was eaten up in a couple of hundred metres.  Exhausted, we had to come up with a plan B.

A traverse to the right would take us to a short climb to the top of the big rock tower which dominated our base camp.  We felt that we could have a rethink, and try again tomorrow, but lets get something in the bag.  Floundering our way across a boulderfield (‘ a la Fairhead’ only covered in deep powder) we got to the base of the West Pillar, where upward progress was mindset V gravity, but we made it to the bright side where the snow had melted, and it was easy to the top of this huge rock monolith. “Oh look, there’s Frank leaving base camp”!  The views were immense, but Phuletate still looked like, well anything but a foregone conclusion.

Care was required on the descent, but on reaching ABC we met Frank who was delighted (and relieved) to see us. He advised us that the porters were anxious to leave, but we had another day at ABC.  He descended to BC, and we spent the snowy/cloudy  afternoon in the tent.

ABC Day 2. Sunshine and euphoria as usual, but let’s pack up before it snows (and it did) about 10.00 AM.  we decided to take a walk up through the misty Kyajo Ri valley for a few hours.  On the way down we came across Yeti Tracks, which Gerry wanted to follow across a frozen lake (to rule out a snow leopard you understand).  The thought of following a snow leopard or yeti, in fog, across thin ice did not particularly appeal to me, and fortunately I was able to remind Gerry  of his redunancy package, so we went back to ABC.

 Plain sailing to BC one might have thought, but not so, alas. as thick, driving snow made finding the top of the Russian fixed ropes problematic.  We made it ‘heroically’ to base camp early afternoon with big packs, but to our amazement, and awe, the porters decided to go up that evening and retreive the rest of the stuff ( ABC having been equipped for 4 for three days), which they did fairly effortlessly as the weather had cleared, and being very keen to be back in the comforts of Namche, I  would imagine.

BC Day 5. Exodus.  We left with all we could carry, wondering how on earth the small group of porters would manage to divide the mountain of stuff we had left.  They overtook us, with much good humour and laughter before the monastry above Mende.

The remainder is about a days rest and overindulgence in Namche. and 3 days descent and ascent to Pulele for a function ( the second day was 8 hours of the ‘path from hell’ ( this drizzly’  La ‘was 30% rock. 30% slime, 30% horseshit, and 10%  horsepiss). 

We were received royally at the Irish Nepal Education Trust school in Pulele, in time for the school prizegiving (a type of event in which I had never been previously involved for some reason)which went on for some hours.  Largely compared by Dhana (who had left our expedition early), and involved our chief guest Dawson Stelfox, with Margaret Stelfox , Chris Avison and Mary Solan.  Even I was asked to present one of  the school prizes. My grasp of Nepali is rudimentary, but I think it was for truancy.  The euphoric evening of culture dancing and music, ended on a downer when our porters gave our tips back, which they must have considered derisory.  Red faces and a futher donation may have helped, but expectations are different, especially in the Khumbu, where a recent group of Hong Kong businessmen tipped our porters $300 each.

The short trek to the road head was wonderful,  unspoiled Himalaya, but the 4 + hour jeep trip to ?? as tough a test to vehicle and driver as I have ever experienced, and our accommodation by the airport was probably also the most unsavoury, but the flight back to Katmandhu a delight, as ever.

As I write this report I am listening to a CD of Nepali music.  After a fine indian meal in the Third Eye Restaurant in Thamel, where I informed the head waiter that my last meal here was in 1994 (the year before his birth apparently) we went to a bar where there was a live Nepali loyalist band ( 5 drummers and one musician).  We applauded wildly, -perhaps too enthusiastically, thus the CD.

Killarney Mountain Festival

 

First Ever Killarney Mountain Festival

 

Recommend this goes in the calendar for next year.  Twinned with the Kendal Mountain Festival, it had lots of outdoor films ( full length and short) in the cinema, and guest speakers such as Andy Cave, Stephen Venables, Dawson Stelfox, Dermott Somers, and Cameron McNeish.  All very entertaining, and nearly too much on, in fact.  There was a big circus tent at the back of the hotel which was designated as ‘Base Camp’ with stalls from gear shops, Scouting Ireland, Mountain Rescue, Mountaineering Ireland, and a café where people could meet and chat.   We were able to park the van overnight free in the car park beside the big top, within 200m of all the venues, and handy for all the town centre bars and restaurants.  Cameron McNeish lecture on Friday night.

 

Had a good morning out on Mangerton on Saturday and made it back for the match ( satisfactory result) then straight off to the screening of Sikkim Dreams’ in the cinema*, then straight back to the hotel for a lecture on the Alpine North faces by Dawson, Dermott and Tom Curtis ( very Funny) then Andy Cave.

 

*Gutted I wasn’t nominated for best supporting actor.  Had me acceptance speech written, but some old geezer called Attenborough pipped me at the post apparently.  Sooo unfair.

 

Sunday we went up Carrauntoohil from Cronins Yard.  Not much snow left, but we met David and Agnes, facebook CCC members, and did the mountain with them.

 

Another awesome mountain film at night, and home on Monday.

 

It’s a good time to go to Kerry, the best county in Ireland I think.

Well done to the organisers, a huge effort!

 

Escape from the Beast

It’s usual for the club to arrange a sport climbing trip to Spain in march or February but this year was a little different, for me at least. An old friend had returned from India after ten years and suggested a trip to the Costa Blanca even though he hadn’t climbed for 12 or more years.

Straight off the plane we walked from our Altea apartment up to Toix Oueste and managed 3 routes before the sun went down. The next day we went to Guadalest where the weather was considerably warmer than last time I visited. Rob astounded with a lead of the very pumpy Margallo 6a+. We bumped into another friend that I hadn’t seen since the 80s here who recommended Montesa so that’s where we headed next and it did not dissappoint. The very best crag we visited with an amazingly rough, pockety limestone which we liked so much we came back a day or so later. Two of the best 5+ ever were the rockfax guide was a litel difficult to read here as they had opted for a very wide angle photo for the topo, making it difficult to read.

The following day it rained lightly most of the dsay so we declared a recovery day.

The next crag on the list was Sector New Year’s Day in Sella, which Gerard O’Sullivan had suggested [thanks!]. This was another great crag with plenty of good holds although quite busy. Trying to avoid the crowds we were thoroughly sandbagged on Perlita.

Alacalali was the next stop. Here the sun was shining but the wind was approaching gale force when we arrived. As it dropped we were able to head up to the left hand end of the crag for some shelter. An excellent couple of 6as and some very steep 5s were our reward.

The final trip was a return to Montesa. There was no sun this time, but we met a German couple at the end of their year long road trip and we discovered they had a wicked sense of humour. We grabbed a couple of lines before the rain came and we retreated to the Cafe Aurora. Once more the Costa Blanca welcomed us as we avoided the beastly weather at home. Adios until next year.