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Doug Scott’s signed books now back in Stock!
An added bonus of Doug’s visit to the Cafe is that he re-supplied us with signed copies of his latest two books, we’d sold out of previous batches weeks ago. Copies are again on sale from our counter with 100% of the sale price going to the author himself, details are:-
The Ogre – £20 – Biography of a mountain and the dramatic story of the first ascent.
Up & About (Hardback) – £24 – Biography of Doug’s ‘Hard Road to Everest’
Up & About (Paperback 2nd Edition – £14.95
Both books are excellent reads be sure to secure your copies you won’t be disappointed.Doug & Tut’s presentation last Saturday
It was a memorable night despite those IT Glitches early on so I’ll address those first as lets be honest is was both embarrassing & frustrating in equal measure. My apologies on behalf of all those involved with both the inadequate volume on the CAN video hotly followed by the ‘loss’ of Tut’s slides (not Tut’s fault I hasten to add) led to the lights going back on & a significant delay. The patience the audience gave as Marion, Denise, John, Doug & Tut frantically tried to work things out was really appreciated so thank you very much for this. The biggest thanks must go to Steve Hobden a friend of the cafe who was in the audience & speeded up the up-loading of the correct programme significantly, thank you Steve!
What I can say is that Doug, Tut & Denise were far from happy about the whole situation, over breakfast at our place the following morning plans for their next matinee presentation at Brecon later the same day detailed discussions led to revised plans being put into place to ensure there was no repeat of the problems of the night before.
As to the content of the presentations themselves we had earlier been given an in depth insight into CAN’s excellent work in Nepal to help restore communities in remote areas which had been literally devastated in the 2015 quake. It highlighted to me that the reason we are lucky enough to have luminaries (which Doug & Tut certainly are) giving presentations in our Johnny come lately Cafe is simply our & our friends desire to help CAN help the people in Nepal. My reading of the audiences patience is that they saw an IT Glitch (or two) in the context of this wider picture.
Once the Glitches were past Tut began ‘The Hard Road to Everest’ with an insight into his getting into climbing & natural progression onto harder routes in the Alps & beyond, his empathy & appreciation of many climbing partners who helped him along this journey was deep felt & touching to see & hear. Their had been no Everest plan, simply with experience & reputation gained the ‘Everest’ phone rang, he & Nick Estcourt broke the rock barrier & more & 1975 entered Britain’s Everest history books for good.
There followed a shortened break before Doug began an auction of his signed photographic prints, this went really well & raised a further £2,100 for CAN. To all those who took part in the bidding thank you on behalf of CAN, Doug was delighted with the interest you showed & depth you dug into your pockets.
We moved on the the second half of the presentation, this time it was Doug’s turn to portray his own journey on the road to Everest. Times were different back then it wasn’t just a matter of kit not being what it is today (a slightly curved Chouinard single axe being a notable case in point) the logistics, scrimping, making it up as you go along tenacity made these men what they were. Doug freely admitted the fortune that shone on him as a result of Tut & Nick’s fortitude allowing him & Dougal to (along with Chris as expedition leader) receive the bulk of the accolades, but as they all knew it had been a team game executed immaculately until a post summit day storm put pay to Tut’s & others own summit hopes as well as leading to the death of one of their friends, Mick Burke, success & tragedy sum up the expedition.
After the main event the audience again showed their patience allowing John to sum up & me to present a cheque on behalf of Reach Out for Nepal 2018 to Doug for £8,000. Marion recorded it on camera & sent me over the photo’s the next day with a covering ‘Doug looks very emotional’. As I looked at these, particularly the first one with Doug & my arms around each other, my thoughts were ‘yes Marion your right but I’ve seen photo’s of me before too & in this one I can see the emotion in me too’.
There are many thank you’s to all who made everything linked to Saturday happen but I’ll single out the guy who set us out on the road that led us to Doug & CAN, Leo Holding at the 2015 Keswick Mountain Festival just one month after the quake hit. Kean (first), take that as the best apology you’ll get mate, followed by John have informed me that Leo is giving a presentation at Caernarfon in March next year, John stop reading & reserve the tickets please!
Denise, we felt the pressure you bore early on Saturday, but lets be clear the wider picture is what matters & it is now in it’s rightful context of a lesson learned for Brecon & nothing more than that. A small CAN team do so much good, we applaud you all!Reach Out for Nepal Update
Thank you to everyone involved in any way with this years fund raising for the Melamchi School, with Doug Scott’s next presentation at the cafe only days away I am pleased to give the following update on both the fund raising & the School itself, so here goes:-
The total raised to date in 2018 is £8,061.80 which is significantly higher than our earlier expectations of around 5/6K, simply a great result. This figure will go higher due to a Gift Aid application I need to make for my sponsors so the final figure should exceed £8,400.00.
We will present Doug with a cheque made out to Community Action Nepal on Saturday for £8,000.00 leaving a small residual balance in our Reach Out for Nepal bank account.
The total now raised to date for the School is now a staggering £34,450.41 since our first Reach Out for Nepal day in 2015 got underway a little over 3 years ago. In addition through the Cafe sales of Prints, Tickets for Doug’s presentations & sales of CAN’s goods & artefacts have raised a further £10,500.00, this money goes to CAN’s general funds for use on other projects. We have also sold £808.00 worth of Doug’s books with this money going rightly to the Author himself, how he finds the time to write them I really don’t know, well I do actually but it’s not for me to say!
Progress of the school & it’s hostel is being monitored by us as closely as possible given the high workload of Doug & his small team i.e. we don’t like to push too hard for detailed updates. What we do know is that the Girls hostels (3 Buildings) were completed by Spring this year & were officially opened during CAN’s Spring visit on 27th April. At that time the boys hostels were substantially built & post monsoon work to complete them & fit them out has re-commenced with completion expected this winter. As for the school itself progress is less clear but we are hoping for a fuller picture after Doug has visited us, that said the fit out of the hostels represented over two thirds of the £25K we targeted to raise so our monies raised are making an impact.
John Rowell is in contact with Purma, the Headmaster, & has made provisional plans to visit the School in Spring 2019 at John’s own cost to improve both our link with the School as well as give a detailed report on progress etc.
Subject to actual costs being fairly in line with Budgets we will have substantial funds still ring-fenced for the School within CAN’s funds. With the School continuing to expand but with the Government taking over day to day running of the School from CAN IN 2020 as CAN itself focuses on other works in the North Gorkha region we will await John’s visit before opening a debate on where these proceeds & indeed future fund raising should be targeted. From where I am sat the priorities need to be ensuring we maintain our contact with the school whilst ensuring that funds are going to the Coal face so to speak & this may well mean focusing future funds raised on CAN’s other projects or a specific one.
