Monday 27 December 2010

Ice climbing in The Lake District. Low Water Beck. December 21st 2010.

Well, Christmas has been and gone and albeit temporarily (we hope) the absolutely fantastic winter conditions too! There have been a lot of winter ascents done recently on many of The Lake District's mountain streams. Ice climbers have been out in profusion - everywhere!

Iain and Kirstin from Kendal Mountaineering Services were out Tuesday last week and decided to take a look at Low Water Beck - a fine little grade 3/4 ice climb near Coniston.

Some Lake District winter climbs are well known about and hence get a lot of traffic. One wonders - should you get up early to get on the route first - or leave it til a little later - and get on the route when the crowds have gone?

Anyway, after a not early start we eventually arrived at the foot of the main section of Low Water Beck at around mid-day. This first shot shows two people on the main pitch and yes - for those in the know, the lower chap was wearing a Whillans harness and he was also climbing with straight shafted knuckle bashers as well. He must have been hard as nails!

However, what you don't see in shot one is the pair who were in front of us and, as there were a total of six people either on or about to get on to the ice climbing route, we elected to check out some short ice cliffs about 300M to the right of the main falls and come back later when things had quietened down - a good move!

In shot two, Iain climbs up a rather thin grade three pitch to set up a top rope so that Kirstin could have a go. In places here, the ice was only a few cms thick so, it was very delicate climbing. Once at the top, Iain set up a belay consisting of three warthogs and a bulldog considering this necessary as rock anchors were miles away and the turf was only moderately frozen - not surprising really as over the last three weeks there has only been one period of freeze/thaw.

We enjoyed a few hours of climbing on this short ice wall and in shot three Kirstin enjoys a slightly thicker line of ice. Kirstin was climbing using Iain's DMM Flys which are excellent T rated axes for all round use in any winter climbing scenario.

During this time Iain was watching the foot of Low Water Beck and had noticed that no-one else had walked in - in fact most people were leaving.

So, at about 3pm, we wandered over to see what was what and we could see only one person who was about to disappear up the top pitch.

The main part of the Low Water Beck ice climb consists firstly of an easy angled scramble up to the start of the main pitch. At this point the grade three summer scramble of Low Water Beck breaks out right but the ice climber is confronted by a 70 foot pitch rearing up into a groove leading to the top stance below the final pitch.

Despite the battering this grade three pitch must have had over the previous four days, there was still plenty of fine ice and the picks of Iain's Rebels went much better into this ice than that of the previous venue - but of course here, the ice was at least 20x thicker!

The pitch was very pleasant climbing; and Iain was soon up to the stance below the final pitch - having placed a few ice screws along the way. He had to be careful though, not to dislodge any ice on to Kirstin down below.

In shot five, Kirstin has ascended the main pitch and is climbing the easy groove above to Iain's stance.

By this time, the light was fading rapidly!

In the last shot, Iain climbs rapidly up the final pitch having gone under and behind the boulder on the right through a fine little ice cave.

The grade four section of the Low Water Beck Ice Climb is the unbroken rib going up immediately to the right of Iain. Even though it looked fine from below, there was a waterfall running down the middle of it and Iain wasn't convinced it was safe. Also, because it was rapidly getting dark (and Kirstin was complaining of cold hands) he chose to belt up the easier l/h gully and belay Kirstin up from the top of the gully whilst attached to two very secure warthogs.

A final short scramble brought us to the head of the main pitch of Low Water Beck and by now it was almost dark. It was a shame we were unable to link to the two short but pleasant ice pitches between where we were and Low Water, but we were very satisfied with what we had done on our ice climbing afternoon.

You can view all of the pictures from this afternoon here.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Counting down to Winter 2011 in Scotland

Well, winter has already arrived here in the Lake District with us now being into our second really cold snap so far. We have aleady been told that it is the coldest winter recorded this early for 17 years.

Iain Gallagher (pictured right) remembers when, as a kid, this weather, here in the Lake District, was the norm. It used to arrive in November and the snow would creep down the mountains into the valleys and there it would stay until the end of March and often, on the mountains, well into May!

Iain welcomes the return of this cold weather which transforms the whole of the UK into a winter wonderland and makes a visit into the mountains even more of an adventure. Make sure you are prepared for the winter conditions by attending one of Kendal Mountaineering services Winter courses this year.

Iain is going to be based in Fort William from Early January and will be on hand to arrange your winter adventure. Let us know what you want to do and we'll arrange a course to suit your needs. Remember we do not add VAT to our prices so, if the thought of that 2.5% VAT hike is putting you off booking your winter adventure - then contact us or call Iain on 07761 483364.

Being based in the Fort William area gives scope for all sorts of great winter climbing and whether you want to be guided up some classic winter routes or already climb in Summer but want to be able to do it in Winter - then we can find a suitable venue in the area for you.

Local to Fort William, we have Ben Nevis - Britain's highest mountain, with many classic lines of all grades to choose from. Aonach Mor is close by with many great routes on its east and west faces and a little further south we have Glen Coe with many classic climbs to choose from.

Of course, you might want to do your climbing course in the Cairngorms - such as the people in this second photograph. This is not a problem - it's not far away from Fort William and Iain will happily arrange winter climbing, mountaineering or winter skills courses for you there - in fact we are running a course there at the end of February. Check out details of the courses on offer that week here and you can view pictures from the last winter skills courses here.

Photograph 3 shows a team of people practising the ice axe braking position on last year's very successful winter skills course. This is an essential skill if you are going into the mountains in winter and is only one aspect of our two day course during which you learn about kicking/cutting steps, crampon use, avalance prediction, the building of snow shelters and basic ropework and belaying techniques.

Ice axe braking can be an exhilarating experience when taught in a safe environment as was the case shortly after the above shot was taken - learn the techniques with us and be safer in the winter mountains as a result!

Not everyone wants to learn about winter climbing immediately (or at all!) but often people want to make a progression in that general direction.
The party seen here had attended winter skills courses and had tried guided climbing, but this time they wanted some coaching in the techniques of winter mountaineering (winter scrambling).
On a winter mountaineering day, you will use all techniques learnt during a winter skills course but the rope comes out more as you will be on terrain where the consequenses of a slip could be serious and the nature of the ground may be such that ice axe braking may not stop you before you become airborne!
Bucket seat belays as well as snow, ice and rock anchors are all likely to be looked at and used on one of these days out. On this occasion, the route was Ledge Route on Ben Nevis although many other good mountaineering routes exist such as Curved Ridge or Dorsal Arete in Glen Coe, Golden Oldy on the West Face of Aonach Mor or the Faicaille Coire an T Sneachda in the Cairngorms.
The possibilities are endless for your winter adventures in Scotland this season. Contact us and we will put together a package that improves your ability and confidence in this great environment and we'll take you into some of the best places to learn, too! Your winter skills course will be run either by Iain or another holder of the Winter Mountainwalking Leader's Certificate. People wishing to be guided up winter scrambles or winter climbs will be working with full holders of the Mountaineering Instructor's Certificate.
Keep an eye on our blog over the coming months and follow Iain's adventures - either climbing for pleasure or working with clients. Its going to be fun!