Monday, 1 April 2013

Black 'Leash' Ladders

I must admit, I've neglected this blog for the past month or two. After my last winter trip to North Wales of the season, I jetted off to Egypt to visit my girlfriend studying out there. Ever since i got back, I've been pretty busy. So finally I've gotten round to updating it. And so...

...Me and Chris rocked up in a snowy lay by just after midnight, sorted kit ready for the morning, then bivied out. We set off in the morning heading towards the Black Ladders. Finally getting to go there after such a long wait! The walk in was pretty alpine! Clear blue sky, the sun glaring off the neve, a brisk wind blowing about the spindrift. We approached the pyramid of the ladders and pitched our tent in a sheltered area a few hundred metres from the base of the initial snow slopes. We started up them, aiming for the base of Central Gully (III/IV, 4). There had been A LOT of snow! We were a bit cautious at first. There were patches of wind slab lower down, but the rest looked fine. At the base of the ice, we stopped for a bite to eat and to gear up. Chris got a screw in and clipped in and I managed to sling a huge icicle. And with the normal tugging to see if it's bomber we heard a 'WOOMF!'...

..."What was that?"
"I have no idea..."
"Was it the Icicle?"
"No dude, it's bomber..."
<The wind picks up>
"Ohh Shi...."

Approach slopes up to the base of Central Gully (centre)

Gone. Our words were washed away in a waterfall of spindrift, cascading over the ice fall on to the two unsuspecting climbers attached to the mountain. Hoods up and hugging the ice. Then silence and stillness. Cool. Any way, shall we press on...

Chris lead the initial ice pitch and we then moved together up the snow slope to the cave pitch. However, this is where it gets interesting. The amount of snow that had fallen over the last week had completely filled in the cave. It was just easy angled snow, with the top turfy section of the cave visible. Great, we thought. Or not as the case may be...

The slopes that we moved together up to get to the Cave pitch (Top centre on skyline) The 3 grooves are just to the left of the gully at the top of the gully. The groove we took is the furthest left, just the top is visable.

Put it this way, it took me nearly an hour of swimming to gain 20m. I stopped digging. Sat on my platform I had dug into the side of the mountain, and eyed up my 2m wall of snow behind me. |Even Chris had a go, but we got no where. No way for it, we had to take the alternate pitch up the grooves to the left. I traversed across and Chris rigged up a belay. I eyed up the three grooves, and came to the conclusion that the furthest left from gully looked the better option. I had no gear on me at this point, it was all stored away in my pack as Chris had led the first pitch. So I set off, armed with two Ice axes, a sling and a few krabs. Oh and a warthog. That went in pretty sharpish, right in a crack like a piton. This groove followed an overhanging corner, with a very blank and rime covered slab to my right. I was now a good couple of metres above the warthog. It would never hold a fall from this height. I wedged myself into the groove under a roof, and got the gear out of my pack. With only one hand free, the other gripping the axe, the only thing stopping me from tumbling down this gully, I slung the sling of gear over my head. The lactic acid now building painfully in my arm. I swapped hands and shook out. My left crampon cammed into a crack and the right one slipping from their front points. I arranged a small wire and clipped it, backed up with another small wire below. A cam hastily rammed into a crack. I could now compose myself, relax. Breath. I adjusted my position, both hands now lovingly wrapped around the handles of their corresponding axes. I reach up, hook my left axe into some snow covered turf. It holds as I weight it. The right axes extends higher. I swing. It penetrates. I step up and manage to secure a front point onto a match stick ledge. And from there, it went to shit...

...I pulled. My right axe ripped. Straight through the turf, bringing with it clumps of heather and frozen dirt. My crampon popped from its feeble hold. Gravity took over and pulled me with it. My vision blurred to grey and white. Everything slowed. My life, now in the hands of the hastily placed protection a few metres below me. Two small wires, a cam and a warthog. This was all that was stopping me from falling the several hundred metres down the gully to the base of the Ladders. This was all that was stopping me from ripping Chris, all alone below, unaware of what was unfolding, off the mountain. And as quickly as it had happened, I jolted to a halt and inverted. Feet now higher than head. Snow, heather and frozen turf now raining down on my fearful, cold face. My axe dangling below me. I took a moment to reflect on what had just happened. I was still in the groove. Still on the mountain. Hanging against the rock. Now, placing protection isn't something you should by pass. When a placement comes up, fill it with anything that fits. you never know what might happen above. But when I turned my head to look down, I was shocked to see the limp rope hanging below me. Trailing up from behind the corner Chris was hiding behind, through my protection, then arching back down in an 'S' shape and coming back to join me on my harness. Chris hadn't held my fall. My protection redundant. Looking up, I found my swivel leash tight. And at the end, a well placed axe, fixed in the frozen turf, holding my body away from the horror of the space below. I swung around and reunited my self with both axes. My right axe higher than the placement before. It felt secure. But so did the last. I paused at this position. The exact same position I found myself in a few moments before. Now I don't know if any of you have been in this position before, but knowing that you have a bomber axe placement, and you now have to remove it, to reach higher and find a placement that may not be as good, or even there. The suspense was killing me. I couldn't commit. Repeatedly, I weighted my other placement. Hoping that it was as good as this one. I took a deep breath, removed my left, life saving axe and...

...Contined to top out and secure the best belay I could. Chris has always questioned my winter belay building. Something about 1 or 2 axes in frozen turf or ice being part of the system. But as I keep telling him, If im happy to hang off it, it's bomber. I remember clearly shouting down to him at this point that if he never wants to climb with me again, I understand. This has to be the hardest bit of climbing I had done all winter. Harder than IV. I'd suggest a tech grade of 6 for this groove. But I'm only basing that on one other grade V 6 that I have done. Chris, under the safety of top rope, cruised the pitch I had just struggled up, and popped his head up over the edge, with a grin across his face. I can always count on him to be as stupid as I am and follow me up anything :)

And so, we traversed back into the gully and continued up the easy snow slopes, by passing a rather large cornice at the top, and slumped in the snow in the sun light of the afternoon. We walked off, and bum slid all the way back down to the tent where we ate and drank, and set our selves up for evening. That was the plan any way. Until Chris punctured his inflatable sleeping mat. So we packed up and walked back to the car. That evening we sat in a pub, drank beer and ate burgers, looked through our pictures of the day and re-lived our adventure on the Black ladders. We slept in the car that evening near Ogwen Cottage, ready for an early start in Idwal tomorrow.

Pyramid buttress. Central Gully goes up the right side of the pyramid

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