Finally & on a more immediate note Doug will be bringing more signed book copies down with him, selling artefacts on the night as well as auctioning more of his photographic prints so if you have booked tickets please bring a bit of cash or better still a bit of plastic, it’s all in a good cause. If you don’t have tickets but would like to come & listen to Doug & Tut please be quick & call the Cafe on 01690 720429, we only have 6 tickets left!
Thank you for giving your time & more.
PaulSaturday 10th November
This Saturday sees us welcome Doug Scott CBE as he (together with Paul ‘tut’ Braithwaite) gives his presentation ‘The Hard Road to Everest’. Tickets have been selling well in recent days but we still have 12 left so if you want to attend please e-mail us or call the cafe on 01690 720429 as soon as you can to avoid disappointment.
As last Saturday when Susanne Sholtz gave her excellent presentation about the history & behavioural patterns of the Carneddau Ponies (thank you Susanne) we will be closing our kitchen early to allow us to prepare the Cafe for Doug so please note that last hot food orders will be at 6:00 pm.
Doug will once again be selling a variety of books & artefacts as well as auctioning a number of prints, all monies going to Community Action Nepal. Hope to see you there.
Saturday 3rd November & Breaking News of a New Event
This coming Saturday sees us hosting Susanne’s Scholt’s Carneddau Pony Presentation with a packed house so please note that last hot food orders will be at 6:00 pm & not the usual 7:30 pm.
I am delighted to announce that our friend Rob Johnson & his Filmuphigh have chosen us as a venue to premiere his film ‘Brazilian Line’ with he date being Wednesday 28th November. Full details will be on our events page later this morning.
Finally if you here any screams in Bettws between 12:45 & 1:45 today do not call the police, it’s simply me having physio on my calves which are still as tight as hell from the Snowdon Marathon last Saturday, just why do I run ‘fast’ on tarmac? Well O.K. the scenery, the atmosphere, the supporters, the sense of achievement, definitely a case of Type 2 pain followed by Type 2 pain if you get my drift.Weekend News
First things first, this Saturday (27th) sees us again hosting Team 333’s AGM. They do excellent work in raising funds for Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Organisation (our local rescue team). I point this out because as such we will be closing at the earlier time of 6:00 pm with last hot food orders being 17:30 pm, we trust you will understand.
Earlier in the day I & some 2,000+ others will be running & sometimes walking the classic Snowdon Marathon. Please note that the Llanberis pass will be closed from 10:00 am to Midday & that parking in Llanberis is going to be difficult, don’t park illegally as you will sadly receive a ticket. Of course good luck to all those taking part be you Organiser’s & their helpers, spectators (wrap up warm) & the runners themselves who probably like me are still thinking about kit, kit & more kit! Great event to be a part of, hope to see you in one form or another.
Finally & here is where the weekend rolls into Monday & Tuesday as the next 4 days are the last that you can cast a vote for our Cafe, if you feel so inclined we would be delighted to receive your votes, simply visit www.tgoawards2018. It only takes a few moments & there are several other local Snowdonia businesses nominated in other categories (inc. Plas y Brenin’s bar which I failed to mention in a previous post). Good luck to all the nominees for getting this far.
Now back to kit………….?Fun Quiz Night (for all Dog lovers) – 20th October 2018
A final reminder for an enjoyable night out at the Cafe this coming Saturday. Organised by our good friend Hazel Robbins & hosted by the ever great value Mike Lees we hope you can join us for a lively quiz with plenty of laughs & scratching of heads all in aid of the Little Adoption Shop which rescues abused dogs in China.
Full details on our events page, the night will include an Auction & a Raffle, our thanks to everyone who has donated items to help this cause.Paul’s Blog – Events
Well by now I had intended to have blogged about my endeavours in the classic Peris Horseshoe Fell race the Saturday before last but with time passing & the fantastic Autumnal colours now putting on their show (it’s a joy to be running through them at this time of year, if only I could sprint onto the scene in the way that they have this year) I feel (as they say) to have been overtaken by Events & Cafe Events at that, so:-
Thanks Tim for a thoroughly insightful & enjoyable insight last Friday into your year as a mountain guide, we were left thinking we need to do more as much as feeling admiration at the professionalism & self analysis which you put into your work & lifestyle in equal measure.
Looking forward, tickets for Susanne Schultz’ presentation about the Carneddau Ponies have been under constant demand. Out of the 100 tickets allocated we have just 5 left so if you are not coming into the Cafe in the next 24 hours & want to reserve tickets it’d be best to phone us on 01690 720429, sorry make that 4 now!
Doug Scott returns to us on 10th November, this too has been a sell out in the two previous years, there are still plenty of tickets available at the moment but with sales picking up again I’d urge you to reserve your tickets sooner rather than later.
Before both of these we have our ‘Fun Quiz Night’ for all dog lovers (you don’t need a dog to enter) hosted by the ever reliable man of Doctor Who & the Left, Mike Lees. No need to reserve tickets but you might want to reserve a table so as not to be disappointed. The night will include an Auction as well as a Raffle with all proceeds including entry fee going to the dog charity The Little Adoption Shop.
Finally an event that is not happening, Alan Mannouch is taking a long overdue sabbatical from hosting our Open MIC Nights so the one planned for the last Saturday in November will not take place (note the October one was off already due to our hosting Team 333’s AGM on that night). Note: Alan will be hosting our Open MIC on 29th December to help lead us towards the New Year.
To all the runners taking part in Matt Ward’s Petzl Night run on Saturday night good luck, with over 3 hours of running mostly in the dark & with a ‘troubled’ forecast on the cards we may well need a bit of luck on top of our self-determination!The Great Outdoors Magazine Awards – 2018
We are delighted to be shortlisted again for this years TGO Annual awards in the best Cafe category making it 4 years running that we have made the short list so thanks to all those who recommended us.
Voting is now underway so if you feel we deserve your vote simply visit www.tgomagazine.co.uk & click on the Awards tab, you should find us on the 2nd page, your support would be greatly appreciated by all of us at the Cafe.
There are a number of other local businesses who are nominated in other categories so hopefully they’ll get your votes too, in particular Joe Brown’s are nominated in the Independent retailer, they are most supportive of our cafe & have great kit to boot so they got my vote. Cotswold Outdoor got my vote in the Chain retailer, basically the Betws store greets me with a welcoming smile every time I walk in (is that because that’s very often) & continue to support the Moel Siabod Fell race as well as help promote our events.
Cunningham’s also get short listed in the Independent retailer & two local camp sites, Dol Gam & Gwern gof Uchaf also get nominated in the best Camp site, both have had busy years so that’ll be a close call.
Voting doesn’t take long so if you can find time to do so between now & 31st October to support the Betws/Capel nominees it’d be great, thanks.Tim Blakemore’s Presentation – A Year as a Mountain Guide – Friday 5th October
A final reminder that tomorrow our good friend Tim gives his presentation about his working life in the Outdoor World, tickets can be reserved at our counter or by phoning the Cafe on 01690 720429. We should also be able to accomodate a few walk ins but best to reserve just to be sure.
