"A word on the spot is worth a cartload of recollections"
James Maggs, Southwold diarist 1797-1890

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Hardly a riot, now was it?

Yesterday's mainly peaceful G20 protest must have disappointed parts of the media, who were clearly keen for a riot - presumably so they could sell more papers or boost their ratings.

Never one to let the truth get in the way of a good story, the Evening Standard's billboards yesterday trumpeted RIOT POLICE BATTLE ANARCHISTS. Battle? Hardly.

Beau Bo D'Or has this nailed.

For anyone interested in what the protests were really like, Dave Hill was actually there.

And on a lighter note, here's a Travel Service Update for the day of the protests, from Diamond Geezer.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Dancing sheep and jellyfish

... are just some of the things you can expect to encounter if you do a non-stop round of the Munros in 48 days it would seem.
How impressive, and how daft, is that?

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Good idea for a video

lost in a moment from dennis wheatley on Vimeo.

From the bunkhouse window

This is a working farm as well as a bunkhouse. It's warm, clean and
comfortable. After 9 and a half hours sleep the smell of bacon is now
spurring us on.
Here's the view from our room.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

First day on rock in 2009

After a couple of VS climbs, hugging the rock for dear life, I
relaxed a bit and started to remember how to climb. It wasn't cold,
for March, but the wind made for chilly belaying at the top of the
crag towards evening.
Very happy to have led 2 HVS5b on my first day back.

We're now in The Angler's Rest in Bamford with pints of Deuchars.
All's well in our world.

Update: The day's tally:

Heather Wall VS 4c (JB lead)
Big Chris HVS 5a (NH)
Tinker's Crack VS 4c (JB)
Townsend's Variation HVS 4c (NH)
Leaning Buttress Direct HVS 5b (JB)
Queersville HVS 5a (NH)
The Flange HVS 5b (JB)

Looking for commitment

Nick unprotected on Townsend's Variation, HVS4c

Nick on Queersville HVS5a

A bit battered, these days

Friday, 13 March 2009

Polar Circus

After a couple of short hours' sleep we were on the road by 1 am. We bowled along the Trans Canada Highway, past juggernauts parked in laybys, their drivers showing more sense than us by sleeping in their cabins, and then turned off northward on the remote Icefields Parkway road. Icy mountains all around us were lit by the near-full moon.
We parked up and set off on a well-packed trail up the hill towards the start of the climb.
As Nick led the first pitch by the light of his head-torch, I hunkered down, grateful for my down-filled jacket, and looked across the moonlit valley. It was around -15℃.

Much more so than in the daytime, I was acutely aware of how vulnerable we were in that dark, starkly beautiful, frozen world. We couldn't afford to make any serious mistakes.

More pitches of climbing followed, interspersed with snow-plods. Some of the snow slopes we traversed were avalanche-prone and would be risky later in the day as temperatures rose. It was good to know that we should be able to by-pass them by abseil on our descent.
The final section of the climb consists of 3 discreet tiers of steep ice, each involving two pitches. This is where the harder climbing started in earnest. As we worked our way up the first tier it began to get light, but temperatures remained low. And because we were now climbing more slowly (we were nearer our technical limit) we were now really feeling the cold - especially when belaying.

We had to stop for long periods so that Nick could warm his numb feet. After 4 more pitches of climbing, a final monster ice tier reared up into view. Aware that the second pitch of this tier is the crux of the climb, I offered to lead the first. Although easier than Nick's, my pitch would involve sections of vertical ice and I felt nervous. As this photo was taken I was about to take off my down jacket to start the lead, feeling, as usual before a hard lead, like a condemned man.Here's me leading the pitch.
Nick lead the second (crux) pitch, which involved long sections of vertical ice. Rather him than me...At the top we both felt completely drained. We didn't take any photos, just ate and drank, exchanging few words,
before starting the long series of abseils down the climb. I can't remember how many abseils we did in the end: nine I think.

After one of them the rope stuck and we couldn't pull it down. Faced with having to prusik all the way back up 50 metres of rope, we eventually devised a way of jerking the rope free.

