It’s been a busy year so far and I have put today aside for reporting on my Canadian and Alaskan adventures. A little late I know and it’s not easy in the middle of a heatwave to think back to frozen waterfalls, snow and sitting out storms high on a glacier in a remote region of Alaska.
What I really want to get people fired up about is summer climbing - getting out on the rock and into the mountains!
It’s easy to forget how good the climbing is here in the Lake District. In Langdale you’ll climb on a lovely rough textured Rhyolite with pockets, incut holds and great friction. Basically the mountain crags of the Lakes are made of rocks from the Borrowdale Volcanic Group which are around 450 million years old. Super hot, violent & explosive eruptions generated not only Lavas but also 'fire mountains' ejecting great volumes of debris high into the sky, which then settled over the surrounding land. These eruptions blasting down onto the ground with such great force the formed the rocks known as 'Tuffs'. One sequence of these eruptions was called the Airy's Bridge Formation which created Raven Crag, Gimmer Crag, White Gyhll and Scout Crags. The Ash was so hot during this sequence, that it flowed like a Lava as it cooled, welding itself into rock creating some of the crags we enjoy today.
Anyway back to icefalls, adventures………We had a great trip out to Canada in March. Rockies Ice never fails to impress and looking through my dog-eared guidebook of the area, the back page says it all -
“We’ve got it here; acres of wonderful azure & chrome ice, so many routes to do…..a “destination” for ice climbers worldwide. It doesn’t matter how desperate the rest of the world is for ice, it’s always happening here!” (Barrie Blanchard)
Based again in Banff we headed up past Lake Louise to Field and climbed the classic 3 star routes called Guiness Gully, Carlsberg Column and Superbok. Kiernan did a great job leading Massey’s. We drove up the famous icefield parkway and climbed the super-classic Weeping wall right-hand, then we had a long day up on Murchison’s. Last day of the first week we climbed the beautiful Lake Louise Falls which was in amazing condition. A pillar to the right which rarely forms was climbable and it gave a great steep grade V pitch. Jude did a fantastic job climbing this difficult pitch which I felt was a great finish to a superb week.
I went out at the weekend and climbed Curtain Call with an old friend who’s emigrated out there now. A route not always formed and even when it does there’s no easy line up with steep funky hollow ice and big mushrooms barring the way at half height. Steve joined us on the second week and we went down to Evan Thomas creek in Kananaskis Country and climbed Moonlight, which was in great shape. Kiernan led both Steve and myself all the way up the classic Professor Falls. We had two great weeks of climbing and only came across a handful of climbers during the whole of that time – amazing. Flying back I was looking forward to a week at home before heading out to Alaska.
We’d had a lot of unconsolidated snow during last years trip but at the end, flying out back to Talkeetna, Colin and I were already planning this year’s.
We left a small stash of kit back in Talkeetna and picked it up on the way through this year. Neil joined us having been on Denali that same year and was looking for something a little different and more remote. I felt the same feelings of real adventure and excitement as we took off from the small airstrip in Talkeetna. All our food and equipment stashed in the back of the small light aircraft with Paul again at the helm. Paul’s been flying over these tops for over 20yrs and knows them like no other. He alone has transported more climbing teams into these area’s than anyone else, a family man who takes his kids off back country skiing for the afternoon in a small plane!
The weather was great and we again landed on the Tatina Glacier and made BC. Next day we knew our objective. We weren’t sure about conditions but went early in the hope that all would be ok. At around 7pm the evening we reached the top of the snow/ice gully and just 1 pitch from the summit. We’d had a great first day and pleased we’d made the most of it. 700m up we started to fix and abseil back down. We opted for a later breakfast the following day and went to look at some other lines. We found a good looking mixed line which would get us onto a shoulder and maybe onto a known summit but via a new route.
The snow conditions were similar to last year with unconsolidated dry powder snow but it didn’t feel as serious. We pushed on and got 400m up the route before the time and now some weather dictated that we abseil down and fix a descent. That evening the heavens opened, depositing fresh new snow and the gale force winds blew it everywhere. For 5 days we sat out the storm of gale form winds and new snow. The wind slab had now built up nearly as high as the tents pitched on the glacier. You can imagine the conditions everywhere. We flew out a couple of days early and headed back to Anchorage. Colin and I headed into the surrounding mountains and climbed a great mixed snow ridge line around Alpine AD up to a great rocky summit. The route was a great tonic for pulling out of the Kitchatnas a day early and sitting around tent bound for 5 days, even if it was a hard 12 hour non-stop day start to finish!
I returned and had a few refreshing days climbing down in Cheddar Gorge then the following week ran the BMG Guides training here in the Lakes which was great. I’m now getting out on the bike as much as I can, because on one very snowy/windy occasion tent bound on the Tatina Glacier, I agreed to cycle the Fred Whitton. 112 very hilly mountainous miles over the passes of the Lake District finishing up over Wrynose and Hardknott pass. I couldn’t remember agreeing to it but Colin assures me I did so fingers crossed the weather holds for next weekend!
Wishing everyone a great summer!