Please note last hot food orders are 5:30 as usual but we should be able to rustle up some late Goulash after that for anyone who is attending the presentation until approx. 7:00 pm. Extended drinks license with presentation kicking off at 8:00 pm.
Hope to see you there.Paul’s Blog – Peris Horseshoe Race – Saturday 29th September
With on the day entries still thankfully permitted there is still time to commit to this classic long race which starts at 11:00 am & of course for those looking for an ‘easy’ option there is always the short course option. Both provide an incredible experience, I can highly recommend them.
As for me I was certainly looking forward to the long peris hoping my recent run in the Ultra Trail Wales would stand me in good stead. Alas the extraction of a large molar tomorrow leaves this all in doubt, the Dentists last words were ‘It’s going to hurt & you will need pain killers for a few days’, not exactly music to my ears, don’t bite on a polo, it’s expensive & …… Of course pain killers, heavy sweating in a race are not recommended for the old Kidneys, this could be a time to be sensible.
So with this doubt in mind I edged my bets & got out for a 21 miler yesterday (after a 10 miler on Monday which had gone very well), good effort but felt sluggish or was it a recent tick bite & the subsequent Lyme’s disease type rash playing with my mind. Either way at least I’ve got one long run in this week, is there a 2nd left in me?
Whether I make it to the start line or not best of luck to all those who do take part, enjoy the pain (Fell runners are very good at this) & of course good luck to Stuart (race organiser) & the rest of his team, may the sun shine on his Marshalls!
For race details, see our Events page or better still go to Eryri Harriers web-site.Autumn Season of Events Kicks off this Saturday
Our full Season of Events kicks off on Saturday 29th September when Alan Mannouch hosts this months Open MIC Night a regular last Saturday in the month feature. If you haven’t been along to one before why not pre-record your favourite TV shows & get back into a Saturday night out. The evenings are relaxed & if you want to play or sing you’ll find warm appreciation.
Hot on the hills of this Friday 5th October sees Tim Blakemore (who for his sins had guided Paul & friends on more than one Alpine tour among many others expeditions throughout the world) present ‘A Year as a Mountain Guide’, tickets are still available at just £5 with all ticket sales going to Tim’s chosen charity.
These starters will be followed by several other Events throughout the Autumn & early winter, for full details of the above simply visit the Events page or look at the notices displayed in the Cafe, we hope you can make it to some of them.
Finally keep a look out for details of Nick Livesey’s new book launch which we hope to help launch with Nick giving his own presentation within the near future.Tim Blakemore presents ‘A Year as a Mountain Guide’ – Tickets now Available
A quick reminder that the first of the Cafe’s Autumn season of events kicks off on Friday 5th October when we welcome our friend Tim Blakemore to the Cafe. Tim who has guided throughout the world including Antartica, Greenland, The Himalaya’s & Scandinavia is an IMGA based in Les Houches near Chamonix.
A fascinating insight on how someone who has chosen the mountains to both live & work & help others achieve their own personal goals. Full details are on our events page, ticket proceeds going to Tim’s chosen charity www.peopleskitchen.com.
We hope you can make it!Paul’s Blog – Ultra Trail Wales – Part Two
Whilst Martin Cliffe was smashing my pb for our Siabod Challenge I was focused on final prep for last Saturday’s race which would be my first ever Ultra race. This included my Pasta Carbonara pre-race day meal taken at 8:45 am, no more food until breakfast two hours before race start at 6:00 am. Next, organise all fuel & kit options into their boxes for my support team who duly arrived in the form of the Rowlands’ just after midday.
The afternoon consisted of registration & kit bag check (no corners cut as safety should something go wrong is more important than anything else) before I drove Kean & Sandra around the various parts of the course where I felt support would be best placed. This was very useful as we tinkered the plan here & there to ensure they could reach each position without possible congestion on the day getting in the way.
Back at the ranch more calculations to focus the timings at each support station but clearly on the day flexibility of thought would be key.
The evening was spent watching Kean, Sandra & Dorina enjoy the Carbonara I had cooked for my ‘breakfast’ followed by Kean watching me fill & refill my wine glass with increasing alarm. I of course was having a little toy with him & upon emptying the final dregs into my glass showed him the bottle, a very pleasant Italian Moscato at just 5.5%. Bed beckoned, sleep was scarse so after only catching an hour & a half of it among lots of tossing & turning I rose at 2:00 am & read instead.
Dorina cooked at 4:00, a specially large breakfast of 4 Poached Eggs, two pieces of toast & a shoval full of Baked Beans, before I waved goodbye & was driven to the start by Kean & Sandra. Race briefing was lively, there was a buzz in the air, I felt more calm & relaxed than I normally would, I’d planned, I’d recced, I’d trained, I had a support team & a ‘sound’ race plan, what could go wrong, hours later I could reflect… well very little actually.
Approx. 90 of us lined up, I was near the back as there would be plenty of time to settle in, the race started on time as dawn’s early light arrived.
We were soon on the first Tarmac hill, think I was the first to move from run to walk, ‘that’s the plan Paul stick to it’, soon others followed suit. There was time to chat to acquaintances & friends.
Breaking onto the open mountain a look behind, not for other runners but for weather, heavy shower marching across the Mawdach estuary, extra layer put on in time! This would stay on for most of the mountain stages as showers came & went in the stiff breeze.
As we climbed my walk pace was clearly good & I slowly moved through the field, I would later find out my placing at each check point but for this report will convey that as the race progressed. By first CP my position was a respectable 28th. Navigation now became key, the next three runners in front were rarely visable in the clag, take it easy & get to Cader’s summit with no wrong turns, job done. Coming off the summit the three ahead began to go left, ‘no guys it’s this way I called’, it might be a race but the conditions did not permit gaining any advantage, they soon corrected & followed.
Kean was waiting at the Bwlch, ‘what do you want Paul’, ‘Banana & Gels’, ‘you’ve got a pack of 6 chasing you’ ‘yes I know, I took 3 of them coming off the summit’. As I refuelled they closed the gap & as I began walking the next incline 7 runners ran past ‘stick to the plan Paul’. On steeper ground my walk did it’s job & I’d regained all 7 places albeit one guy did re-take me on our descent to Feeding Station 1 which I reached in a surprisingly brisk 3:11:56 in 25th place. I gained places here by only taking on Electrolite, my feed station was across the estuary where Kean & Sandra plied me upon request with Yogurt & Crisps & stocked me up with fluids & Gels.
Leg 2 started well, a friendly chat with Amy who was ascending better than me but had the wrong shoes for the descents allowed me to warn her about coming off Dyfwss, only for both me & a guy in front to do 360 degree pirouette’s, think he won on the severity & style marks, Amy loss ground but got down safely.