Here's a view of the upper tiers:In this photo I'm about to do the free-hanging abseil past "the Pencil", a huge ice column which had collapsed near the top:We finally arrived back at the car at 7pm, 16 hours after we had left it. We felt shattered but happy as sand boys to have climbed this 700 metre "showpiece of the Canadian Rockies".
I did need that can of Red Bull before the drive home.

*** UPDATE ***
The timing of our ascent was impeccable. Polar Circus avalanched yesterday.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009


The checkout lady in Safeway must have thought we were having a children's party.

For the drive and the climb:
Soft fruit sweets, 4 packets
Gatorade 1.5l
Gatorade powder 8l
Oat and other energy bars
Cheese for cheese and ham sarnies

For the drive back:
Danish Pastry, SUPERPACK (no prizes for guessing who chose this)
Chocolate chip muffins (oh alright that was me)
Red Bull

Adding Red Bull to the mix at a children's party might lead to a wee bit too much hyperactivity, though.

Planning for Polar Circus

Tomorrow we are going to try to climb Polar Circus, a 700m (500m of ice) WI5.

The plan is to steal a march on any other climbers who are also intent on this ├╝ber-classic. It's quite likely that others like us will have delayed their attempt because of the cold but will now be looking to take advantage of tomorrow's warmer temperatures (forecast is for a low tonight of -17°C, high tomorrow of +4°C).

We're spending the day relaxing, eating and drinking lots, so that we're well fueled and hydrated. We'll have dinner at about 4pm, lights out (sacs packed) at 6pm-ish, in the car at about 1 am. We'll arrive in the dark then set off with head-torches for the first few hours of climbing. The guidebook says the climb is often done in 8-10 hours car to car, but I suspect we'll take longer than that, probably arriving back at the car sometime mid-afternoon - which should see us back here sometime in the evening. A pit stop at Craigs' may be needed on the way back...

Nick has started to pace about. I'm getting a few butterflies, now.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Finishing Hammer

Here's a photo of Nick outside our home-from-home. Doesn't his jacket make his head look improbably small? Click on the photo to zoom in and have a proper look.

Much umm-ing and ah-ing over breakfast at Craig's this morning as to what we should do today. Eventually we settled on an easy 200m WI3 gully, off Icefields Parkway, described in the guide as being "fun" in a "great setting". It was too cold for anything very much harder, though I suspect Nick was sorely tempted.

The peaks all around shone in the sun as we set off up the slope and into the gully. In the end there were just a few shortish "steps" of grade 3 ice, which we soloed.

As we got higher the views across the frozen Waterfowl Lake to Howse Peak and the White Pyramid were wonderful.

A good day out in crystal-clear, cold air and sunshine.


Judging it too cold to climb, after our hearty breakfast we set off to visit Calgary. The drive took us out of the mountains and 100km or so east across the prairies. Our first stop was the Mountain Equipment Co-op. I was going to call it a climbing gear shop, but that's not right, it's huge, more of a gear supermarket. Heaven. I bought a new harness, a couple of T shirts and other stuff.

With over 1 million inhabitants Calgary is the 3rd largest city in Canada by population. In good part a product of oil money, it was also boosted by being host to the 1988 Winter Olympics.

The city centre is a mass of skyscrapers. These are joined up by a warren of indoor walkways, with glass bridges over the highways to interconnect them. There are shopping areas and food outlets within the warren, and even an indoor garden - though that was closed for refurbishment when we visited. This allows the office workers to live most of their day and travel long distances in their shirtsleeves without needing to brave the subzero temperatures outside.

We got lost straight away of course.

I'm sure it's unfair to make a judgement after such a short visit, but my impression of Calgary was of a lot of money but rather less character. We saw perhaps 3 buildings more than half a century old.

On the drive back we stopped at a restaurant/cafe run by Indians on the Chiniki Stoney Nation reservation. The service was chaotic but accompanied by smiles, and the food was real food and tasted good.


And to think that only a week or so ago we thought a full melt was starting ...

Blueberry pancakes & ice cream

Just thought you might like to see what Nick had for breakfast.

