A great wee event organised by Joe Faulkner of Nav4 and now in it's second year, this 38 mile trail race with 2000m of ascent was the perfect preparation for a busy Christmas. Yet again the weather was ideal with plenty of challenging conditions underfoot but dry and cold with a fresh wind. Inov-8's Kim Collison had a storming run winning in an amazing time of 6:05. For the rest of us it was a great day out in the snow with the final runners coming in a just over 12 hours. The route starts in Askham before climbing over the moor to Howtown and onwards to Patterdale via Boredale Hause. The run then circumnavigates Helvellyn via Sticks Pass, Swirls, Dunmail Raise and Grisedale before retracing your steps to Askham. 95 runners enjoyed the experience and I bimbled round in 9:43 despite one rather large route choice error. (I took the description of a trail run rather literally from Patterdale ignoring the obvious large road which led to the next checkpoint!)
Another stunning day to be out in the hills with plenty of new snow being blown about on strong westerlies. The National Park Fell Top assessor reported thigh deep drifts just getting to Swirral Edge and yet again failed to make the summit! Over on High Street there was significantly less snow but getting anywhere still involved plenty of post holing.
There's been a number of teams out today with the high central venues providing the best entertainment. Climbs have included almost every route on Brown Cove Crags, Rape & Pillage V and Blade Runner IV on Helvellyn, Pendulum Ridge III on Scrubby Crag, Left Hand Route IV 5 on North Buttress / Cambridge Crag and Gully of the Plods II on Green Gable.
The general consensus is that much of the turf which is buried is still unfrozen but where it is exposed to the elements then it's in good condition and with careful route choice it's possible to minimise any damage to the fragile alpine ecosystem. There's limited ice for climbing with Blea Water Gill still flowing but there's plenty on the paths above 700m.
For the weekend it looks like we have bright but cold conditions with a few snow showers. The strong northerly wind will keep the temperature down even more but all the unconsolidated snow will increase the avalanche risk on southerly through to easterly aspects and in sheltered bowels and gully exits. There's been a number of big avalanches already in the past 10 days and climbers have been reporting plenty of spooky snow around. The gullies are going to need a good freeze thaw cycle to come into condition but many west and north facing buttress should be in excellent nick. Careful route choice will be needed and don't forget the approach, exit and descent.
Tomorrow (16th December) Radio 4 focus their attentions on the Bob Graham Round. Italian composer Maurizio Malagnini has written a piece of music inspired by the Round which will be accompanied by thoughts and memories of those who have completed it. The program's broadcasting at 11am.
The freezing level was well above the summits last night and we awoke to a major thaw. With no realistic options for ski touring or winter climbing the best idea was a wee fell run followed by coffee and Christmas shopping! We headed up onto the Grisedale Pike - Eel Crag - Barrow horseshoe to stretch our legs. There were some deep drifts of wet snow in the lee of the ridge but everything else had defrosted. Looking across to the west face of Raise there was very little snow cover where we had skied yesterday although the Raise web cam shows plenty of snow drifted in by the lift.
After a good freeze last night, we opted to check out the touring conditions on the Helvellyn range. We were able to ski from the sheep fold at 480m on the Sticks Pass path from St John's In The Vale despite most west facing slopes having been scoured by the wind. Some careful route choice and we were soon up and over the col to the ski tow on the side of Raise where a band of volunteers were hard at work digging out the tow and generator shed from some deep drifts in the lee of the ridge. We traversed Raise before very lean conditions on Whiteside forced us to retrace our steps and skin up onto Stybarrow Dodd. By now the lift was running and around 20-30 skiers were enjoying some good snow. Our descent back towards Thirlmere had just enough snow to allow us to descend all the way back to the sheep fold. There were plenty of folk out today including a couple of other groups touring on skis plus plenty of fell runners recce-ing the route for next weekends Tour de Helvellyn, a 38 mile ultra.
Further north the high winds of the last few days have caused plenty of problems and now reports are coming in that the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis has lost its roof.