Now down in the safety of the forest Kean said ‘think you are top 20’ indeed at CP 5 I was in 19th place. Mat Fenwick passed me as I refueled ‘Mat what am I doing ahead of you?’, a very pleasant surprise. We had been on the go for well over 5 hours, still had over a Marathon to run, but the race now seriously began.
It was tough, the hills came & came again but pre-race knowledge & three more refuels helped to sustain me. By CP 7 (2nd Main Feed Station) I was 16th but again only a swig of Electrolite saw me exit it in 12th.
There now followed isolation for 6 or so Kilometres before I gained & temporarily lost a place whilst Kean fitted me with road shoes which I’d requested he pick up from home after our last meeting. Put simply the forest trails were killing my feet & I needed a change.
This stop also allowed Mat & Amy to get me in their sights again. Was it the extra re-fuel & new shoes or was it my cunning to walk the hills whilst in their sight & then run a quick burst when going briefly out of sight round bends before allowing them to see me ‘still’ walking as they too came around the bends. Probably both, I had soon regained the lost place & more importantly was out of sight & in isolation once again.
Dilemma, to pee or not to pee, do I have time, before or after the next drinks station, I need one but will they get me back in their sights & make me their hare. The pee won but a trickle of dark straw cost unnecessary time but did teach me to ‘drink Paul!’
The final hard climb was rewarded by a fabulous run across the lofty & splendid Panorama Walk before a gentle descent into Dolgellau. By now I was running on empty, cow bells rung at check point 11 were welcomed & then feared as they were rung for Mat soon afterwards, final fears, ‘run, run’ I did & crossed the line in 11th to Matt Ward’s flattering commentary on how I had carved through the field. Kean & Sandra were there, mutual respect for a job we had done well, put simply I would not have placed that well without you.
My time was 10:45:58 well ahead of my predicted 12/14 Hours but well behind race winner Charlie Sharp, a cafe regular, who recorded 8:43:20 despite admitting that he had taken the first half easy due to the conditions (these had been poor in the mountains but pleasant in the afternoon around the forest).
I must thank Ashley & Matt for another fabulous race, there were more than 100 volunteers helping get us around safely in one way or another (that’s more than one per runner), many of them out on the course for several hours. Of course the other runners all deserve credit for taking it on & doing so with time to talk & encourage each other, you are too many to name but the three immediately behind me, Mat, Amy & Emma, thank you for your cameraderie & pushing this hare on & on.
Also thank you to team Siabod, Fraser & anyone else who tracked my progress as the day wore on.
Finally a massive thanks to Kean & Sandra but be warned an Ultra Runner has been born, the Paddy looms, you will be required so stay fit & healthy & off the vino, as you can see it’s not good for you!
A long race, a long blog, no apologies you should know me by now.
Pride came before a fall but that’s a story for another day.
Martin Cliffe smashes our Siabod Challenge record.
Congratulations Martin, great run & glad you enjoyed it.
Last Friday dawned & saw Martin Cliffe rise with serious intent on his mind. He had e-mailed me earlier in the week notifying me of his plans to tackle the longest of the Cafe’s challenges. At once I knew that the previous best time set by myself & Paul Jones during June’s Reach out for Nepal day would soon be toast!
Martin, a friend of ours, is of course also a top end Fell runner & can regularly be seen in the leading pack of racers across Snowdonia’s fell racing calendar as well as on Mountains further afield. He has form on Siabod too winning the Siabod race itself a few years back, put simply he is a class or two above me.
I haven’t had a full report from Martin as yet but like all challengers (including me) he has commented that the slog & false summits on the Challenge’s final climb (Moel Siabod from the South) was the most arduous part of the route but at least you know you are heading for home (aka the Cafe).
So just how fast was he, well looking at his Garmin stats. I am struggling to equate them to our splits but it looks pretty clear that he beasted the descents whilst maintaining good pace on the ascents, this all led to a total time of 5 Hours 49 Minutes & 39 Seconds some 38 minutes ahead of Paul’s & mine time, so well done Martin, if a record is going to succumb then you did it in style!
A call to arms, will Martin hold it for as long as I did (over 6 years with 3 different times), my thoughts are maybe not, the Challenge has become increasingly popular this year, Martin commented ‘it’s a great route’ which indeed it is. It is also (at over 23 miles with 8,800 feet of ascent) a great training route for those Ultra runners amongst us, so why not give it a try, you will earn your tea & cake on the house.
Once again congratulations Martin!
Paul’s Blog – Ultra Trail Wales – Part One
Well that’s it physical prep & route knowledge recce’s are now complete, I can’t do anymore except keep the wine bottle corked & eat to a plan over the final 3 days before race day itself.
Before I go any further please note that any fellow competitors who are Male & in the O.50’s category are forbidden to read this blog, I’ve done the hard yards in gaining knowledge & would consider it un-gentlemanly if you pick my limited brain to beat me!
Here follows my 3 week lead in:-
Week 1 – Plan 50 miles – Actual 35 Miles, excuse (fair), the 15 miler planned for the Sunday was scuppered by the Cafe’s 2nd busiest day on record but at least that saw me take over 25,000 steps just serving food & clearing tables.
Week 2 – Plan 65 Miles including two 20 milers – Actual 71 Miles including a 20 miler & 15 miler (curtailed from 20 due to nappy rash, top tip don’t treat area with a sweaty hand). Excuse, none needed very pleased especially having gone out in an Armageddan deluge on Sunday to break through the 70 barrier.
Week 3 – Plan 35 Miles & an additional walking recce of leg 1 (Cader Idris traverse, 15 Miles) – Actual 41 Miles (22 & 19 miler’s) plus the walking recce with the running miles also seeing me recce leg 2 & part of leg 3. Excuse, none needed, very pleased except foot pain on the final recce that saw me running 9 miles for home.
So all in all very pleased with that, the recce’s have given me renewed & new route info. a shoe choice decision (forfeit a bit of grip for comfort) & a race strategy (start slow, stay slow & then hopefully make headway with something left in the tank for the ‘run able’ forest tracks that dominate the 2nd half of the route.
Thanks to Richard for uploaded route onto my Garmin (also helped me to understand the route is 85K (of which I’ve recce’d 74) & not 80K, very important for the mind), Fraser & Neal for joining me on the leg 1 recce, Dorina for dropping me to Barmouth for leg 2 & then facing the Dentist alone (she got her own back by adding spiteful amounts of Chilli to the meal that awaited me upon my return). Thanks too in advance to team Rowlands who are supporting me on the day, I will try not to abuse you with self pitying grunts.
To all those joining me on the start line, we have a big day ahead, would we want it any other way, let’s go through the pain barriers & enjoy ourselves!
Cheers along the way, be you a Marshall or spectator, will be very warmly received.Open MIC Night saturday 18th August
A quick reminder that our Open MIC Night is a week earlier than normal this month to our host Alan Mannouch being away next weekend. This Sunday also sees Alan doing a big bike race on Anglesea so with our blessing he’ll wrap things up a little earlier than normal at around 10:00 pm.