Here it is in close-up.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Canadian machines

Canadians operate some impressive machines. I've posted photos of some already (sad I know). Juggernauts crossing Canada along the Trans-Canada Highway. Snow ploughs running in tandem, clearing both carriageways at once. Double-decker container trains, a kilometer long, running parallel to the highway along the Canadian Pacific Railway , two engines at the front and one at the back to power them over the Rocky Mountain passes.

Even the smaller machines impress. This one, parked in our parking lot, can travel by road AND by rail. Nick saw it running along the railway tracks earlier.

Cold on Moonlight

It was a cold day, -17°C when we set off this morning and it didn't warm up much during the day.

We headed south into Kananaskis Country for the first time, driving 40 km to the parking lot for Evan-Thomas Creek off Highway 40. Under grey skies we followed the frozen creek for an hour and 15 minutes before the icefall came into view. Steep!

The climb is called Moonlight, a 110 metre WI4. By the time we reached its base the ice had seemed to lean back a bit, so I offered to lead. I set off up ice that was much steeper than expected, and much longer! At one point I felt my arms were "going" so I clipped the rope onto one of my axes buried in the ice for a rest.

I was still climbing steeply at 60 metres when the rope ran out, so Nick had to start up after me. A few metres later I belayed and brought Nick up. I'd taken quite a while climbing the pitch and Nick was now very cold. At the belay he had to sit and warm his feet, before setting off and completing the climb.

The cold sapped our strength and reduced our enjoyment of the climb, but at least neither of us had the dreaded Hot Aches.

On the way back to the car the cloud lifted to give us a view of Mount Kidd.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

It gets cold in the mornings!

Take 4: Carlsberg Column

We had a real lie-in this morning - 10 hours sleep. Both woke feeling a bit tired physically but otherwise properly rested.
We stopped at Craig's Family Restaurant, winner of the "Best Breakfast in Canmore" Canmore Leader Reader's Choice award for their Rancher's Breakfast: 3 eggs, 2 rashers of bacon, two beef sausages, ham, hash brown, toast and unlimited coffee for $10.99. We weren't quite sure what the slice of orange was doing on the plate, but it was a fine breakfast.

Well fortified we set off for our fourth attempt at Carlsberg Column, a classic 80m WI5. I was quite nervous, even though I knew Nick would be leading the first (crux) pitch, 30 metres of 85-90° ice. The second pitch was shorter but just as steep. If I could screw up the courage to lead it, it would be the hardest ice pitch I'd led to date.

Nick led off in fine style, clearly on better form than yesterday, made pretty short work of the first pitch, and brought me up.

By now my nervousness was bordering on terror at the thought of leading on. But I knew that if I didn't I'd be grumpy and disappointed with myself for the rest of the day.

So I pulled myself together and set off from the belay. I was able to bridge, in balance between ice nubbins, and place an early ice screw to protect the belay, then pushed on. As usually happens, the fear receded into the background as my attention focused on the climbing.

After what seemed like a few minutes to me - but probably felt like an age to Nick - I pulled over the top of the steep section onto easier ground.
We abseiled off and went home, happy.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Hangovers make for Cold Feet

Actually we weren't all that hungover, but we may have had a Grizzly Paw pilsner or 2 more than we should have. We were both a bit sluggish this morning, so we stopped off at the general store in Field for coffee and home-made cake as a second breakfast. We took away some very fine home-made apple strudel too.

Feeling a bit more human, we slogged up a steep snowy hillside through trees to the start of Guinness Gully (240m WI4). The climb was in a pretty battered state, quite steep but with steps kicked by previous parties.

My hands got cold while I was belaying Nick on the second pitch , and by the time I had climbed up to his belay I could feel the onset of a bad go of Hot Aches, as the blood began to return to my frozen hands. If you've never had Hot Aches it's pointless trying to describe it. For the next 4 or 5 minutes I was in a sea of pain. I wanted to vomit. There's absolutely nothing you can do until it passes.

After completing Guinness we continued up the gully for a further couple of hundred metres to another climb: High Test/Stout (WI4+). I led the first easy pitch and Nick set off on the second. This was much steeper and, as it turned out, longer than our 60m ropes, so, as Nick neared the top, I dismantled the belay and we climbed simultaneously for the final few metres.