After a wild and woolly couple of days the winds eased today as I headed up for a quick ascent of Sharp Edge on Blencathra. Within 5 minutes of leaving the car I came across the remains of a reasonably large wet snow avalanche (300m, easterly aspect) which had come down during the thaw yesterday. At the foot of the ridge any turf that was exposed was frozen but everything else vegetated has been insulated by the snow leaving it very prone to damage. The National Park are requesting that climbers don't climb the traditional gully lines until they are properly frozen meaning that it doesn't look like Helvellyn and Great End will be in condition for the weekend. However the rocky Sharp Edge offered good sport today. There was some ice and plenty of verglass meaning that crampons were essential. After topping out I descended by Halls Fell Ridge.
Another view of the avalanche debris which crossed the path
Plenty of grapnel being blow around in the strong westerly.
Ski touring in the Cairngorms in similar snow conditions
There's been a few folk out and about in the Lakes having a look at the conditions. The National Park Fell Top Assessors are reporting plenty of soft snow above 300m on lee slopes. They also highlight the fact that very little of the underlying vegetation is frozen which means that there are very few options for winter climbing. Paddy Cave climbed Bowfell Butress V 5 yesterday, a predominately rock route which just needs a covering of snow to come in to condition while Woody was out looking for frozen turf on Wetherlam's Hen Crag Buttress. A better option today was ski touring with Paddy reporting good conditions on Raise. However there was also evidence of a couple of full depth avalanches.
Meanwhile up in a snowy Scotland there was plenty of action in the Cairngorms - Nom de Plume VI 7, Guillotine V 6 and Scorpion V 5 on Carn Etchachan all saw ascents and a team were seen tunneling their way up Deep Cut Chimney' IV,5 on Hells Lum. In 'Sneachda a team from Glenmore Lodge enjoyed Pot of Gold V 6.
Yesterdays successful Northern Corries action included Droidless VI 6, Pot of Gold V 6, The Message IV 6, Hidden Chimney Direct IV 5 and Stirling Bomber V 7 and over the back Sticil Face V 6 on the Shelterstone was also climbed.
Over on the west coast the big news was the second ascent of Defenders of the Faith IX 9, onsighted by Greg Boswell and Will Sim on the overhanging Creag an Socach.
The Message IV 6, Wavelength III 4, Melting Pot V 6, Haston Line III 4, Hidden Chimney Direct IV 5, Crotched Gully II, The Genie V 7, The Seam IV 4, Invernookie, Central Left Hand II, Bulgy VII 7, Hoarmaster VI 6, Unamed Groove III, Origional Summer Route IV 5 - It was a busy old day in the Northern Corries.
Elsewhere Stairway to Heaven III on Beinn an Dothaidh and Tainted Elixir V 6 on Ben Cruachan both saw ascents this weekend.
As to be expected the Northern Corries were heaving today. Conditions were better than forecast and there were queues below some routes. Nocando Crack recieved only its 3rd ascent on Friday giving a solid VII 8. Today Hidden Chimney II/III, Seam-Stress IV 6, The Hsston Line III 4, The Seam IV 5, Fingers Ridge IV 4, Stirling Bomber V 7 and Invernookie were all climbed.
Over on the West Coast there's been a huge freeze thaw cycle following a week of snow. A few folk have broken trail in and teams were seen on No 3 Gully Buttress, the 2nd ascent of the Minge VII 8 on Trident Buttress, the Groove Climb V 6, Gutless IV 5 and Pinnacle Arete IV 4. The reliable Stob Coire Nan Lochan in Glencoe also gave a couple of routes including the classic Dorsal Arete II and Central Grooves VII 7.
The Scottish Avalanche Information Service haven't started their forecasts yet but there's been a number of avalanches reported already. On the Ben the areas below Trident Buttress and No 3 Gully are full of avalanche debris and the gully next to Great Slab in Coire an Lochain released in dramatic fashion giving a couple of climbers a wee dusting.