Hope you can make it & enjoy a relaxed evening with us.Paul’s Blog – The Alps July 2018 – Part 3
Monday 30th July dawned bright & with me having tried to level the fitness playing field by over cooking the running during the weekend Dave & I headed off to Switzerland, the perfect climbing pair?
Today was to be reasonably relaxed, a 2/3 hour journey, park up at Tasche, taxi into Zermatt & then the Gornergrat cog railway up to the Rotenboden station at 2, 815 metres. From here a relaxed 3 hour walk in to the Monte Rosa hut, our base for the night. Time had appeared to be on our side as we made a lazy start but the transfers from car to station took a bit longer than expected so reaching Rotenboden at 14:30 meant only an hour to spare between expected arrival at the hut & supper which would be served at 18:30.
The walk in began pleasantly, I again took the opportunity to capture the flora with my camera with frequent stops although these were interrupted by the ladders, glacier crossing & scree (should have taken crampons off here, yes both!) before the path again became easier. Soon after passing a couple of azure blue lakes & their feeding waterfalls the final climb to the hut began, a bit of a slog but on a clearly defined path which mostly wove around the rocky landscape. We reached the hut as hoped at 17:30, the last to do so except a couple of American’s who arrived shortly after dinner was served.
The hut is modern, expensive but the food was good & service pleasant even if at first they had failed to allocate us a table. The yanks sat next to us, we explained our goal, the Nordend & they seemed attracted by it rather than their original aim of the Dufourspitze (Monte Rosa’s highest peak & 2nd only to Mont Blanc in the Alps height stakes). After dinner Dave did a recce of the first part of our route whilst I completed my 4th book of the trip.
Soon we were tucked up in our bunks, for once I slept reasonably well before rising before the alarm at 1:45, don’t you just love these early Alpine starts. Breakfast though was the best I’ve had at a high hut, there was even Cheese & Ham, a real treat.
By 2:55 we were ready & set off into the night, two other groups had already left for the Dufourspitze & the yanks left soon after us. Initially we made good progress over the rocks of the Unt Plattje using the odd marker to show our way but then we got lost. Snow bank, back off having put my crampons on, rock wall, back off, right, back off by this time the 2nd group (also having difficulties) had gone left & not come back, law of averages we went left & proceeded with the Yanks in toe. It was a relief to arrive at the Monte Rosa Glacier, see two sets of lights in the distance above, crampons back on, this time both would remain on for many hours to come.
We had been told by the hut Guardian that our route had not been climbed recently, that a couple planned to climb it today (no sign of them at any point in the hours ahead) & with 40 cms of fresh snow a couple of days before that it should take us 6/7 hours to the summit. Having descended most of the route with Tim & Kean after our summitting the Dufourspitze in 2014 I had some idea of the route & this would be backed up by Dave having summitted the Nordend with his partner Tamsin in 2017, what could go wrong? Well for approx. 3 hours nothing did, we slowly plodded up the steepening glacier having successfully negotiated some initial crevasses, we closed the gap on those ahead & we were treated to a wonderful sunrise giving plenty of excuses to stop & snap.
Cresting a steep rise the Dufourspitze track bent right it was time to leave it & head in isolation & with no tracks to follow towards the Nordend over to the left. Here I made my first mistake, with Dave leading I began to feel we should be swinging left & making less vertical headway, I made my feeling known but weekly, as Dave marched on I meekly followed. Clearly whilst in the U.K. I would be more than inclined to take control in such a situation in the Alps I was use to just following & so stuck to type. Our ‘good’ progress came to a sudden halt (the snow pack had become a bit concerning too) when we topped a rise to be met by a huge crevasse, no alternative turn round & descend to a snow bridge which led to the right & a glacial basin that my week self had been willing us towards earlier. I led to the snow bridge, it was more of a slanting traverse between two more crevasses, ‘Dave, I’m not crossing that!’. This led to a further descent & then swinging right into the bottom of the basin, we had lost time & about 200 metres in height but we were temporarily back on track.
Here with a restricted view I made my next mistake thinking we should head to the left of the Silbersattel ridge before cutting right high up behind a ‘small’ serac. This would see us slightly right of a recent serac collapse as well as a major serac hazard higher up. Dave, now back in the lead made good initial progress but began to slow & take breaks as the incline steepened, we began to disagree on the best line, in truth Dave’s experience of reading the ground & what we were heading into was more accurate than mine. With Dave taking in rope he led me to a safer spot, I straddled the lip of a crevasse to rest from the 40 degree slope. From here Dave led left, called me across & then front pointed above the minor serac, ice screw in, ‘come up Paul’, which I did. Dave led the next pitch but 20 metres later ground to a halt, ‘Dave can’t we keep going’, ‘Paul you are not going to like this, this is not Pd, it’s not the route, we need to descend & look for another line & if we don’t find it we will have to bale out’. I didn’t argue, it made sense, we slowly retreated to the safety of the crevasse lip.
From here Dave wanted to traverse right, me & traverses said ‘no, I’ll front point down if you belay me & we can traverse right on less steep ground’. This we did, both then convinced a slanting upward line to the right would give us a chance to break through the serac barricades onto the summit ridge & onto the summit, we agreed tos give it one more go. Dave led two pitches, the snow pack becoming a concern, Dave stopped again, played with his axe in the snow ‘Dave can we continue’, ‘that’s not what I’m thinking, it’s the snow pack’, I had thought it but not evaluated it, again Dave’s experience showed to which I responded ‘O.K. Dave we are going to bale!’ I had come to my senses, understood today was not our day, Dave, having first suggested it earlier, willingly agreed.
From here a cautious & long retreat was needed to first extricate from the iffy snow pack & then down steep slopes to the side of the serac debris, Dave needing patience at my front pointing for longer than he felt necessary.
Once out of danger we climbed the small rise to the North of the glacial bowl, looked back, this was the view we needed & had missed on our first eroneous line, it was obvious now, we should have gone into the bowl but swung up out of it further to the right. In truth that could well have taken us onto another un-consolidated snow pack (that fresh snow from days earlier), had our errors been our blessing? Anyway time & energy meant there was no going back for a 4th try, we had a train to catch preceded by a long descent, it was now almost 11:30 & we should have been on the summit an hour ago. It is hard to be sure, at times I thought we were within 50 vertical metres of the Nordend’s summit (4,609 metres), looking back from our view point in truth we’d probably ‘topped’ out at 4,450 metres, we had given it our best shot & had to accept our failures, no summit but at high point for the trip a very minor consolation.
Good progress saw us reach the hut at a little before 2:00 pm to be greeted by the two American’s, they had continued to the Dufourspitze but un-like the two groups ahead had turned back as soon as they reached the more technical ground, these conquerors of several of the Sierra Nevada’s 4,000 metre peaks had clearly found the Alps to be a different ball game, they made promises to go home & train to return another day, no doubt an equally good call to our own.