Although it wasn't technically difficult, the final pitch was probably harder than anything we've done here. The ice was particularly hard, quite brittle, and mostly vertical.
It was OK for me on a top rope:

but when I got to the top Nick said he'd been so scared leading it, he'd actually felt sick.

So over the course of a day, one of us had felt sick from pain, the other from fear. What a day out!

There was nothing for it but to go back to Field for more apple strudel.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Tin Shed

Patagonia's Tin Shed looks very good. Click here to have a look.

Soundtrack to the trip

Our radio station of choice is X92.9 Calgary's New Rock Alternative, but, when reception cuts out somewhere between Banff and Louise, Banff's Mountain fm takes over.

There's more Power Rock and other cheesy stuff than I can stomach normally- but somehow it fits here. Anyway, Canadians must be fond of it because there's not a lot else on the airwaves.

Turning tail

We woke at 0530 and by 0640 were on the road. The only problem was that the snow flurries that were forecast turned out to be a near-blizzard, with long periods of zero visibility whenever we were overtaken by one of the monster Canadian SUVs. So, as Nick put it, we "employed our mountaineering skills to assess the objective danger", turned round at the first opportunity, and drove very slowly back to Canmore with our tails firmly between our legs.

Weeping Wall

Yesterday at Haffner Creek we had a chat with the climbing guide who'd been introducing the beginner's group to ice climbing. We asked if he'd any recommendations for good climbs in condition. He said we should try some climbs near Field, West of Louise: Carlsberg Column is a great WI5, he said, and Guinness Gully a classic WI4. There are also Pilsner Pillar and Cascade Kronenbourg nearby. All in good condition and not far from the road.

"What were they thinking of, naming those climbs?" piped up one of the group.
"Beer", the guide replied.

So today we got up early and went to have a look at the beer climbs. Once we got to Field, though, we thought better of it because warming temperatures could create an avalanche risk there. So, after a freshly baked pineapple muffin and a coffee from Field General Stores (great place) we drove up onto onto the remote Icefields Parkway and to the world famous (in climbing circles anyway!) Weeping Wall.

The dots on the ice are people.

The lower (wider) section of the Wall is 180 metres high. We picked a line we thought we could do, away from falling ice from climbers above. In the end we did it in three LONG and pretty steep pitches of 60 metres each. I led the first and last, Nick the middle. Here Nick is on the 2nd pitch.

And here's me as a fly on the third.

Stunning place.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Marble Canyon and Haffner Creek

We woke up to find it was snowing. Last night we had formed a plan to head south to Evans-Thomas Creek then walk up it for an hour and a half to climb Moonlight and Snowline, two Water Ice 4s. This morning Nick suggested a return to Marble Canyon instead, reasoning was that we might miss Moonlight &c in the snow. I agreed readily. Of course, the comparatively short walk-in did not enter our minds...

At Marble Canyon Nick dispatched Tokumm Pole, something of a steal at WI5+ (sorry Nick). I was cold by the time I started to follow, and with no real opportunity to warm up, my forearms became "pumped" straight away. So I spent a couple of minutes sitting in my harness, a bit shamefaced, to allow my strength to return.

After that we spent a couple of hours ice-cragging at Haffner Creek.
All very pleasant but the crag was busy with a group of beginners being shown the ropes. Heffner Creek is a bit like Krokan in Rjukan, Norway: convenient but you pay for it in peace.
So far this trip we have been blessed with solitude on most of the climbs. Although we've been doing classic routes we've often had climbs to ourselves. Not today, but it didn't really matter much: we were expecting company.

On the way back to the car we walked past pines still standing 40 years after a fire in 1968.

On the drive back the car lost power and coasted to a halt. We'd run out of petrol! Neither of us had had the slightest inkling we were even low. Nick gave the car a push and we rolled off an exit from the Trans-Canada toward Banff. We were lucky to run out so near to civilisation. A short walk to a petrol station followed, returning with a gerry can.