Plenty of teams out in the Northern Corries again today. Reports suggested heavy rimming making progress slow and careful but there were plenty of routes climbed including Hoarmaster V 6, Overseer Direct V 6, Hookers Corner VI 6, Central Crack Route IV 5 and Third Man V 6. One team also made the trek over to Carn Etchachan to climb Equinox VI 6.
Last nights BMC meeting in Staveley focused on the ethics of Winter Climbing in the Lake District. Following on from two incredible seasons there has been much vocal argument about what is acceptable and what direction our sport should take in the future.
Simon Webb from Nature England gave a very informative presentation on the effect of our actions on some of the very rare arctic plants which struggle to survive in the gullies and crags on which we pursue winter climbing. However the good news was that winter climbing on vegetated lines does very little damage if they are in condition ie the turf is frozen and not just snow covered. Simon's plea that we avoid climbing when the vegetation isn't frozen was met with plenty of support.
There was some discussion on the differences between dry tooling and mixed climbing. The difference was not as clear as some participants would have liked and the end result of damage to the rock from ice axe and crampons is very similar. Steve Ashworth noted that dry tooling was very much a underground activity in the Lakes and encouraged the BMC to look at developing guidelines and crags which I believe would help in educating climbers as to what is acceptable. Last winter two young climbers were photographed dry tooling on Millstone in the Peak District causing extensive damage to the thin crust characteristic of gritstone. Education has to be the key to preserving the limited amount of rock we have in the UK.
The main topic on which folk felt very strongly was the effect of winter climbing on classic rock routes. Bowfell Buttress in Langdale gives a classic VD in summer but has become polished from extensive traffic. In the last few years it has also become a very popular winter climb at grade V. It now sports a lot of superficial scratching which is visually intrusive in summer conditions but hasn't effected the actual climbing.
The size and frequency of the holds and protection on routes such as Bowfell Buttress and the Crack (VS) on Gimmer mean they will usually remain physically unscathed but visually damaged from the passage of winter climbers. Routes at these grades should still offer a similar experience to the summer rock climber regardless of whether they are climbed in winter. Interestingly 11 of the 16 Classic Rock routes in the Lakes have now received a winter ascent.
However the leading activists are getting stronger and are looking to push their boundaries. As they move on to harder classic routes the potential for significant damage is increased. Smaller holds and critical runner placements are more prone to damage from ice tools and crampons which could significantly alter the nature of the route in summer conditions. The explosion in climbing standards of the last few years has meant that more people now climb on the harder routes and understandably wish to test themselves on the published routes of the leading activists of our era. There is no easy answer to this natural progression with regards to the sustainability of our sport and to it's effects on other mountain users
Many people climb due to its lack of rules and regulations. Picking on one small part of the climbing world for the damage they do is to forget the side effects of many other aspects of our sport - polish, chalk, clearing of vegetation etc. However the actions of a few can and will have a negative effect on our mountain heritage and the enjoyment of others. Maybe we accept that routes will change, holds will break, placements will wear out, rockfalls will occur and in the grand scheme of things they matter very little compared to the natural erosion and that caused by walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders? Many of the rock routes at Millstone were formed by the extensive pegging of aid climbers. The mountain environment is always changing as are fashions in climbing. Or do we look at self regulation to protect the experience of the majority?
The latest Welsh winter climbing guide has taken the step of defining some routes and areas of crags as out of bounds in an effort to protect the classic rock routes. This would be a controversial step for the Lake District but would possibly help with the education of climbers. There would be no legal basis and climbers would still be free to climb where they wished, indeed some leading climbers have already indicated that they would ignore any effort to restrict where they climb, but it would have some influence on the majority.
There have been many controversies in climbing - bolts, chalk, aid, top roping. The climbing community has eventually self regulated itself with regards to these issues and I'm sure the same will happen here but they'll be plenty more 'positive discussions' until a consensus is reached! Until that time please only climb when routes are truly frozen and take responsibility for the effects of your actions.