Time for a quick bite to eat & to call Dorina before our final descent & long walk back up to the heights of the station, not all plain sailing but with crampons off on the scree this time it certainly felt easier for me. Waiting for the train I put a 2nd call into Dorina to confirm we were safe.
We arrived back at the camp site at Les Bossons at 10:00 pm having stocked up on wine, beers & snacks at Zermatt, it is not often that I open a bottle of wine & don’t drink it all, today was an exception, 15 hours on our feet (2nd of the trip) & 20 hours on the go in total, it was soon time for bed.
& so ended our Alpine experience, Dave & I, as planned, went our separate ways but would both reach the U.K. by the Friday with me having fitted in one early morning run in Boulogne (simply too hot the evening before) before rediscovering the joys of the U.K. roads, despite getting through the tunnel 4 hours ahead of schedule. Reaching Dolgellau my phone rang, Dorina’s voice, ‘where are you’, ‘just picking up something to eat for tonight, I’ll be home in 20 minutes’, I was, we were re-united with joint relieve & happiness.
All in all a full on but largely successful trip, arguably to equal mine & Kean’s ‘Royal Tour’ of the Monte Rosa peaks in 2014 but it’s Breithorn & Nordend still alood me, I will have to go back but not next year, Cho Oyu & only Cho Oyu is my summit focus for 2019.
Thanks to Dave, Tim & Ali & of course, & as ever, Dorina.Paul’s Blog – The Alps July 2018 – Part 2
This is long as I am also using it as a personal diary for the experiences I went through on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc Massif over two & a bit days, please forgive me.
After a relaxed evening & a bit of a lie in, Wednesday was planned to be an easier day. Tim & Ali picked us up from the camp site at 10:00, we again headed through the tunnel & into Italy, I do like Italy! This time we turned left at Entreves & headed North East up the Val Ferret for reasons that I’ll soon make apparent I was glad to be sitting behind the driver giving a restricted view to any mountains on my left. We were soon parked up at Plampincieux, stepping out into warm sunshine there she stood, our targeted peak, the Gran Jorasses & it’s high point the Point Walker. O.K. clearly we were not to be climbing on one of the Alps most iconic North faces but for someone like me this was going to be a very substantial test, the route from valley to summit is 2,650 metres & it looked massive, ‘don’t dwell Paul it’ll look easier once you are on it’ I tried to convince myself.
But first things first an Italian coffee.at
Then we geared up lightening our loads where possible & at 11:15 we began a steady ascent to today’s target, the remote Boccalette hut, situated at 2,804 metres this still a 1,250 metre climb on a warm day with heavy packs. That said it was enjoyable, early on I frequently fell behind to take photo’s of the Alpine flowers along the way. As we climbed higher I could cherish memories of September last year by looking South to the Monte della Saxe ridge which Dorina & I had walked over as part of our Tour du Mont Blanc. The pleasant walk took on a more rugged guize as we crossed over the Torrent Marguera, several sections had beefy fixed ropes to cling to, never hairy but time to focus & keep the camera zipped in it’s case. The final barriers to the hut were an awkward snow patch with Tim kicking in to ease my progress & a further fixed rope which brought us to the huts veranda.
Tim had known that the hut guardian had a bit of a reputation for climbing a bit in his day but we were not prepared fully for his pedigree. Franco Perlotto can only be described as an Italian & in the best possible sense, soon we were seeing photo’s of him with Cassin, Bonatti, hearing tales of him dossing down with Alex McIntyre in Sheffield, meeting Doug Scott in a bookshop in Penrith………… all with an excited but self-deprecating way with shrugs & smiles & a, ‘well I’m nearly dead now’ nonchalance. Well done Franco, a pedigree like yours & yet you’ve repaid your debt to the mountains by re-opening a once closed hut on the flanks of one of the Alps great mountains. Of course all this meant that this small hut was going to be very busy, apart from us, Franco, Chiara (a Spanish girl working with Franco, well he is an Italian Male) there would also be 2 other people staying the night. Now that is an Alpine hut experience worth having!
Good Italian food inevitably followed as did some wine & a spirit on the house, time for a few sunset photo’s of some Anvil storm clouds far to the South & then early to bed, the forecast was good & beckoned an early start.
We breakfasted at 1:15 am in recognition of a big day ahead but the plan soon lay in tatters, thunder rolled, the rain came moments later, where the hell has that come from. The storm which only appeared on the weather forecasts after it had actually started lasted until well after 4:00 am by which time Tim had finally decided ‘not today guys’, but we were lucky, Kean would later tell me that 3 people had to be lifted off the Mountain whilst we simply tossed in the safety of our beds. The other pair did set off for the summit, probably a French guide for you, the Dutch client did well but was looking pretty tired after an 11 hour climb that was successful, good effort but I was glad for an un-planned rest day at this wonderful hut where we occasionally greeted climbers from the North face routes who were passing through on their descent.
Thursday evening the hut was again packed with just the four of us, simply doesn’t get better than that, oh & there was Polenta & Beef too!
Friday saw another 1:15 breakfast but this time the weather gods were with us & by 2:00 am our climb began.
After about two hours trudging up easy but gradually steepening glacial slopes Ali called from behind ‘Tim I think we should have bared left by now’, he came up to consult with Tim & as he passed me I heard his fateful Scottish drawl ‘dude where’s your crampon?’ ‘What the f…, no, no, that’s it, it’s all over, what a f…… idiot’ I thought, quite what the others were thinking I dared not guess!
Initially there was hope, maybe we’d find it as we retrace our steps to pick up the correct track, but this retrace was short, there would be no crampon, it was over & I was devastated by my error & it’s consequenses.
What? not only have I lost a crampon I’m now hearing things, no it was real, Tim did actually utter ‘We’ll give it a go Paul, we can turn back if necessary’, I didn’t argue, I was in shock, ‘I, yes me Paul Hodges, am going to have a go at a huge 4,000 metre summit on one bloody crampon, shit’. I won’t go into the full details of exactly what I was thinking but it’s fair to say I was extremely un-happy with myself for landing me in such a short future.
Life sometimes moves on & after some steepening of the glacier we came to our first rocky rib, the Rognon de la Boutille, here my cunning plan began to work for me, one crampon was faster to remove than two, I decided not to brag ‘come on guys hurry up’.
This rib was long & technical, indeed just the lower sections would require 5 lowers on our descent, reaching the top with daylight now upon us we stopped at the start of a short snow arrete to refix crampons or crampon. The crux of the climb lay in sight, the traverse of the Glacier del Gran Jorasses. Now traversing glaciers is my weakest skill, if you ignore my in-ability to fix a crampon (a slip thankfully held by Tim on the Aletzschorn in 2015 proves this fact), the one ahead was left to right & I would have no crampon on my outer right boot. At this point I did whymper & Ali, bless him, took control by switching the crampon bar around thereby allowing me to wear my left crampon on my more important right foot, I was impressed by that Ali but for the record I was still shitting myself. We had already been warned by Franco ‘don’t traverse the lower track it is iced, go higher & then drop back down to it once across’, in truth the higher track was also iced, at 45 degrees ‘this is the hardest traverse of my life & I’ve got one crampon’.