Chilli con carne's bubbling on the hob. Time to crack open a beer.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Advice on surviving a bear attack

According to the Canadian Parks authority there are two types of bear attack: defensive and predatory.

If a bear is behaving defensively, i.e. attacks you if you startle it, or to protect its cubs, the advice is to PLAY DEAD. The bear quickly sees that you pose no threat and will leave you alone. *

If the bear's behaviour is predatory e.g. if it stalks you along the trail or attacks you at night in your tent, the advice is to "FIGHT BACK! Use bear spray, rocks, sticks, whatever you can find - do whatever it takes to let the bear know you will not give up."

* If however after 2 minutes of playing dead the bear is still attacking, you've made a bad call in judging it to be non-predatory...

So now you know.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Well at least we tried ...

though maybe not that hard.

This was the precise moment on our walk in to Haffner Creek this morning, when we decided we should have a rest day after all. The prospect of sinking up to our waists in snow every 4 steps for 45 minutes was enough to turn us round, sharpish, and send us back to Banff for coffee.


Today we had another lie-in. 10pm to bed last night (I don't think we've made it past 10:30pm so far) and a 7am start. Luxury!

We turned left off the Trans-Canada Highway halfway between Banff and Lake Louise, then drove for a couple of hours south-west through Radium Springs and Canal Flats, before following a small "logging road" north beside the Kootenay River.

This was well away from anywhere, with enough ice on the road to make us wish we had a 4x4 (again), and plenty of white-tail deer about. After another half an hour driving up the remote Kootenay Valley, we spotted our destination on the hillside: Gibraltar Wall, a wide sheet of WI4 ice, 145m high.

The hike up to the start of the climb was short (10 minutes) but a steep slog. Once at the ice I led off, then Nick led the next 2 steeper pitches. Here he is on the second:

I completed the climb, right. The climbing was excellent throughout: steep but varied and the ice better than it at first appeared: good enough to take solid ice screws.

Absorbing climbing in a beautiful and isolated spot. What more can you ask for?

Sunday, 1 March 2009

It's not really normal, is it?

Louise Falls

We set out this morning to explore Johnston's Canyon, off Highway 1A west of Banff. Johnston was a miner/prospector who explored the canyon in the 1890s. Nowadays it's fully geared for tourists with a walkway drilled into the limestone canyon wall, information boards about the history of the place and the local wildlife. You get the feeling, though, that there are vast areas of country all around, that are completely untouched and wild.

This impression of wildness was reinforced by a couple of articles in the local Canmore paper this morning, about local sightings in the last couple of days of a wolf pack hunting a moose, and of a cougar (named Doug, it seems).

Anyway, back to Johnston's Canyon. When we arrived at our destination, the upper falls, after 45 minutes walking we found the ice to be not great, so we backtracked to the car and drove north to Lake Louise instead.

There we found a frozen lake surrounded on three sides by mountains.
Our destination was Louise Falls, a 110m WI4/5, which you can just about make out in the right-hand background of the photo above, across the lake.
I'd been sluggish all morning and was initially a bit intimidated by the steep appearance of the climb, but as usual I woke up fully as soon as I started climbing.
The setting was stunning, the ice fairly good on my pitch. Nick had to contend with a lot of brittle and snowed-up ice on the second, very steep, crux pitch. It was the hardest pitch we've done here: 20m or so of near-vertical ice. The photo below doesn't really do it justice. Another brilliant day.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

The Professor Falls

The plan for today was to try this 280m WI4, named after someone who took a fall on the first ascent. The climb is popular so we decided to steal a march on any others by waking up at 0430 and walking to the waterfall in the dark. During the 2-hour walk-in the day dawned clear and crisp. The trail followed the Bow River, above which lay a water-mist which turned to hoar crystals on the riverside bushes. Quite magical.

We arrived at the base of the climb to find a pair of climbers gearing up, an American and a Canadian. I had a chat with the Canadian who was very friendly (I haven't yet met any Canadians who aren't!) He said he'd climbed the Seven Summits (the highest mountain on each of the seven continents).

The climb was excellent.

On the walk back to the car we were given a lift by a young woman on the back of her pick-up. She stopped without us putting out our thumbs!