Here we got what you pay for, Ali led Dave, cut step after step, fixed ice screw after ice screw but I knew that until Tim managed to reach & clip into that first ice screw one slip from me & we’d fall down the glacier which was seriously crevassed 100 metres or so below us, you just don’t come back from that type of fall. Tim clipped in, logic tried to work but all I could think off was that this was beyond me, of course I knew it was now too late to retreat & that I just had to get on with it. Our slow traverse seemed to take an hour for what was less than 50 metres, clinging to a wall of death one by one I removed the ice screws & finally we got to a point where I could front point down to the track below whilst Tim belayed me from above, relief of sorts but we’d be coming back the same way.
Soon we were onto our next rib, crampon off as we began the ascent of Tour des Jorasses, this got us to 3,813 metres where we would refix crampon/s. For Tim & I only one option to traverse on relatively easy glacial terrain but under an infamous serac which thankfully looked pretty benign & therefore relatively safe. Ali & Dave decided to avoid the serac & head up a long steep gully to it’s left which would bring them to Point Whymper, I had had enough Whympering so was more than happy not to target that.
Our traverse went well as we passed some small fallen serac debris & after 10 minutes or so we were out of the line of fire. From here on the final ascent was on a mixture of snow & rock, after nearly 7 & a half hours Tim led us onto Point Walker’s summit at 4,206 metres, what a climb it had been. We were soon joined by 4 gnarly Ukranians who had come up the North face on the distinctly more impressive Rolling Stones route, if they noticed my boot they kept quiet & we took turns to take each others photographs. Moving away from the summit to a gentle cul we stopped for a well earned bite to eat, take in the stunning 360 degree vista’s including Mont Blanc & it’s incredible northern aguille from an angle I’d never seen before. We also watched Ali & Dave making slow progress up their 50 degree gully, glad we’d avoided that.
Before our descent began Tim adjusted the crampon back to fit my left boot which would now be predominantly on the Outside of the face.
In truth despite needing extreme care the descent felt easier than I’d feared, the crux traverse was easier as we took a lower line allowing us to soon turn more front on where I could make better use of my axe. This said following into one of Tim’s cut steps I was swinging my axe wildly to make the step bigger, Tim’s frustration spilled ‘Paul that’s pointless’, ‘Tim if I put my right boot on that it’ll come straight off’, he nonchalantly stuck out his right boot so that it rested below the step ‘step onto that then’ which I did.
Once onto the final glacier, the gradient eased, the wet snow failed to support my right foot, with Tim’s encouragement I did what all the greats have done at some point & bum slid to safety.
On a small scree section 20 minutes above the hut ‘there’s your crampon Paul’, ‘we could take the rocky line Paul’, ‘Tim I’ve got two crampons I’m sticking to the snow’. This allowed me to prove to Tim that I can descend on crap snow quite well with 2 crampons on (Ali’s training on day 1 had clearly helped).
Our descent had taken a little over 5 hours, I enjoyed a beer & coke before congratulating Dave & Ali on their climb as they joined us, they’d bagged both the Whymper & Walker to boot.
As for Franco ‘One crampon?’ slapped his head, smiled & gave me a hug. We soon said our goodbyes to Franco & Chiara & began our 2 hour descent to the car. For once despite the easier ground I didn’t charge ahead, Tim had weighted me with the rope but I had no inclination of trying to go at his or Ali (who would soon hang back to check Dave over the trickier bits) pace, my climb was done, ‘just take it easy’.
Just as we reached the tunnel I borrowed Dave’s phone, ‘Hi Angel, plenty to tell you, later, for now we’ve done it, I’m down & I’m safe!
Farewells soon said Dave & I spent an evening comparing notes on a very big day.
Saturday saw a relaxed day with me getting out for a short 5 miler, Dave clearly thinking ‘how can the old git do that’. Sunday much the same but this time I did an 11 miler which took me to Le Junction a climb of over 1,500 metres, some fell runner whom I won’t name has been known to take a cable car on it’s lower section & then keep it a secret for a year or so but in fairness Kean was almost 60 at the time. As for Dave when I got back into camp he almost had me certified. Both nights saw us again enjoy a good meal in Les Houches as we plotted our final climb an un-guided ascent of The Nordend, the Alps 3rd highest summit.
Enough for now I hear you say, Part 3 (shorter) in due course.
Finally: Tim was risking his reputation by allowing a client to attempt this climb with such a shortage of kit, I can take it as a compliment that he felt I still had a chance but the biggest factor I am sure was that he knew his skill set could get me off one way or the other, as ever I am indebted to him for pushing my boundaries. Only 3 days earlier I had welled up & almost cried when we got off the Rochefort arrete in pure relief & gratitude to Tim. There was no such sensation after the Gran Jorasses, the physicality & harsh realities had drained me of even those emotions or should I put it down to experience gained over a fabulous week, who knows?Paul’s Blog – The Alps July 2018 – Part 1
I set off for my first Summer Alpine trip for 2 years on 12th July & reached the Grand Champ camp site at Les Bossons late afternoon the next day to soon be greeted by Kean & Sandra who were relaxing in the high 20 degree heat. Within hours two accidents put a slight damper on things but thankfully nothing in the league of what curtailed my previous summer visit when a certain rock took out Tim Blakemore’s leg early on our climb on the Aguille Argentiere in 2016. My accidents were self-inflicted first walking into my ice axe & putting a 3 pronged gash into my left foot & second tripping over in the dark after an evening with the Rowland’s putting a deepish cut & bruise into my left palm. Carry on like that & I could knock my plans on their head before I’d even put my crampons on (on that score a theme will develop).
Saturday dawned, Kean & Sandra departed & I went for a traditional altitude run climbing to the lovely Bellachat hut where with €10 on me I could only buy one coke at €5.50, I really did feel like having two. I then extended the run to capture a new summit, the Aguille Les Houches at 2285 metres for some reason not the highest point on the ridge, strange? Any thoughts of climbing the further 28 metres to the ‘true’ summit were dashed by a clap of thunder from the storm building over Mont Blanc so I made a beeline for the valley with spots of rain & the smell of thunder in the air. Relief came as I hit the treeline which coincided with the storm dissipating as quickly as it had developed. A good run of 12 miles & 1,350 metres of ascent.
Three hours later, having collected my mate Dave Ball from his Argentierre camp site & having met up with Tim to make plans for the week ahead, some urgent erection of the tent I’d brought over for Dave was needed as the next & far more severe storm swept in from the West.
Sunday was a more relaxed day after I turned down Dave’s request to climb the Cosmiques Arrete & we settled on a pleasant lunch in Chamonix before I went on an easy 5 miler so as not to overdo it before the main events of the week ahead.
Monday saw Tim & Ali (an aspirant guide) pick us up at 8:00 am, we drove through the tunnel, drank coffee in the sun & then took the Hellbronner Skylift to the Torino hut. My nerves were rising with the altitude but in truth they were pretty high even before leaving the U.K., this trip was all about some big mountain days to get me more ready for Cho Oyu in Spring of next year, basically I needed to remove some rust.
Dumping some gear at the hut our first day would be the Aguille Marbrees a short route with further acclimatisation at the hut for the remainder of the day. We left the hut at 10:30 circled the western & northern flanks of our objective with crampons on to reach the col du Rochefort at 3,387 metres. Here crampons (you’ll see my drift on the coming Friday) were deliberately taken off as we prepared for the rocky ridges ahead. I had been paired with Ali so that Tim could assess Dave (far more adept than me but Tim needed the knowledge). Ali was good at instruction/calming but my initial hour on the exposed ridge was a nervous one as my mind & breathing tried to adapt to my surroundings. Finally Ali’s massage began to get through ‘think of doing a series of one legged squats Paul’, my mind went back to the core training I’d been doing & things got better from here-on. By the time we reached the 3,536 metre summit I was even beginning to enjoy it a little. From here we retraced steps briefly before branching right onto the South ridge traversing most of it before a lowered descent saw us reach the Glacier. A short walk back to the hut was lengthened as Ali decided I needed a lesson on quick descending footwork on Glacier terrain, fair cop. We reached the hut at around 14:15 having had a good re-introduction to the Alps, there followed a relaxed afternoon & evening at the hut, as ever Tim’s easy warm up & acclimatisation plan had gone to plan.
Tuesday saw us rise at 2:00 am for the usual abysmal Alpine hut breakfast, ‘Dave that wind sounds a bit fierce’ I commented with a hint of alarm. By 2:45 we headed out into the dark & the wind initially following yesterday’s track before continuing on a North East line to get to the start of the climb proper at 3,454 metres, our goal being the Rochefort Arrette & Aguille Rochefort. I had suggested this climb after persuading Tim it was too much for me two years ago, a discussion won which ultimately led to Tim’s accident, was this some kind of self-induced guilt punishment, I’ll leave that answer to the Psychologists amongst you.
Shortening the rope (today Tim & I are together with Dave & Ali on a separate rope) we began to front point up a steep snow gully for a couple of hundred metres before moving onto a rocky rib that we would follow towards the ridge. Not long before we topped this rib my stomach came into play, backs were turned or in the case of Ali & Dave a hasty distance gained as the inevitable call of nature was answered, never easy with harness, exposure & a stiff wind to boot, thankfully my stomach would play ball on the days ahead.
We reached the ridge just to the East of the towering Dent du Geant (Giants Tooth) & with me now back in the lead suddenly a testing climb turned into a test of exposure. There simply were no tracks left from the day before, the wind had erased them & I was clearly expected by Tim to make a new track on the very apex of the ridge, my heart plummeted ‘Tim I don’t like this’, did he choose not to show sympathy, clever b……! In truth from here-on he had me on a very tight & short rope.
Initially I could put feet side by side as the axe dangled uselessly to my side but after 10 metres it worsened & became one foot in front of the other to make matters worse the sun was rising & I could see the full extent of the exposure on both sides. Thought processes ‘core strength help me now, could Tim jump right fast enough if I fall left…..’, this was a full on Alpine experience to at least match any I’d taken before. Thankfully after 20/30 metres things improved until I could actually use the tip of my axe to balance if not being able to plant it for security. From here-on the degree of exposure came & went & a few rocky sections brought a degree of relief before the next exposed section revealed itself. At one point Tim moved around me, ‘stay there Paul I’ll set up a belay over on those rocks before you come across’. Now Tim is cool & works very fast but with precision when the pressure is on but come on Tim do I really need to be standing like a statue on a one foot wide ridge, no axe planted, for at least 2 minutes, if I hadn’t of already taken one I would have shit myself. The words ‘come over Paul’ were the sweetest thing a man has ever said to me. Soon after this & back on the snow Tim lowered me to the next ridge where a tricky narrow step downwards (back to one foot in front of the other) was the hardest move of the day. Tim would later say ‘one or two bits were a bit interesting’, this was definitely one of those bits!
Eventually we reached the foot of the final rocky climb the Aguille Rochefort itself. From the exposed ridge it had looked like a safe refuge with easy Grade 1 scrambling but up close it showed it’s truth teeth & was for me at least a proper rock climb. We slowly picked our way up with the occasional ‘tight rope here please Tim’ & reached the Verglass covered summit at 7:15 am (4,001 metres) where we were rewarded with no views, a continued biting wind & a bite to eat.
Shortly after Dave & Ali joined us Tim & I packed up & began what I’d been fearing all along, our descent a ‘simple’ back tracking of our outward traverse. Some lowering speeded our descent off the Aguille & from here we could at least follow our earlier tracks which made for easier & faster progress. At the first rocky section we met two climbers taking a break in the cold wind, their minds about to defeat them, they turned back which in truth helped me further as our track became better laid still, nonetheless a focused mind could not relax at any point.
Finally we were off the ridge & took a well earned & proper break as several other small groups began to arrive on the ridge & ask us about what lay ahead. Our early start had given us the trail breaking but had also given us the delights of a superb ridge in splendid isolation, something special to reflect on.
Dangers still existed, the rib descent was at times very loose, with other climbers above us thoughts returned to 2016, ‘please no dislodged rocks this time’. Eventually we reached the snow gully, it seemed steeper than on the ascent so Tim needed patience as I over kicked in for piece of mind. The weather which had closed in with flakes of snow soon after we’d started to traverse the arrette then broke & our walk out across the glacier became an opportunity to photograph the majesty of the Valley Blanc & it’s surrounding summit bastions above. We reached the hut at 11:20, it had been 8 & a half hours of epic adventure, for me just how my pre-leaving the U.K. nerves allowed me to come through that was hard to fathom, clearly as ever a debt to Tim was a major factor. Dave I think felt a similar accomplishment as he ordered a beer, knowing I’d be driving later I settled happily for a coke.
From here we descended the Hellbronner, drove back into France, ‘see you tomorrow guides at 10:00’. Dave & I enjoyed an outside meal at a friendly restaurant in Les Houches before returning to the camp site for a proper drink & reflection, what a day. Lest I forget Dorina & then Kean were given a brief account by phone, it was a case of needing to sing from the rooftops (actually from the safety of a tent in a valley)!
Now I had planned to cover the whole trip here but the above is enough for anyone, the crampon & other tales will follow in part 2.